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Top 20 Common Mistakes Chinese Learners Make

Today we are going to talk about mistakes, specifically the 20 top mistakes that Chinese learners are prone to making or make repeatedly, so that we can help you avoid them in your own practice. So, if you have never made these errors before, that’s great, then this article will be a nice revision or gentle reminder for you. However, if you have already made some or even all of them, then you should take a much closer look at them. For each topic we will take a look at errors and provide in-depth explanations. In order to help you check your knowledge, we also have some quick exercises under each topic.

  1. Using “和” to connect everything
  2. Using “是” with adjectives 
  3. Using “吗” for all Yes/No questions
  4. Confusing “不” with “没”
  5. The use of “的”
  6. Using “个” for all nouns
  7. Adding “们” after all nouns
  8. Improper use of  “二” “两” and “俩”
  9. Confusing “就” with “才”
  10. Confusing “会” and “能”
  11. Confusing “差点儿” and “差点儿没”
  12. Sentence order
  13. Placement of Adverbial Words
  14. Directional Complements: “来” and “去”
  15. Comparative sentences with “比”
  16. Existence Sentences
  17. “把” sentence
  18. Using “了” to indicate all past tense situations
  19. Improper use of approximate numbers
  20. Errors with Chinese Punctuation

1. Using “和” to connect everything

One of the most common English words is the word “and,” which we use to connect nouns, verbs, phrases and sentences. “And” is often translated to “和()” in Chinese. However, in Chinese, you cannot use “和” to connect sentences – the result would sound very awkward!

For example:

I live in Beijing, and I have a dog.
✘ 我住在北京和我有一只狗。
√ 我住在北京,(还有)我有一只狗

(“还有(hái yǒu)” translates to “also.” Here “还有”could be omitted.)

You now might be wondering when we can use “和”. The answer is simple – we can use “和” to connect nouns, verbs, and short non-sentence phrases.

For example:

I have two older brothers and a younger sister.
√ 我有两个哥哥和一个妹妹。”

He likes swimming and playing basketball.
√ 他喜欢游泳和打篮球。


Put “和” in the appropriate place.

  1. A 早上 B 常常吃 C 包子 D 鸡蛋。
  2. A 喜欢 B 逛街 C 玩游戏 D 聊天。

Check answers


(Reference: The Complete Guide to Using “和” in Chinese)

2. Using “是” with adjectives 

You may know that the word for “is / are” in Chinese is “是 (shì)”. Another tricky aspect of adjectives in Chinese, though, is that we never use “是” to modify a noun.

For example:

He is tall.
✘ 他是高。
√ 他很高。

Beijing is big.
✘ 北京是大。
√ 北京很大。

As you can see, we usually use the word “很(hěn)”, which literally means “very,” instead of “是.”Note that here “很” purely serves a grammatical purpose in the sentence of “Subject + 很 + Adjective”.


True or false.

  1. 她是漂亮。
  2. 猫很可爱。
  3. 中国菜是很好吃。

Check answers

1. F 她很漂亮。
2. T
3. F 中国菜很好吃。

(Reference: How to use 在、有 and 是 Express Existence)

3. Using “吗” for all Yes/No questions

Asking a question in Chinese is one of the things many students stumble over. In Chinese, you typically put the character “吗(ma)” at the end of the sentence to function as a question marker. Using this word can transform almost any statement into a question.

Quick question: how do you translate “Are you an American?”

What about this “你是不是美国人?”

Is this your answer too? Then you are WRONG. Besides “吗”, Yes/No questions can also follow the format “是不是” or “有没有”, a format which we call positive-negative inversion. It is the equivalent of saying “Are you or are you not…?” When using this format, you do not also use “吗”, as the positive-negative inversion already marks the sentence as a question.

√ 你是不是美国人?
√ (using “吗”): 你美国人

One more example:

Do you have Chinese book?
✘ 你有没有汉语书?
√ 你有没有汉语书?
√ (using “吗”): 你汉语书?


Put the words in order.

  1.  过  你  吗  去  (Have you been to Shanghai?)
  2.  是  他  不是 (Is he your classmate?)
  3.  没有  你  钱  有 (Do you have ten yuan?)

Check answers

1. 你去过上海吗?/上海你去过吗?
2. 他是不是你同学?
3. 你有没有十块钱?

