What are the main differences between Chinese and English grammar?

What are the main differences between Chinese and English grammar?


During my English learning journey, I found that actually Chinese grammar and English grammar have many common features, especially when it comes to the syntax part. They both have simple general sentences in order: Subject + Verb + Objects. For example, Wo xihuan paobu.

I like running.

In the written and spoken forms of Mandarin Chinese, SVO is the correct grammar, so it is one of the similarities shared by the two languages.

Another feature common to both languages ​​is the order of words in a noun phrase. In English, adjectives precede the noun, the noun phrase head. The same thing happens to Mandarin Chinese. For instance,

Haochide cai.

Tasty dishes.

We can see that English and Mandarin Chinese are similar. Therefore, when I first came into contact with English, I did not encounter much difficulty in learning these basic grammars. However, as I got deeper into this language, I discovered some differences between Chinese syntax and English syntax. The position of the word “that” in a sentence is the first thing I remembered while preparing this article. In English, simple sentences are usually in the order Subject + Adj. + que + Object, but in Mandarin Chinese the order seems to be reversed: Subject + que + Object + Adj. An example might be more revealing to show this fact:

Wo bi ni geng yonggong.

Thank you for being more hardworking.

“I am more hardworking than you.”

This example tells us that “than” comes before the adjective in Mandarin Chinese, which is just a reverse of the English syntax. Another remarkable fact is that there is no “to be”, or verb, in the sentence “that” based on Chinese grammar. It’s probably because people use the word “that” as a verb instead of a preposition or a conjunction. In my personal experience, this happens frequently, so this could be another difference between the two languages.

2. Language and thought

The word “wear” in English is practical: “wear” can precede any type of clothing. Instead, in Chinese, different verbs are used to describe objects belonging to different parts of the body. For example, for objects that are worn below the neck, such as pants, shirts and shoes, we have the character “chuan”, for objects that are worn above the neck, such as hats and glasses, we have the verb “dai”, for objects that are worn on the back, like a cape, we have the verb “pi”. Linguistic determinism states that the structure of a language determines how speakers of that language think.

In this sense, since the Chinese language has more words for “wearing” than English, one could reasonably predict that Chinese people might be more sophisticated and picky about wearing than other English speaking people. However, this is not the case. At least from my view of the world, the English speakers do as well as the Chinese in the field of clothing. A single “porter” is as good as the three characters “chuan”, “dai”, “pi”. Also, people have their own understanding of fashion, so it’s unfair to say that one’s dress is better than another’s. As a result, linguistic determinism seems groundless based on the word “usury” between these two languages.

3. Acquire

When acquiring English, one aspect that troubled me was the use of the past tense. Chinese grammar does not include this feature, and Chinese people only indicate that the tense is in the past and keep all other grammars at the same time as the present. For example, Wo gang cai qu cesuo.

I went to the bathroom a minute ago.

“I went to the bathroom a minute ago.”

This example is based on my personal experience. I remembered that during my first English lesson in high school, because I was late, my teacher asked me: “Where did you go?”, and I answered: “I go to bathroom”. He seemed to subconsciously correct me, “oh, you went to the bathroom”, but it was a bit awkward.

Therefore, when I want to recount something that happened, I have to intentionally remember the use of the past tense, otherwise I would unconsciously come back to use the present tense of the verbs. It is unavoidable because I learned English for the first time at the age of 7, far from the critical age, but what is interesting is that for certain technical terms, I cannot explain only in English.

For example, if you ask me what is a hydrogen bond (belongs to chemistry), I can explain to you that it is an intermolecular force between a hydrogen atom and another carbon atom, d nitrogen or fluorine. However, it is very difficult for me to explain it in Chinese, even though it is my mother tongue. I need to think for a moment and give a strange translation of my English form. Maybe it’s because I learned and practiced all those terms in English in high school. Students use Chinese to communicate at school, and we usually discuss daily life and stories instead of school materials. Therefore, only students in class or homework use these terms, both in English. This is perhaps the main reason.

4. Profane and abusive language

Secular expressions in Chinese are diverse, including gender, family members. Sex

1. 肏(cao). It means “fuck”, but is not as offensive as fuck. Depending on different situations, the tone of the word can have different meanings. For example, the second tone could be interpreted as surprise, and the fourth tone signifies anger.

2. ⽇(ri). It also means “fuck”, but it’s only a little vulgar.

Basically, any profane words that belong to gender are less offensive than if there’s a family member following them. For instance,

Cao ni ma

fuck your mother

Then, this sentence is much heavier than a single “cao” character. The same thing happens to “ri”. Family members

3. 他妈的(ta ma de) This literally means “his mother”, but it serves almost the same function as “kiss”. This one is offensive and is one of the earliest swear words in Chinese with thousands of years of history.

I believe all three of these are expected in the profanity inventory, as sex and family members are two that are common in obscenity across languages. Moreover, almost all people, young and old, women and men, use these words. Of course, some people never say profane words, but these three words I listed are the three most commonly used by Chinese people.


This article once again helps me to better understand the knowledge of the language. Like the first article, after writing this article, I feel more familiar with my mother tongue and discover more interesting facts in English. This is a valuable opportunity to dig into an area that I never think about.

Written by Yujun Song

What are the main differences between Chinese and English grammar?


Comments are closed.