Many learners have the same questions about Chinese grammar. We've compiled the most Frequently Asked Questions here, and organized them by difficulty level for your convenience.
Does Chinese have grammar?
Despite what you may have heard, Chinese does have grammar. Otherwise any combination of vocabulary you through together would make sense, and that's clearly not the case. (Plus, we like to think that all this work we've done for the Chinese Grammar Wiki is actually useful!)
Is it true that Chinese word order is the same as English word order?
It is true that for many very simple sentences the word order in the two languages is the same, but even in many very basic sentence patterns, you'll find that Chinese diverges from English in some important ways. For example, where to put time words, or where to put a location of an action are quite different in Chinese. We recommend you check out our page on word order in Chinese for more details.
What's the difference between a character and a word?
In Chinese, virtually all words are written using characters, but not all characters are words. So if you're learning new words in Chinese, you're pretty much always dealing with characters. But it's quite common to learn a new character which is not a word by itself. In this grammar wiki, you'll encounter single characters used as words, but this resource was not designed to teacher single characters outside of that scope.
I've heard Chinese doesn't have words for "yes" and "no." Is this true?
Yes, sort of. In Chinese, the most common way to answer a yes/no question is to repeat the same verb that was used in the question. Use the verb in the positive for "yes," and use the verb in the negative for "no." See our article on the Verb-Not-Verb pattern for more info.
Is it true that Chinese doesn't have verb conjugation or tenses?
Yes, this is true! Chinese uses aspect, not tense. So of course there are ways to refer to the past, the present, the future, etc., but it doesn't work quite the same way that English does. Key to these concepts are the aspectual particles, but we don't recommend you worry about that too much now if you're just starting out.
Does Chinese have levels of formality like Japanese and Korean?
No. Much like English, Chinese has more formal vocabulary and sentence patterns for more formal situations, but it's not actually built into any verb forms. (There is only one "verb form" for each verb in Chinese. Yay!)
What is a particle?
A particle is a tiny word that serves a grammatical purpose. Chinese particles are often used to mark a question, or to indicate that an action has been completed. Chinese particles are always neutral tone, and are never used by themselves. Common examples include 了 (le), 吧 (ba), and 吗 (ma).
There's a lot more to learn more about particles, but don't try to learn them all at once. Learn them as you need them.
How do I use 了 (le)?
That, my friend, is the million-dollar question that confounds all learners of Chinese. Unfortunately, learning to use 了 (le) is not a matter of following a few simple rules. It's a matter of learning many, many individual patterns and rules for using 了, and over time, gradually getting a feel for its usage. The Chinese Grammar Wiki has pages on both the aspectual particle 了 and the modal particle 了 (the two major traditional classifications), but you're probably better off just slowly working your way through our big page of 了 patterns.
What is a complement?
Complements are hard to explain to English speakers, because we don't have them in the same way in English. Chinese complements can modify verbs in all kinds of different ways. Usually the first one learners encounter is 听不懂 (literally, "I hear but don't understand"), but there are many other types of complements.
What is 把 (bǎ) really, and do I need to use it?
把 is used to manipulate objects in Chinese sentences. While you don't technically need to use 把 at first (for most simple sentences there are other ways to express the same information), it's a super common structure in Chinese, and you'll eventually need to break down and start using it yourself. So if you're an intermediate learner, you're definitely going to need to learn how to use 把.