Getting started with Chinese 2
Getting started with Chinese 2

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Getting started with Chinese 2

4 Names of countries, people and language

In English, the words ‘English’, ‘French’, ‘Spanish’, etc. are used not only to designate language and a person’s nationality but can also function as adjectives in front of nouns (e.g. ‘English newspaper’, ‘French poet’, ‘Spanish city’). In Chinese, however, a distinction is made. As you have already seen, the character wén is added to a country name to designate language and the character rén to designate a person. When associating a country with anything else, however, you use just the country name in front of the noun in question, as shown in the table below. In these examples, the country name functions as an adjective.

Table 2 Names of countries, people and language

Country names as adjectives Languages People

Zhōngguó wénxué 中国文学

Chinese literature

zhōngwén 中文


zhōngguórén 中国人

Chinese person/people

Xībānyá diànyĭng 西班牙电影

Spanish film

xībānyáwén 西班牙文


xībānyárén 西班牙人


Note that there can be some ambiguity when saying something like:

Zhōngguó xiăoshuō 中国小说 a Chinese novel

In this example, it could be that the novel is in the Chinese language, but it could also be that it was originally written by a Chinese writer but has been translated into another language. The ambiguity is removed if the language name rather than the country name is placed before the noun.

zhōngwén xiăoshuō 中文小说 a novel in Chinese

Activity 5

Choose the English words that correspond to the underlined characters (forms).

Zhōngguó hěn dà 中国很大。


Chinese people



The correct answer is b.

Zhōngguó diànyĭng hǎo kàn. 中国电影好看。





The correct answer is a.

Lǐ Yīng xué Făguó wénxué. 李英学法国文学 。





The correct answer is a.


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