Reference: The Summary of Yes/No Questions in Chinese

4. Confusing “不” with “没”

As we all know, the translation of the English word “not / no” in Chinese is “不(bù)” or “没(méi)”. Some learners are not familiar with their differences, so they use them interchangeably, which is a common error. “不” is generally used to negate an action that you “don’t want to do” or “don’t plan to do in the future”. And when it comes to negation of adjectives, we also use “不”. Opposed to “不”, “没” can both be used to negate an action that happened in the past or indicate that something hasn’t occurred yet.

For example:

He dislikes eating banana.
✘ 他喜欢吃香蕉。
√ 他喜欢吃香蕉。

The film isn’t good.
✘ 这个电影好看。
√ 这个电影好看。

We didn’t go to that store yesterday.
✘ 我们昨天去那个商店。
√ 我们昨天去那个商店。

Note that for “是” we only use the negation word “不” to mean “isn’t,” and for “有” we only use “没” to mean “don’t have”. For example, “We aren’t teachers.” would be “我们是老师” and “She doesn’t have money.” is “她有钱” in Chinese.


Choose “不” or “没” to fill in the blanks.

  1. ___ 办法。
  2. ___ 冷。
  3. ___ 是我们的东西

Check answers

1. 没
2. 不
3. 不

(Reference: The difference between 不(bù) and 没(méi))

5. The use of “的”

If you have been learning Chinese for a while, you might notice that “的 (de)” is one of the most frequently used characters in Chinese. So why do so many learners, especially English speakers forget to use it or misuse it?

Well, the main reason why this mistake is so common is because there isn’t an equivalent of “的” in English. The closest equivalent is “’s” like in the phrase, “the dog’s voice,” which shows that the voice belongs to the dog. In Chinese, we use “的(de)” to show that the voice belongs to the dog – directly translated, this would be “狗声音”.

“的” can also attribute certain characteristics to a noun. For example, “a white dog” would be “白色狗.” “白色狗” is a grammatically incorrect expression in Chinese. But you can say “白狗”.

Confusing already, right? No worries, you can check out the description down below to get the full explanation.

When expressing possession, we can use the structure “Noun/Pronoun + 的 + Noun”.

For example:

我听见了狗声音。(I’ve heard the voice of the dog.)
这是我书。(This is my book.)

But when the noun after “的” is kinship term or a person, the “的” can be omitted.

For example:

她不是我朋友,她是我姐姐。(She isn’t my friend; she is my elder sister.)

As mentioned above, we can also use “的” to attribute certain characteristics. In this case, we usually use the pattern “Noun/Adjective + 的 + Noun”.

For example:

我喜欢那只白色狗。(I like that white dog.)
她有一双漂亮眼睛。(She has a beautiful pair of eyes

Note that if the adjective has two characters, like “漂亮” “高兴” “干净” etc., “的” is generally required. But when the adjective is monosyllabic, “的” generally isn’t necessary, and that’s why “白狗” is reasonable.


Translate the sentence

  1. He isn’t my father.
  2. We want to eat that green noodle.
  3. His question is very difficult.

Check answers

1. 他不是我的爸爸。/ 他不是我爸爸。
2. 我们想吃绿色的面条。
3. 他的问题很难。

(Reference: How to Use the Structural Particle “的”)

6. Using “个” for all nouns

Please say the following in Chinese.

  1. 一个人 a person
  2. 一个菜 a dish
  3. 一个狗 a dog
  4. 一个水 a water
  5. 一个书 a book
  6. 两个鞋 two shoes


Wait! It’s getting weird. Do Chinese people say “一个狗”“一个水”“一个书”?

There are tons of measure words in the Chinese language, and this becomes a quite big barrier for Chinese learners because the concept doesn’t’ exist in English. To begin with, almost every learner was told that “个(gè)” can be used for almost every noun. It is very versatile, though some learners will accept it as an infallible law to apply it in every situation. But “almost” is just “almost” which means it doesn’t work in every situation. For example, “a glass of water” is “一杯水” instead of “一个水”. This is because the measure words for “牛奶” “酒” “水” etc. are often decided by the names of certain containers or vessels. “Glass” is the container  here, so “杯” is the proper measure word.

Besides the situation above, some nouns have their own unique measure words, and “个” isn’t usually suitable. For example, “a pair of shoes” is “一鞋” in Chinese, and we generally can’t say “两鞋” . The measure word “双” is used to refer to a pair of things and is suitable for things like “鞋” “手套” and so on.

