“How do you describe something in Chinese?” This is a question that our tutors often encounter in our Chinese classes for beginners. It sounds like a basic grammar rule, but simply stating that something is blue or black is a lot harder than it seems.
In this post, we’ll explain the formula for a simple Noun + Adjective sentence. Let’s break it down by using the example for how to say “He is tall,” in Chinese.
- The Chinese gender pronoun for “he / him” is “他(tā.)”
- The Chinese word for “is / are” is “是(shì.)”
- The Chinese word for “tall” is “高(gāo.)”
With that logic, saying “he is tall” in Chinese should be “他是高(tā shì gāo),” right?
Unlike English, Chinese nouns do not necessarily have to be linked to adjectives with “is / are.” Instead, you would use a word or adverb that describes the degree of the adjective, such as the word “very” or “extremely.”
Here are some examples:
“他真高” (tā zhēn gāo)
“He is so tall.”
“他好高” (tā hǎo gāo)
“He is very tall.”
“他比较高.” (tā bǐ jiào gāo)
“He is pretty tall.”
“他不高.” (tā bù gāo)
“He is not tall.”
However, what if you simply want to say that “He is tall,” in Chinese, without making a statement on the degree of his height? Well, in that case, we use the Chinese character, “很”.
When “很 (hěn)” = “is.”
If you plug “很” into Google Translate, that’s the answer you will get literally translates to “很” is “very” in English.. However, in Chinese, “很” is what we call a “dummy-linking adverb” when you attach it to an adjective. It then no longer carries that particular meaning. So “他很高” is translated into and accepted as, “he is tall.”
The basic formula for Noun + “is” + Adjective in Chinese: Noun + 很 + Adjective.
Here are some more sentences examples with “很” as a dummy-linking adverb:
这个菜很好吃。(zhè gè cài hěn hǎo chī)
This dish is delicious.
你的头发很长。(nǐ de tóu fa hěn cháng)
Your hair is long.
中文很难。(zhōng wén hěn nán)
Chinese is difficult.
这个表演很糟糕。(zhè gè biǎo yǎn hěn zāo gāo)
This performance is disastrous.
However, there are a few exceptions to this rule.
When does “很 (hěn)” mean “very?”
When you are describing something that is a fact or perceived fact, you no longer use the formula listed above. Adjectives like “tall, difficult, long, and disastrous” are relative and depend on the situation. A perceived fact would be something that is indisputable, such as color.
So saying “The dress is blue” in Chinese would not be “裙子很蓝.” This is incorrect and would translate into “The dress is very blue.” Instead, to say “the dress is blue,” you would say, “裙子是蓝色的.” The formula is as follows: Noun + “是” + Adjective + “的.”
Another way you can use adjectives in Chinese is by applying them before nouns. In English, you might say, “The pretty girl.” In Chinese, that would be “漂亮的女孩.” (This uses de 的 to describe the person)
So, what if you were to say “很漂亮的女孩?” That would mean “the very pretty girl.” Since “很” is not linking the adjective to the noun in this case, it retains the meaning of “very.” The basic formula for “Very” + Adjective + Noun is: “很” + Adjective + “的” + Noun
Here are some examples of using “很” to mean “very” with adjectives:
Very good seats.
Very wealthy person.
Very beautiful scenery.
Very difficult homework.
We hope this post was helpful! Remember to practice and time along with these Chinese tips, your 中文 will soon be “很好!”