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Basic sentence order

In its most basic form, Chinese word order is very similar to English word order. These similarities definitely have their limits, though; don't expect the two languages' word orders to stay consistent much beyond the very basic sentence orders outlined below.

Subject-Predicate

A simple predicate can be just a verb. The most basic word order in Chinese is:

Structure

Subj. + Verb

You can form very simple sentences with just two words.

Examples

Subject Verb Translation
你们Nǐmen吃。chī.You eat.
笑。xiào.He laughs.
读。dú.I read.
去。qù.You go.
你们Nǐmen看。kàn.You look.
来。lái.You come here!
说。shuō.I speak.
孩子Háizi哭。kū.Children cry.
Shéi要 学?yào xué?Who wants to study?
Shéi想 玩?xiǎng wán?Who wants to play?

Subject-Verb-Object

A slightly longer predicate might be a verb with an object. A sentence with both a verb and an object is formed with this structure:

Structure

Subj. + Verb + Obj.

This is the same as in English, and is commonly referred to as SVO word order. You can express a huge variety of things with this simple structure.

Examples

Subject Verb Object Translation
他们Tāmenchī肉。ròu.They eat meat.
茶 吗?chá ma?Do you drink tea?
学校。xuéxiào.I go to school.
shuō中文。Zhōngwén.He speaks Chinese.
喜欢xǐhuan 孩子 吗?háizi ma?Do you like kids?
我们Wǒmen要 买yào mǎi电脑。diànnǎo.We want to buy a computer.
你们Nǐmen想 吃xiǎng chī中国 菜 吗?Zhōngguó cài ma?Do you want to eat Chinese food?
ài你 和 爸爸。nǐ hé bàba.I love you and dad.
他们Tāmen要 做yào zuò什么?shénme?What do they want to do?
想 去xiǎng qù什么 地方?shénme dìfang?What place do you want to go to?

When Things Get Tricky

Despite the convenient word order similarities highlighted above, things start to break down as soon as you start adding in such simple sentence elements as the "also" adverb 也 (yě), a time word, or a location where something happened.

Don't worry; the more complicated Chinese structures aren't hard, they're just different! (If Chinese word order were really the same as English word order, that would be just a little too convenient, wouldn't it?)

See also

Sources and further reading