Then, when can we use “个”? Generally speaking, “个” is used with nouns that don’t have a set measure word, which can be divided into five types:

Type 1: for individual people, like

“一人(a person)” “一学生(a student)” “一孩子(a child)”

Type 2: for dates, seasons, etc., like

“一星期(a week)” “一月(a month)” “一小时(an hour)” “一春天(a spring)”

Type 3: for abstract things, like

“一问题(a question)” “一办法(a way)” “一好主意(a good idea)”

Type 4: for an area, country, a unit, a facility, etc., like

“一国家(a country)” “一教室(a classroom)” “一车站(a station)”

Type 5: other things without a set measure word, like

“一鸡蛋(an egg)” “一杯子(a cup)” “一节日(a festival)”


Choose the appropriate measure word: 个 / 条 / 口 / 件

  1. ___ 很大的游泳池。
  2. ___ 人。
  3. ___ 衬衫有蓝色的吗?
  4. ___ 裙子好看吗? 

Check answers

1. 个
2. 口
3. 件
4. 条

(Reference: Chinese Measure Words List)

7. Adding “们” after all nouns

As we all know, in English a singular noun plus the plural suffix will transform it into a plural form, and plural nouns can also be quantified by a number, like “five books”. However, in the Chinese language, a plural word is formed by adding the suffix “们(men)” and can’t be modified by number words. For example, “五个学生在教室里”, “学生们” can’t be qualified by “五个”, so it’s wrong and it should be corrected as “五个学生在教室里”.

Note that adding “们” to form a plural word is for personal pronouns or nouns only. The example above “five books” can’t be translated into “五本书” because “书” isn’t people, instead “五本书” is enough. Other words like “几” “成千上万” “很多” etc. all imply quantity, so we don’t need “们” after the noun or pronoun. For example, “这里有几个同学在写作业” is wrong due to adding “们”, so we should remove it to make it “这里有几个同学在写作业”.


True or false.

  1. 我买了两个西瓜们。
  2. 他们都不是我朋友。
  3. 每次放假,成千上万的人们都会去北京玩。

Check answers

1. F 我买了两个西瓜。
2. T
3. F 每次放假,成千上万的人都会去北京玩。

(Reference: All About Chinese Prefixes and Suffixes)

8. Improper use of  “二” “两” and “俩”

There are three ways to say “two” in Chinese, which are “二(èr)” “两(liǎng)” and “俩(liǎ)”. They are similar in meaning but different in use, which isa point that drives learners, especially elementary level learners, crazy sometimes. When used purely as a number or in ordinal, decimal, fractional,mathematical situations or in multi-digit numbers, we prefer “二” rather than “两”.

For example:

I have twelve kuai.
✘ 我有十块钱。
√ 我有十块钱。

He is the second person who entered.
√ 他是第个进来的人。

And “两” is often used when followed by measure words (except for Chinese traditional units).

For example:

It’s two o’clock now.
√ 现在点。

I bought two books.
✘ 我买了本书。

Note that for Chinese traditional units, like “斤” “里” etc. both of them can be used .

For example:

I bought two jin of bananas.
Translation: 我买了斤香蕉。or 我买了斤香蕉。

An exception is when “两” appears as a measurement unit, only “二” can be used.

“He drank two liang of white wine.”
✘ 他喝了两白酒。
√ 他喝了两白酒。

By the way, “俩” is totally different from the other two. “俩” means “两个” when following a noun or pronoun and cannot be followed by any other measure word.

For example:

“The two of them want to go to travel this summer.”
√ 他们今年夏天想去旅行。 or 他们两个今年夏天想去旅行。


True or false.

  1. 他今年二十两岁了。
  2. 请给我二瓶白酒。
  3. 教室里还有三十二个学生。

Check answers

1. F 他今年二十二岁了。
2. F 请给我两瓶白酒。
3. T

(Reference: The Major Differences between 二 and 两)

9. Confusing “就” with “才”

Quick quiz first. Which one is the correct translation?

1) I worked until 11 p.m. because there was so much work yesterday.

(?) 昨天的工作很多,我一直工作到晚上11做完。

(?) 昨天的工作很多,我一直工作到晚上11点做完。

2) He arrived at the classroom at 6 a.m. even though the Chinese class starts at 9 a.m.

