Mandarin doesn’t always have to be perceived as difficult. Many parts of the language can actually be quite easy to pick up.


Ah, Mandarin Chinese, one of the most widely spoken languages on the planet by total number of speakers. Why must it be so difficult? According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the United States Department of State, Mandarin is a Category Five (the most difficult category) language that requires English speakers around 2,200 hours to learn. That’s a total of 88 weeks of study time. For those same 88 weeks, we could travel to Mars…twice…and we’d still need more time to fully grasp Mandarin!


Certainly, Mandarin has its challenges. The tones can feel like they take forever to fully master. Without proper strategy, learning to read so many characters can overwhelm even the most patient learners. Don’t even get me started about the measure words.


For all of Mandarin’s difficulties though, it’s easy to overlook its simplicities. In many ways, Mandarin is child’s play compared with English or other Western languages. Here is a list of seven ways Mandarin is easier than what you might have initially realized.


1) The basic structure is subject-verb-object (SVO)


Mandarin follows the standard SVO sentence pattern found in many Western languages: the subject is placed at the beginning with the verb following it and the object attached to the end. For instance:


  • 我喝水。(wǒ hē shuǐ) – I drink water.
  • (I) is the subject, (drink) is the verb, and (water) is the object. Every part of the sentence is aligned just as it would be in English.


2) There is no subject-verb agreement


Subject-verb agreement troubles even native English speakers at times, seeing as the singular third-person must have the verb changed to align with it: I run, you run, he/she runs. It’s even more challenging in Romance languages such as Spanish, where pronouns have their own verb endings: yo corro, tú corres, él/ella/Ud. corre, nosotros corremos, ellos/ellas/Uds. corren.


None of this applies in Mandarin:


  • 我跑 (wǒ pǎo) – I run
  • 你跑 (nǐ pǎo) – You (singular) run
  • 他跑 (tā pǎo) – He runs
  • 她跑 (tā pǎo) – She runs
  • 我们跑 (wǒmén pǎo) – We run
  • 你们跑 (nǐmén pǎo) – You (plural) run
  • 他们跑 (tāmén pǎo) – They (male) run
  • 她们跑 (tāmén pǎo) – They (female) run


Did you learn a new verb today? Congratulations! You’ve also mastered how to align it with every single possible subject in existence. (By the way, did you also notice that Chinese pronouns are pretty straightforward as well? The plural forms simply consist of the singular forms plus the plural marker “”).


3) Verbs don’t change their forms by tense


Speaking of verbs, how is this for complicated? I go, I went, I will go, I have gone, I had gone. Why are there so many verb variations? Mandarin Chinese keeps it simple: once you know the verb, it will never change regardless of tense.


  • 昨天我去公园。(zuótiān wǒ qù gōngyuán) – Yesterday, I go (went) to the park.
  • 现在我去公园。(xiànzài wǒ qù gōngyuán) – Right now, I (am) go (going) to the park.
  • 明天我去公园。(míngtiān wǒ qù gōngyuán) – Tomorrow, I (will) go to the park.


The time period at the beginning of the sentence tells us exactly what tense the sentence is in. There is no need to alter the verb to match the time period. In fact, the whole concept of conjugating any word does not exist in Mandarin. In order to convey different meanings, Mandarin simply adds, removes, or reorders characters instead of altering them.


4) The numbering system is straightforward


This may be surprising, but English numbers have some strange names. Why do eleven and twelve receive their own unique names that sound nothing like the –teen numbers, even though all of them are between ten and twenty? Why do thirteen and fifteen start with prefixes that don’t match the pronunciations of their single-digit companions three and five, while the other teen numbers (fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, etc.) all do? The same can be said for twenty, thirty, and fifty versus forty, sixty, etc.


