Since I started tutoring to help others with their mandarin Chinese, I began to help proofread many many essays. Consequently, over the course of correcting so much, it lead me to find some common mistakes that a Chinese learners would make when writing mandarin Chinese.
Here are some systematical mistakes that I found repeatedly showing time and time again. I’d like to share with you some of the corrections that you may notice and should adopt to your own learning of mandarin Chinese.
1. Use more commas
It is really exhausting when I read a sentence having 30 or more characters without a single comma. This exhaustion on my eyes is perhaps also because, unlike English, there is no spacing between words in Chinese. So please, be merciful to the reader, and use as many commas as possible (or necessary). For example:
- Awkward: 我有一个哥哥在北京还有一个姐姐在上海但是我们经常见面。
- Correct: 我有一个哥哥在北京，还有一个姐姐在上海，但是我们经常见面。
- Pinyin: wŏ yŏu yī gè gē ge zài bĕi jīng， hái yŏu yī gè jiĕ jie zài shàng hăi， dàn shì wŏ men jīng cháng jiàn miàn 。
- Translation: I have a brother in Beijing and a sister in Shanghai but we often meet.
2. “And” & “和” does not have the same meaning
We use “and” a lot in English. Some beginners believe “and” means 和, so they will always use 和 when they want to talk about “and”. However, the usage of 和 is far more limited than “and”. We only say 和 when linking nouns or pronouns. Such as:
- Correct: 你和我一起去。
- Pinyin: nĭ hé wŏ yī qĭ qù 。
- Translation: You and me go together.
- Pinyin:wŏ măi le shū 、 qiān bĭ hé zhĭ 。
- Translation: I bought books, pencils, and paper.
In other cases, we just drop the “and” when we translate an English sentence into Chinese because it is the default relationship between two clauses. For instance:
- Correct: 我站起来走了出去。
- Pinyin: wŏ zhàn qĭ lai zŏu le chū qù 。
- Translation: I stood up and walked out.
- Correct: 她很高很瘦。
- Pinyin: tā hĕn gāo hĕn shòu 。
- Translation: She is tall and thin.
Even if you meant to emphasize the word “and” (like you would in English), this has nothing to do with the Chinese word “和”. Instead you can use these words:
- 我站起来并走了出去。Wǒ zhàn qǐlái bìng zǒule chūqù
- 她很高也很瘦。Tā hěn gāo yě hěn shòu.
So now you notice that the English word “and” have quite a few counterparts in Chinese.
3. Some words can be dropped
The most common redundant words I encountered are subject words.
- Awkward: 我叫Adam，我是英国人，我学中文一年了。
- Correct: 我叫Adam，是英国人，学中文一年了。
- Pinyin: wŏ jiào Adam， shì yīng guó rén ， xué zhōng wén yī nián le 。
- Translation: My name is Adam, I'm British, I studied Chinese for a year.
People say that the Chinese language doesn’t put that much of an emphasis on structure. I believe the main reason is we tend to omit conjunctions in our sentences quite a lot.
- Pinyin: nĭ qù wŏ yĕ qù 。
- Translation: If you go, I go.
4. Word order issue
If I only can give you one rule about Chinese grammar, this is the one: say the modifier first. In Chinese, we like to put the key word in the end of the sentence. For instance:
- Awkward: 我旅游在北京去年。
- Correct: 我去年在北京旅游。
- Pinyin: wŏ qù nián zài bĕi jīng lǚ yóu。
- Translation: I traveled to Beijing last year.
- Awkward: 他说了很多话关于昨天的新闻。
- Correct: 关于昨天的新闻他说了很多话。
- Pinyin: guān yú zuó tiān de xīn wén tā shuō le hĕn duō huà。
- Translation: He talked a lot about yesterday's news.
Language is like our lives, it is not meant to be designed but more to be evolved. There are exceptions to the rule in grammar. So we need to focus on the systematic mistakes that we make. I hope you all can enjoy learning all the time.
Hero image by Derek Huang on Unsplash