(?) 汉语课9点上课,他早上6到教室了。

(?) 汉语课9点上课,他早上6点到教室了。

“才”(cái) and “就”(jiù) are adverbs expressing time, and they are both put before verbs. Due to this similarity, some learners don’t know how to separate them.  In fact, “才” indicates that the speaker feels that something happened later than expected with a tone of anxiety, impatience, tiredness or other related emotions, while “就” indicates something occurred earlier than expected with a feeling of surprise or amazement sometimes.

So, do you know the correct answers for the quiz now?

Correct translation:

  1. 昨天的工作很多,我一直工作到晚上11点做完。
  2. 汉语课9点上课,他早上6点到教室了。

“工作很多” can lead to a negative feeling and “晚上十一点” is pretty late, so “才” is used. However, in the second example, compared to “9点上课”, “6点” is quite early, so “就” is correct.

But “才” doesn’t always imply lateness, for example “It’s only 7 o’clock.” can be translated to “现在7点” in Chinese, where “才” follows a time word to express the idea of “just, only”.


Fill in the blanks with “才” or “就”.

  1. ___ 给我打电话。
  2. ___ 看完了。
  3. ___ 7点,你不吃早饭了吗?
  4. ___ 要亮了,我们再等一会儿。

Check answers

1. 才
2. 就
3. 才
4. 就

(Reference: The difference between 才 and 就)

10. Confusing “会” and “能”

 “能(néng)” and “会(huì)”, as we all know, can indicate someone has the ability to do something in Chinese. However, there are slight differences between them in use.

“会” tends to indicate people have obtained an ability through learning, while “能” stresses inherent ability. Sometimes we can also understand them as “会” is “to know how to do something” and “能” is “to be able to do something”.

For example:

Can you see that tree over there?
✘ 你看见那边的那棵树吗?
√你看见那边的那棵树吗? (The inherent ability; be able to)

How would you translate “你吃掉所有的饺子吗?” in English?   

 “能” is used to indicate possibility and can be combined with “吗” in interrogative sentences, for example “你一个人去学校吗?”(Is it possible for yourself to go to the school?)  While “会” can indicate something will happen in the future, which is closer to “will” in English, for example “今天下雨” means “It will rain today.”


Translate the sentence (会vs能)

  1. May I come in?
  2. I can write ten Chinese characters.
  3. Can you see that picture?

Check answers

1. 我能进来吗?
2. 我能写十个汉字。/ 我会写十个汉字。
3. 你能看见那副画吗?

(Reference: Translating “can” into Chinese: 可以, 会  and能)

11. Confusing “差点儿” and “差点儿没”

A: 差点儿迷路。

B: 差点儿没迷路。

Question:Did A and B get lost or not?

Answer: Both A and B didn’t get lost.

C: 差点儿考上了大学。

D: 差点儿没考上大学。

Question:Did C and D get in the university or not?

Answer: C didn’t get in the university, but D got it!

You might be confused now. Actually, when expressing something undesired that almost occurred (but actually didn’t) we use “差点儿(chà diǎn’r)” in Chinese. For example, “I almost forgot.” is “我差点儿忘了” in Chinese with the implication “I didn’t forget.” Sometimes the predicate can also be something desired, and then “差点儿” implies a regretful tone as it can’t come true. For example, “I almost got that money.” is “我差点儿就拿到那些钱了” in Chinese with the implication “I didn’t get that money.”

“差点儿没(chà diǎn’r méi)” seems just like an negative form of “差点儿”since “没” is added. In fact, you’d better think of “差点儿没” as a chunk so that it makes more sense. The patterns of “差点儿” and “差点儿没” are identical, but their usage doesn’t overlap at all. “差点儿” and “差点儿没” are only equivalent when there is something undesired and “没” appears meaningless. For example, “我差点儿没迷路” and “我差点儿迷路” have the same meaning of “I didn’t get lost.” Otherwise, if there is a desired result after “差点儿没”, it indicates a totally different idea than that of “差点”.  For instance, “我差点儿没考上大学” means “I was admitted by the university.” while “我差点儿考上了大学” means “I wasn’t admitted by the university.”


