Chinese Grammar Bank

Chinese Sentence Structure

Even though Chinese is considered one of the hardest languages to speak due to its tones and characters, one aspect that is a relief for English speakers is the Chinese sentence structure, which at its base follows English very similarly.


At its base, Chinese is an SVO language.

That is, (S)ubject (V)erb (O)bject. This is similar to English and most European languages.

In English we would say: Adam eats an apple.

In Chinese you would say: 小李 吃 苹果 (xiǎo lǐ chī píngguǒ).


Subject (Xiao Li) + Verb (Eat) + Object (Apple)

At the most basic level, Chinese is actually quite easy to start speaking, as long as your sentences are short and all structures are in the present tense.

You might also notice that Chinese does not necessarily require articles, such as A car or AN apple, even though they can be used: 小李 吃 一颗 苹果 (Xiao Li Eats One [Measure Word] Apple).

Bella rides a bike (lit. Xiao Hong Rides Bike) 小红骑自行车 xiǎohóng qí zìxíngchē
The dog bites the man (lit. Dog Bites Person) 狗咬人 gǒu yǎo rén


In the case of English, whenever you wish to say that something is done in a certain location, you would put the location at the end.

For example, I study Chinese in a university.

In the case of Chinese, whenever there is an action happening, the location will be put right before the verb, so:


Subject (I, ) + Location Marker (in University, 在大学) + Verb (Study, ) + Object (Chinese, 中文)

Iin UniversityStudyChinese

我在大学学中文 is pronounced – wǒ zài dàxué xué zhōngwén

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He kicks a ball outside
tā zài wàibian tī qiú
Lit. He In Outside Kick Ball
Mother cooks food at home
māmā zàijiā zuò fàn
Lit. Mama At Home Make Food


Similarly to Location Markers, Time Markers are also put right before the verb:

He went to school yesterday – 他 昨天 去 学校.

Subject (He) + Time Marker (Yesterday) + Verb (Go) + Object (School)

In the case of a combination of both Location and Time Markers, while it is not grammatically incorrect to put Location before Time, it is considerably more common to put the Time before Location. Let’s see the following example:

他昨天在大学踢球 tā zuótiān zài dàxué tī qiú

He kicked the ball in the university yesterday
HeYesterdayIn UniversityKickedThe ball
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I played the guitar on the stage yesterday
wǒ zuótiān zàiwǔtái shàng dàn jítā
Lit. I Yesterday On Stage Play Guitar
Father will eat pizza at home tomorrow
bàba míngtiān zàijiā chī pīsà
Lit. Papa Tomorrow At Home Eat Pizza


As you might have noticed in the examples above, there are no indicators of past and future tense in Chinese.

Indicators of past and future tense in Chinese normally occur based on the context of the sentence.

In certain cases, when it is necessarily to put such indicators, those will act as prepositions and postpositions before or after the verb. We cover these in more detail in another lesson, but for now, you can note some common ones here:

我 会 去 美国wǒ huì qù měiguóI will go to America会 = Future/Certainty Marker
他走了很长时间tā zǒule hěn cháng shíjiānHe walked for a long time了 = Marker of Completion
你正在做什么?nǐ zhèngzài zuò shénme?What are you doing?正在 = Marker of Continuous Action


Another aspect of sentence structures, that is a bit more complex, are Complements.

These are grammar points that indicate HOW an action was done, working similarly to Adverbs, and marked by the Postposition 得.

These are a bit more complex, and are covered more in detail in our sections on the various Complements:

狗跑得快gǒu pǎo dé kuàiThe dog runs quicklyPotential Complement – in what manner an action is done
你吃得完吗?nǐ chī dé wán ma?Can you finish eating?Resultative Complement – What is the result of an action
爸妈走得出来bàmā zǒu dé chūláiMom and Dad are walking outDirectional Complement – In which direction is an action happening

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How are Chinese sentences arranged?
Is Chinese an SVO or SOV language?
Is Chinese sentence structure hard?
How difficult is Chinese grammar?

As for any language, Chinese grammar can be a bit confusing at first, but when you master the basics, you have a strong base of knowledge to build on.

The Chinese language is a very logical language, you’ll be surprise at how easy the grammar can be.

How can I learn Chinese effectively?

To learn Chinese effectively you can start by learning about the characters and the pinyin, then master the tones as early as possible and learn some basic vocabulary and structures to start putting sentences together.

Most importantly, find good resources to rely on, if you can get yourself a private teacher or some Chinese classes, and finally never give up on your studies.

How long does it take to learn Chinese?

The time required to learn and master Chinese will depend on a lot of various elements, such as consistency, motivation, quality or study resources, teachers etc.

To give you an idea, a student enrolling into a Semester Program at LTL is expected to reach level HSK 3 in 18 weeks of group class study (20h/week).

It is possible to get to a higher level if the student stays with a Chinese homestay or go out with Chinese friends, for example.