Mandarin Chinese’s numbering system does not have these strange name outliers. Once the first ten numbers are mastered, all numbers through 99 follow a simple naming pattern. Here are the numbers from one through ten:



(yī) – one

(liù) – six

(èr) – two

(qī) – seven

(sān) – three

(bā) – eight

(sì) – four

(jiǔ) – nine

(wǔ) – five

(shí) – ten


Now let’s take a look at the numbers from 11 through 19:


十一 (shíyī) – eleven

十四 (shísì) – fourteen

十七 (shíqī) – seventeen

十二 (shíèr) – twelve

十五 (shíwǔ) – fifteen

十八 (shíbā) – eighteen

十三 (shísān) – thirteen

十六 (shíliù) – sixteen

十九 (shíjiǔ) – nineteen


Notice the pattern? Each of these numbers’ names is the sum of (ten) plus however many we need to add to ten in order to get that number. None of them have strange or exceptional names compared with other teen numbers.


Then, from 20 upward, a similar pattern emerges:


二十 (èrshí) – twenty

三十 (sānshí) – thirty

二十一 (èrshíyī) – twenty-one

三十一 (sānshíyī) – thirty-one

二十二 (èrshíèr) – twenty-two

三十二 (sānshíèr) – thirty-two



二十九 (èrshíjiǔ) – twenty-nine

三十九 (sānshíjiǔ) – thirty-nine



This continues — 四十 (forty), 五十 (fifty), 六十 (sixty), 七十 (seventy), 八十 (eighty), and 九十 (ninety) — all the way through 九十九 (ninety-nine). None of the numbers break this straightforward naming pattern.


Once we reach 100 and above, we see that the numbers ending in 01-19 have every one of their digits stated. For example:


一百 (yībǎi) – 100

一千 (yīqiān) – 1000

一百〇一 (yībǎilíngyī) – 101

一千〇一 (yīqiānlíngyī) – 1001

一百〇二 (yībǎilíngèr) – 102

一千〇二 (yīqiānlíngèr) – 1002



一百〇九 (yībǎilíngjiǔ) - 109

一千〇九 (yīqiānlíngjiǔ) - 1009

一百一十 (yībǎiyīshí) – 110

一千一十 (yīqiānyīshí) – 1010

一百一十一 (yībǎiyīshíyī) – 111

一千一十一 (yīqiānyīshíyī) – 1011



一百一十九 (yībǎiyīshíjiǔ) – 119

一千一十九 (yīqiānyīshíjiǔ) – 1019


Although we now have to say a few additional digits for these numbers, the pattern remains consistent. Numbers that end in 20-99 still match the names of their double-digit counterparts: 一百二十 (120), 一千二十 (1020), etc.


Mandarin does, however, have different names for 10,000 – (wàn) – and 100 million – 亿 (yì), so once we reach these large quantities, their names stop matching the English counting system. However, names for larger numbers can be covered at another time.


5) WH-questions and answers follow the same order


Learning how to formulate and answer WH-questions in English can be tricky for non-English speakers. A typical English WH-question leads off with the question word before the order gets messy: sometimes the subject appears before the verb (e.g. “What animal is this?”) and sometimes it appears after the verb (e.g. “What is your name?”). Then, when replying, the responder must remember to change the order that each word is placed in: the subject is moved to the front, and the answer (depending on the place of the question word) is moved to the end of the statement (e.g. “This is a dog” / “My name is Larry”).


In Mandarin though, the word order remains the same between the question and the answer. For example:


  • Q: 这是什么动物? (zhè shì shénme dòngwù) – This is what animal? (What animal is this?)
  • A: 这是狗。(zhè shì gǒu) – This is (a) dog.
  • Q: 你叫什么名字? (nǐ jiào shénme míngzi) – You’re called what name? (What’s your name?)
  • A: 我叫 Larry。(wǒ jiào Larry) – I’m called Larry. (My name is Larry.)
    Both examples above use “what” as the question word, but the word order still remains the same in other WH-questions as well
  • Q: 你家有几个人? (nǐ jiā yǒu jǐ gè rén) – Your family has how many people?
  • A: 我家有九个人。(wǒ jiā yǒu jiǔ gè rén) – My family has nine [measure word] people.
  • Q: 这是谁的书? (zhè shì shéide shū) – This is whose book? (Whose book is this?)
  • A: 那是她的书。(nà shì tāde shū) – That is her book.