  1. 昨天太冷了,我们差点儿感冒了。 Q:我们感冒了吗?
  2. 我差点儿没买笔。 Q:我们买笔了吗?
  3. 这次他们差点儿得了冠军。 Q:这次他们得冠军了吗?
  4. 她差点儿没迟到。 Q:她迟到了吗?

Check answers

1. 我们没有感冒
2. 我们买笔了。
3. 他们没得冠军。
4. 她没迟到。

(Reference: Using “差点儿”,“几乎”and“差不多”)

12. Sentence order

Some Chinese learners are not familiar or well acquainted with the sentence order rules of the Chinese language, so they are prone to translating word by word but ignore order. And the result most often turns out to be wrong. For example, “We go to the school with him.” may be written like “我们去学校和他”. But “和他” is the target of the action, which should be placed before the verb and after the subject in Chinese, so the correct sentence would be “我们和他去学校”.

So what is the correct sentence order in Chinese? At the very beginning, you may have already seen this basic order, that’s “SVO” which stands for “Subject + Verb +Object”, like “我爱你” “他去学校” or “我喝茶”. For these simple sentences, the Chinese sentence order can match that of English word by word. Although you should also realize that there are quite a few forms that don’t match,like “他是我朋友” or “小狗很可爱”.

Here is more information on this basic order.

Adding time

(Time) + Subject + (Time) + Verb + Object

明天去学校。” Or “明天我去学校。

Adding manner:

(Time) + Subject + (Time) + Manner + Verb + Object


Adding place

(Time) + Subject + (Time) + Place + Manner + Verb + Object


Adding Negation:

(Time) + Subject + (Time) + Negation + Place + Manner + Verb + Object


Adding Auxiliary words:

(Time) + Subject + (Time) + Negation + Auxiliary + Place + Manner + Verb + Object


Adding Complement

(Time) + Subject + (Time) + Negation + Auxiliary + Place + Manner + Verb + Complement + Object


Adding Target:

(Time) + Subject + (Time) + Negation + Auxiliary + (Target) + Place + (Target) + Manner + Verb + Complement + Object


Keep in mind the order above is a general structure, which isn’t fixed forever. Some parts are flexible, and once you change the place, the meaning changes too. For example: “我们不都是学生” and “我们都不是学生” are quite distinct in meaning. “我们不都是学生” means “We are not all students.” while “我们都不是学生” is “We all aren’t students.”


Put the words in order.

  1. 那里 买 在 牛奶 想 不 We don’t want to buy milk there.
  2. 小猫 开心地 跑 The kitty run away happily.
  3. 给我 打电话 在外面 He called me outside.

Check answers

1. 我们不想在那里买牛奶。
2. 小猫开心地跑了。
3. 他在外面给我打电话。

(Reference: The Basic Sentence Structure in Chinese)

13. Placement of Adverbial Words

Adverbial words indicate place, way, status, manner, frequency, target, etc. which serve to add details to a sentence. Adverbials by themselves isn’t too tough, but the placement of adverbial words is one of most common errors in syntactic structure in Chinese. In some languages, taking English for example, adverbials are mainly tacked on at the end of the sentence, but they need to be placed before the predicate and after the subject in Chinese.

For example:

I eat noodles in that restaurant.
✘ 我吃面条在那个饭馆
√ 我在那个饭馆吃饭。

We will go to China at 4 p.m.
✘ 我们要去中国下午4点
√ 我们下午4点要去中国。

She dislikes to work by mobile phone.
✘ 她不喜欢工作用手机
√ 她不喜欢用手机工作。

Note that when the time adverbial is a noun, like “明天” “晚上” “下个星期” and so on, it can also be placed before the subject. For example: “He will come here tomorrow.” can be “他明天来这里” or “明天他来这里”.


True or false.

  1. 他想去逛街和你。
  2. 他和我说话哭着。
  3. 那个人一直在说话。

Check answers

1. F 他想和你去逛街。
2. F 他哭着和我说话。
3. T

(Reference: Tell Tenses in Chinese -Use the Adverbs and Nouns of Time Correctly)

14. Directional Complements: “来” and “去”

You might already know that “来” means “come” and describes an action moving towards the place where the speaker is; “去” means “go” and indicates an action moving away from the place where the speaker is. And you may have also learned “来/去” can follow a verb, like “上/下” “进/出” “过” “回” “拿” “寄” “送” etc. to indicate the speaker’s position in a directional complement. Some learners might be confused when it comes to directional complements, since there is no such concept of using a word to indicate direction in English.

