Fun Ways to Learn Chinese Sentence Structure
Conversing about intense, real life situations can aid in the learning of a new language. While text books and formatted study programs can become dry, there is something about discussing personal adventures that seems to stimulate absurd sentences and aid the memory in unique ways.
Take my recent experience in crocodile territory, for instance. During my subsequent Chinese lesson, we came up with all kinds of laughable sentences that helped me grasp sentence structure that had evaded me before. And, whereas talking about the crocodile eating me in my native tongue was horribly distressing, talking about it in Chinese relieved tension because I was learning something in the process and playing with word order.
Word order is especially important in Chinese
Word order in Chinese is especially important because of the lack of tenses in verbs. So, the first part of a sentence needs to indicate “when” something is happening, if that information is going to be relayed at all. Such order is also very important for conveying the subject and object involved, that is, who (subject noun) is doing what to whom/what (object noun of action).
But even in the Chinese language, they have ways to mix up word order IF you use the correct word/character signals first. Thus, learning to discuss whether I was eating the crocodile or the crocodile was eating me, was great fun. And in the process, I came up with the idea of making a purse out of the crocodile.
First, some vocabulary to tune your ear to the sentences.
不幸 ㄅㄨˊ ㄒㄧㄥˋ (bú xìng) unlucky, not lucky
鱷魚 ㄜˋ ㄩˊ (è yú) crocodile
真幸運 ㄓㄣ ㄒㄧㄥˋ ㄩㄣˋ (zhēn xìng yùn) really lucky!
厲害 ㄌㄧˋ ㄏㄞˋ (lì hài) difficult to deal with, ferocious
找尋 ㄓㄠˇ ㄒㄩㄣˊ (zhǎo xún) to look for, to seek
尋找 ㄒㄩㄣˊ ㄓㄠˇ (xún zhǎo) to seek, to look for
不怕 ㄅㄨˊ ㄆㄚˋ (bú pà) not afraid
害怕 ㄏㄞˋ ㄆㄚˋ (hài pà) afraid, scared
殺死 ㄕㄚ ㄙˇ (shā sǐ) to kill
獵尋 ㄌㄧㄝˋ ㄒㄩㄣˊ (liè xún) to hunt for
威力 ㄨㄟ ㄌㄧˋ (wēi lì) formidable power, might
When I was talking to my tutor about our crocodile hunt, one thing lead to another and we made the following sentence.
(ㄅㄨˊ)(ㄨㄧㄥˋ), (ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄅㄟˋ)(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)(ㄔ)(ㄌㄜ˙)
(bú)(xìng), (wǒ)( bèi)(è yú)(chī)(le.)
(not)(lucky), (I)(by)(crocodile)(to eat)(emphasizes completed action)
Unfortunately, I have been eaten by a crocodile.
Which obviously isn’t true. And neither is the next sentence, and I have no plans to make it true.
(ㄓㄣ)(ㄒㄧㄥˋ ㄩㄣˋ)! (ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄅㄚˇ)(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)(ㄔ)(ㄌㄜ˙)
(zhēn)(xìng yùn)! (wǒ)(bǎ)(è yú)(chī)(le.)
(really, indeed, genuine)(lucky)! (I)(positional word to let me move direct object of “crocodile” in front of verb)(crocodile)(to eat)(emphasizes completed action)
It is indeed fortunate! I ate the crocodile.
But who knows if the next sentence will ever be true.
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ)(ㄇㄞˇ)(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)(ㄆㄧˊ)(ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄆㄧˊ ㄅㄠ),
(wǒ)(xiǎng)(mǎi)(è yú)(pí)(de.)(pí bāo),
(I)(think)(to buy)(crocodile)(leather, skin)(purse),
……(ㄧㄣ ㄨㄟˋ)(ㄖㄤˋ)(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄐㄩㄝˊ ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄧㄡˇ)(ㄨㄟ ㄌㄧˋ)
……(yīn wèi)(ràng)(wǒ)(jué de.)(yǒu)(wēi lì)
……(because)(to make, to let)(me)(to feel)(to have)(formidable power)
I am thinking of buying a crocodile leather purse, because it will make me feel formidable.