Answering a WH-question is simply a matter of (a) finding the question word, (b) replacing it with the answer, and (c) changing the pronoun (e.g. to ) or demonstrative (-this to -that or vice-versa) if necessary. There is no need to figure out the order, because it remains the same. While other types of questions may pose more difficulties (e.g. the yes-no question is trickier to answer in Mandarin than English), WH-questions should not be too much trouble.


6) Prepositions are short and simple


Mandarin keeps prepositions simple: most are one character, some may cover multiple meanings, and any preposition pairs that mean the opposite of each other in one way will be opposites in every other way as well.


Let’s take these four prepositions as examples: (shàng), (xià), (qián), and (hòu). and are opposites in every single one of their definitions:


  • = on, above, atop, higher, previous
  • = off, below, under, lower, next


Similarly, and are also opposites:


  • = forward, in front, before, ago
  • = backward, behind, after, later


Notice that these four prepositions alone already cover a wide array of English preposition meanings. The trickiest part might be their usage, since some prepositions (such as these four) are often (although not always) placed after nouns and verbs (thus technically making them postpositions) instead of before. Although, a dedicated learner can pick up this usage rather quickly:


桌子上 (zhōuzi shàng) – atop the table (literally: table atop).

桥下 (qiáo xià) – below the bridge (literally: bridge below).


*Side note: In some contexts, and can become verbs when placed in front of nouns. 上桌子 can mean “to climb atop the table” and 下桥 can mean “to get off the bridge.”


  • 吃饭前 (chīfàn qián) – before eating (literally: eat meal before).
  • 放学后 (fàngxué hòu) – after school (literally: release study after).


There. That’s not too difficult, right? For a more detailed list of Mandarin prepositions, check out this resource. If you would like some basic instructions on how they are used, check out this resource.


7) Demonyms are ridiculously easy


Let’s face it: English overcomplicates demonyms. Whether we’re talking about nationalities or other regional identifiers, trying to figure out a demonym we don’t know can lead to some embarrassing moments. Why is it that some of our national demonyms end in “-an” (e.g. Mexican, Russian), while others end in “-ese” (e.g. Chinese, Japanese); and still, others end in “-ish” (e.g. Irish, Polish), and lastly some don’t have any standard endings (e.g. Thai, Greek)?


Regional demonyms aren’t any easier: people from London are “Londoners,” people from Paris are “Parisians,” people from Seattle are “Seattleites,” and many people living here in Los Angeles don’t even know that we’re “Angelinos”. There’s a good chance learning English demonyms has caused a fair number of headaches.


In Mandarin, demonyms couldn’t possibly be easier: simply take the name of the region and attach the character 人after it. There are absolutely no exceptions to this rule:


  • 中国人 (zhōngguó rén) – Chinese (person)
  • 墨西哥人 (mòxīgē rén) – Mexican (person)
  • 爱尔兰人 (àiěrlán rén) – Irish (person)
  • 希腊人 (xīlà rén) – Greek (person)
  • 伦敦人 (lúndūn rén) – Londoner
  • 巴黎人 (bālí rén) – Parisian
  • 西雅图人 (xīyǎtú rén) – Seattleite
  • 洛杉矶人 (luòshānjī rén) – Angelino


That’s all there is to demonyms. As long as we know the Mandarin name of the place, we’ll automatically know its demonym.


So there you have it. Mandarin may still be one tough language to learn, and none of this makes acquiring the language easy overall; but hopefully, you will now be able to at least find some comfort in knowing that some parts of the language aren’t that difficult. If you’ve been considering Mandarin as a language you would possibly like to pick up, then hopefully these easy features will help motivate you to begin studying it. Happy learning everyone!


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