For example:

I sent a box of oranges to my younger brother.
✘ 我给我弟弟寄来了一箱桔子。
√ 我给我弟弟寄去了一箱桔子。

From “I” to “my younger brother” is moving away from where “I” am, so we should use “去”.

She is still outside and hasn’t come in.
✘ 她还在外面,还没有进去
√ 她还在外面,还没有进来

Here the speaker is inside, and “她” is outside, so movement from outside to inside is coming towards the speaker, so here we should use “来”.

The sentence position for objects in directional complements is another problem for learners, especially when the object is a place. For example, “We enter the room.” should be “我们房间” but someone may instead say “我们进去房间” which is absolutely wrong since place objects should be placed between the verb and “来/去”.


Translate the sentence.

  1. He doesn’t want to go back home now.
  2. You two can go upstairs.

Put the words in order.

  1. 跑 他们 下 去 山 还没
  2. 书 把 你 拿 教室 进 来

Check answers

Translate the sentence.
1. 他现在不想回家去。
2. 你们两个可以上楼去。
Put the words in order.
1. 他现在不想回家去。
2. 你把书拿进教室来。

(Reference: the Simple Directional Complement verb 来,去)

15. Comparative sentences with “比”

“比” is used to form a comparison in Chinese.

The basic structure: “A 比 B + Adjective”

For example,

He is taller than me.

What about “He is much taller than me.”

他比我很高。Is this correct?

Pay attention that adverbs like “很” can’t be placed before adjectives in comparative sentences, so it should be translated into “他比我得多” instead of “他比我很高” in Chinese.

The opposite of “比” is “没有”(not as… as…). But you might have also learned another tricky negative comparison “不比”(not more… than…) which is a direct negation of “比” and much easier for learners to accept mentally. However, the fact is that they’re indeed the negative forms but not exactly the same thing! Such as the following:

Today isn’t as hot as yesterday.
(It indicates yesterday is definitely hotter than today and they are not the same)

Today isn’t hotter than yesterday.
(It indicates today isn’t hotter than yesterday, but they might be equally hot.)


Translate the sentence

  1. She is cuter than my younger sister.
  2. He isn’t smarter than me.
  3. This watermelon isn’t as expensive as that one.

Check answers

1. 她比我的妹妹可爱。
2. 今天比昨天热得多。
3. 他没有我聪明。
4. 这个西瓜不比那个西瓜贵。 [o1]

(Reference: The Comparative Sentence “比(bǐ)” Sentence)

16. Existence Sentences

Translation practice:

  1. There are two books on the table.
  2. There is a girl looking for you outside the office.

Many learners would put them like this:

  1. 有两本书在桌子。
  2. 一个女孩找你在办公室外面。

But are they correct? Definitely NOT.

To express existence and appearance in a place, we can use existence sentences in Chinese, which follow the form of “Place + Verb + Someone/Something”. In existence sentences, the first part usually is “Noun/ Pronoun + Location Words”, like “家里” “教室外面” etc., prepositions such as “在” “从” and so on cannot be used. It is quite clear, but leaving out location words or adding redundant prepositions is a frequent error among learners.

Correct translation:

  1. 卓子放着两本书。
  2. 办公室外面有个女孩找你。


Translate the sentence

  1. There is nobody in the classroom.
  2. There sits a dog under the tree.
  3. There are ten tables and ten chairs in the library.

Check answers

1. 教室里没有人。
2. 树下坐着一只狗。
3. 图书馆里有十张桌子和十把椅子。

(Reference: How to use 在、有 and 是 Express Existence in Chinese)

17. “把” sentence

There are several special sentence structures in the Chinese language. To emphasize initiative of an action, we use “把(bǎ)”, which has no equivalent in other languages, including English. Without a doubt, it is one of the most difficult parts for learners not only because of the headache-inducing rules but the timing to use it.

As we all know, the basic structure is

Doer + + Receiver + Verb + Other elements

The Doer performs an action while the Receiver is influenced by it. But the placement is misused at times.

For example:

The elder brother closed the computer.

Here “哥哥” is the agent and “电脑” is the recipient of the action “关”.

Using “把” for all verbs is a common error of many learners. And main reason is probably that the user doesn’t know clearly what the right situation is to use “把” in.

