Getting started with Chinese 3
Getting started with Chinese 3

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4 ‘Topic + comment’ sentences

When it comes describing people and objects, the most common sentence structure is ‘topic + comment’. The subject which is being described is the ‘topic’ and the adjective that appears afterwards is the ‘comment’.

The ‘topic’ can be a person represented by a pronoun, as below:

Nǐ zěnme yàng? 你怎么样?

How are you doing?

Wǒ hěn hǎo. 我很好。

I am good. / I am very good.

Tā èrshí suì. 他二十岁。

He is twenty years old.

The ‘topic’ can also be a verbal phrase or an adjective, whereas the ‘comment’ is often an adjective which functions as the predicate.

Xué Zhōngwén bù nán. 学中文不难。

Learning Chinese is not hard.

Shòu bù hăo.不好。

lit. thin not good (Being thin is not good.)

Apart from describing people’s feelings, state and age, the “topic” + comment’ pattern is also often used to describe days and dates:

Míngtiān xīngqí jǐ? 明天星期几?

What day is it tomorrow?

Jīntiān sān yuè yī hào. 今天三月一号。

Today is the 1st of March.

Activity 7

Take a closer look at the examples above. Structurally, how are the Chinese ‘topic + comment’ sentences different from the English ones? (Hint: try to spot two differences!)

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  • In the Chinese sentences, the verb shì (to be)is not present.
  • In the sentence ‘Wǒ hěn hǎo. 我很好。’ hěn could mean ‘very’, or it could also be left out in the translation.

Here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • When forming a “topic” + comment’ sentence, the verb shì ‘to be’ is not required.

  • In an affirmative “topic” + comment’ sentence, when the comment is a single unmodified adjective, the adverb hěn is a link which is often required, however it doesn’t necessarily have to be translated into ‘very’:

    Tā hěn lèi. 他很累。He is tired. / He is very tired.

    Without hěn , the sentence would be ungrammatical (note that the symbol of * marks the sentence is ungrammatical): * Tā lèi. 他累。

    However, if the ‘comment’ adjective is already modified by an adverb or if the statement is negative, then there is no need to add hěn :

    Tā yǒudiǎnr lèi. 他有点儿累。 lit. he a little bit tired. (He is slightly tired.)

    Tā bú lèi. 他不累。 lit. He no tired. (He is not tired.)

Activity 8

Part 1

Listen to the audio where you will hear a question in Chinese. Record your response following the prompts, before comparing it with the model provided in the feedback. You can record yourself as many times as you wish by clicking ‘Re-record’ or ‘Start again’; your last recording will be saved.

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Part 2

Choose the Chinese translation that is grammatically correct and most appropriate.

France is not far.


Fǎguó bù yuǎn. 法国不远。


Fǎguó hěn bù yuǎn. 法国很不远。


Fǎguó bú shì yuǎn. 法国不是远。

The correct answer is a.

My teacher is busy.


Wǒ de lǎoshī hěn máng. 我的老师很忙。


Wǒ de lǎoshī shì máng. 我的老师是忙。


Wǒ de lǎoshī máng. 我的老师忙。

The correct answer is a.

Part 3

Write down these phrases in Chinese in your language notebook and check them against the answers afterwards.

  1. It is useful to study Chinese.

  2. My friend is poor.


  1. Xué Zhōngwén hěn yǒuyòng. 学中文很有用。

  2. Wǒ de péngyǒu méi qián. 我的朋友没钱。

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