If you read the story I linked to, you know that the following IS true.
(ㄨㄛˇ ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄒㄧㄢ ㄕㄥ)(ㄏㄨㄚ)(ㄙˋ)(ㄍㄜ˙)(ㄒㄧㄠˇ ㄕˊ)(ㄓㄠˇ ㄒㄨㄣˊ)(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)
(wǒ de.)(xiān shēng)(huā)(sì)(ge.)(xiǎo shí)(zhǎo xún)(è yú)
(my)(husband)(to spend)(four)(MW for hours)(hours)(to look for)(crocodile)
My husband spent four hours looking for a crocodile.
(ㄋㄚˋ)(ㄊㄧㄢ)(ㄘㄨㄥˊ)(ㄒㄧㄚˋ ㄨˇ)(ㄧˋ ㄉㄧㄢˇ)(ㄉㄠˋ)(ㄨˇ ㄉㄧㄢˇ)
(nà)(tiān)(cóng)(xià wǔ)(yì diǎn)(dào)(wǔ diǎn)
(that day)(from)(afternoon)(one o’clock)(to／arrive at)(five o’clock)
……(ㄨㄛˇ ㄇㄣ˙)(ㄧˋ ㄓˊ)(ㄗㄞˋ)(ㄌㄧㄝˋ ㄒㄨㄣˊ)(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)
……(wǒ men.)(yī zhí)(zài)(liè xún)(è yú2)
……(we)(continuously, straight through)(“-ing” to be attached to following verb)(to hunt for)(crocodile)
Yesterday afternoon, from 1:00 until 5:00 we were continuously hunting crocodile.
Next, something obvious.
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ)(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄔ)(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)(ㄅㄧˇ)(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)(ㄔ)(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄏㄠˇ)
(wǒ)(xiǎng)(wǒ)(chī)(è yú)(bǐ)(è yú)(chī)(wǒ3)(hǎo)
(I)(to think)(me)(to eat)(crocodile)(to compare, used for comparison in saying something is ____er than)(crocodile)(to eat)(me)(good)
I think for me to eat the crocodile is better (gooder) than for the crocodile to eat me.
If you have looked a crocodile in the eyes, which I have, you know the next 2 sentences are true.
(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)(ㄅㄨˊ)(ㄆㄚˋ)(ㄨㄛˇ ㄇㄣ˙)
(è yú)(bú)(pà)(wǒ men.)
The crocodile is not afraid of us.
(ㄊㄚ ㄇㄣ˙)(ㄒㄧㄤˇ)(ㄔ)(ㄨㄛˇ ㄇㄣ˙)
(tā men.)(xiǎng)(chī)(wǒ men.)
(they) (think) (eat) (us)
They think to eat us.
I hope it never comes to this, but if it does, I hope this is how it works out…
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄅㄚˇ)(ㄜˋ ㄩˊ)(ㄕㄚ ㄙˇ)(ㄌㄜ˙)
(wǒ)(bǎ)(è yú)(shā sǐ)(le.)
(I)(positional word to let me move direct object of “crocodile” in front of verb, but the action is still happening “to” it)(crocodile)(to kill)(emphasis）
I killed the crocodile.
And there you have it. Some of my therapy to recover from the emotional trauma of my crocodile hunt was put to good use learning Chinese sentence structure. I cannot say I am sorry for the crocodiles I have hunted and killed during the process. Maybe next week, spiders?
❶ 幸 is the same character used in this word for happiness: 幸福. This implies that happiness is not just an attitude, but can be enhanced if favor or “luck” enhance your life.
❷ When I tell my Chinese tutor certain things, she frequently responds with 真的嗎？！which is the same as the English response “really?!”
❸ It is important that 把 and 被 not be confused, as they sound a little the same. However 把 repositions what is being acted upon (the direct object of the sentence), while 被 ㄅㄟˋ (bèi) is like the English word “by”. 我被鱷魚吃了 is the opposite meaning as 我把鱷魚吃了。
❹ I think it is entertaining that the same character means both flower and to spend.
❺ In Chinese, there is no separate word meaning better.