For example:

He has known that thing.
Incorrect expression: 他把那件事知道了。
Correct expression: 他知道那件事了。

Intellectual and mental state verbs, like “喜欢” “知道” “认识” etc. can’t be used in “把” sentences. So here the pattern SVO would be better. Then comes the question when we should use “把”? Briefly speaking, when “把” is used, the doer must make some change or have some influence on the receiver. For example, “I put your book on the table.” Here the doer is “I”, the receiver is “your book”, and “I” makes the position of “your book” change, so we should use “把”. The whole sentence would be “我把你的书放在桌子上了”.

What’s more, “other elements” is easy to overlook too. For example, “上午我要把这篇文章写” lacks some “other elements”, making the sentence incomplete. And the complete form would be “上午我要把这篇文章写” (I will write and finish this article this morning.). “完” is the complement of “写” to show the change made by “写” on “文章”.

Another thing we should keep an eye on is the placement for the negation word “没”.

For example,

He didn’t finish the homework.
他把作业写完。 X

This is a pretty typical error where “没” is misplaced. Actually, the negation word should precede “把”, so the correct version is “他把作业写完”.

Furthermore, the parts following “把” should be taken into account too.

For example,


 “一本书” is indefinite, which contradicts the rule that receiver is normally definite. So this sentence can be changed into “我把那本书扔了” (I threw that book.)

or “我把这本书扔了” (I threw this book.).


Put the words in order.

  1. 我的 你 把 哪里 放在 了
  2. 把 门 没 打开
  3. 我们 把 房间 干净 了

Check answers

1. 你把我的水放在哪里了?
2. 他没把门打开。
3. 我们把房间打扫干净了。

(Reference:  把(ba) Sentence)

18. Using “了” to indicate all past tense situations

Unlike in English, changing tenses in Chinese is done by using time markers, like “昨天” “明天” etc. or adding a particle, like “了”.

For example,

I will go to school tomorrow.

“明天” implies the future tense. “他吃午饭”(He ate lunch.) where “了” after the verb “吃” expresses that this action has been done in the past. Adding time markers can easily be mastered by learners, but “了” is quite tough for some people even if they have reached a fairly high level in Chinese. One of the biggest problems is that some learners would add “了” after all verbs to express past tense, which is an absolute misunderstanding.

Back to “了”, it can be used after a verb to indicate an action has been completed, but it doesn’t mean it is equivalent to past tense. As a matter of fact, it can be used in any tense, no matter what time frame we’re talking about.

For example:

I went to that store.
我去那个商店。(the past)

I will play the game after eating next time.
下次我吃饭再玩游戏。 (the future)

You may be confused by the second example as to how it implies future tense with “了” in the sentence? That’s because the speaker intends to finish the first action “吃饭” and then continue the second action “玩游戏”, so the speaker uses an aspect particle “了” to show the completion of the first action. However, the thing is, when the speaker is saying this sentence, these actions all haven’t finished yet and they will actually happen next time instead, so it is future tense but still includes “了”.

And if the action is habitual or continuous, we also don’t use “了” even it occurred in the past.

For example:

He often studied Chinese in the morning before.
✘ 他以前常常在早上学中文。
√ 他以前常常在早上学中文。

He works overtime every night.
✘ 他每天晚上加班。
√ 他每天晚上加班。


Translate the sentence

  1. He often went to the hospital last year.
  2. I have been to Beijing twice.
  3. I have my hands washed before dinner.

Check answers

1. 他去年经常去医院。
2. 我去过北京两次了。
3. 吃饭前我洗了手。

(Reference: The use of ‘了’(le)in Chinese)

19. Improper use of approximate numbers

Could you try to translate “There are thirteen or fourteen students in the classroom.” into Chinese? Let’s take a closer look.

In Chinese, there are many ways to present approximate numbers, but here we are going to just focus on three ways you may frequently use. One of them, as shown above, is to use two adjacent digits together. For example, “三四个人” means “three or four people”, “十一二本书” means “eleven or twelve books”, “四五十岁” means “forty or fifty years old”. So “There are thirteen or fourteen students in the classroom” is “教室里有十三四个学生” in Chinese. Note that “九” and “十” are seldom used together to express an approximate number in order to not be confused with “九十”(ninety).

Another frequently used way is adding “多(duō)”.

For example,

I bought over five jin of apples.

In Chinese, we usually use “多” in the structure “Number + Measure + 多” where usually the number is a single unit or multi-digit with single units, or we use the pattern “Number + 多 + Measure” when the number is ten or integers that ends with a zero.

For example,

一个多月 (over one month),
三千多个人 (over three thousand people),
十多件衣服 (over ten clothes).

So the sentence “I bought over five jin of apples.” should be “我买了五斤多苹果” in Chinese.

Sometimes you may see this kind of sentence “我这里只有几十多块钱”  from some Chinese learners. You may be surprised to see “几” used to express an approximate number. “几” can be substituted for numbers less than ten followed by a measure word.

For example,

I have several Chinese friends.

“我这里只有块钱” doesn’t exist because “几” and “多” cannot be used together to indicate an approximate number. So, it can be changed to “我这里只有十块钱” or “我这里只有十块钱”.

Another error that may occur is combining “几” with a definite number, such as “这里有几十九本书。” “九” is a definite number which cannot be used with “几” here. So the sentence should be “这里有几十本书”(There are dozens of books.)


True or false.

  1. 爸爸给了我三十块多钱。
  2. 我看到外面有几多个人在说话。
  3. 他今年十一多岁了。
  4. 这张桌子有十几多斤重。

Check answers

1. F 爸爸给了我三十多块钱。
2. F 我看到外面有几个人在说话。
3. F 他今年十一岁多了。
4. F 这张桌子有十几斤重。

(Reference: Expressing an “Approximate Number” in Mandarin)

20. Errors with Chinese Punctuation

Now let’s take a look at one thing which is almost ignored by most instructors, that’s Chinese punctuation. Chinese punctuation marks are similar in function to those in English, but some of them differ in form. Because of this subtle relationship, there are always mistakes happening with punctuation, even for advanced learners.

To begin with, in English people are used to using “.” to end a statement, so some learners will continue to use “.” In Chinese, which is absolutely wrong because we only use “。” to mark a full stop in Chinese.  

For example:

We are Japanese.
✘ 我们是日本人.
√ 我们是日本人

In addition, commas are another one lots of learners struggle with. Just like the comma in English, it’s used to separate clauses and indicate pauses. For example, “因为外面下雨了所以我不想出去”(I don’t want to go out because it’s raining outside.) Then, you may wonder what about enumeration commas? Are they the same? The answer is no, though their function is similar. In fact, the enumeration comma is used to separate words in a list. For example, “我买了蛋糕糖和水果”(I bought cake, sugar and fruit.).

Some learners will omit them or confuse the regular comma with the enumeration comma or put them in a wrong position.

For example:

Her face is red and looks like a red apple.
✘ 她的脸很红像一个红苹果。
√ 她的脸很红, 像一个红苹果。

Here, we don’t need “和” to connect because it’s just a pause, the connection is continuous. So, a regular comma is enough.

There is milk, fruit, vegetables, notebooks etc. in the supermarket.

✘ 超市里有牛奶,水果,蔬菜,本子等等。
√ 超市里有牛奶、水果、蔬菜、本子等等。

Here, it’s stating a list and there is only a slight pause between “牛奶” “水果” “蔬菜” and “本子” in coordination. So, the enumeration comma is used.


True or false.

  1. 他们在吃饭我们在看书。
  2. 姐姐不喜欢吃面包.
  3. 他买了两双鞋,三双袜子,五条裤子,一件衬衫和一件大衣。
  4. 8点了,但是外面还是很亮。

Check answers

1. F 他们在吃饭,我们在看书。
2. T
3. F 他买了两双鞋、三双袜子、五条裤子、一件衬衫和一件大衣。
4. T

So, there are the top 20 most frequent mistakes we see made by Chinese learners. I hope this article helped you confirm what you already knew and even taught you something new that you can now apply in your studies. If you’re paying attention to all of these points, it will really take your Chinese to the next level.

If you’re hoping to get even more information about these topics, be sure to check out the links provided in each section, and if you can’t find an answer to your questions there, leave us a comment down below!

Cecilia He

Cecilia He

Cecilia majored in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. She has vast experience in educating her students on how to listen to and speak Chinese, and is trained to teach HSK courses. She has mastered the method and practice of teaching the structure, historical development, and relationships of languages as an academic subject, and has also done extensive research on Intercultural Communication and Sinology.

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