Friday, August 10, 2012

Chinese doesn't have verb conjugation!

I can't believe how well-kept this secret is- the fact that Chinese doesn't have verb conjugation, and so it works in the most straightforward way possible. You just take your subject, take your verb, and you're done. Chinese is easy.

Example: Let's look at the verb 看(pronounced kàn) which means to see or to read. So let's suppose you want to read books- that would be 看书 (kàn shū). Here's how to say it (for present tense):

我看书 (wǒ kàn shū) I read
你看书 (nǐ kàn shū) you read
他看书 (tā kàn shū) he reads
我们看书 (wǒmen kàn shū) we read

(Although I feel like these aren't necessarily sentences on their own- if you just want to say "I'm reading a book" and that's the whole sentence, you'd better say 我在看书 (wǒ zài kàn shū), the 在 shows that you're doing it right now.)

(But I stand by my point about Chinese being easy because of lack of verb conjugation.)

Seriously, it is that easy. And if you're saying "I like to read" or whatever, you use the same 看, without some kind of infinitive verb "to read"- nope, it's the same. There really is no verb conjugation.

In case you didn't get it, here's another example: In English we have "to be" and then you say "I am", "you are", "it is", "they are", see there's all these different conjugations of "be", depending on who the subject is. Mandarin Chinese doesn't have that. You use the same freaking word for all of them.

While we're here, let's learn Chinese pronouns, because they are quite easy.

First of all, you use the same word whether it's a subject or an object. 我 (wǒ) means both "I" and "me". And they're ALL like that. So simple.

我 (wǒ) I/me
你 (nǐ) you (singular)
他 (tā) he/him
她 (tā) she/her
它 (tā) it

You may have noticed that "he", "she", and "it" all have the same pronunciation in Chinese. Different characters- so they actually ARE different words- but the same pronunciation. You may have noticed a common mistake that Chinese people make while speaking English- they get "he" and "she" mixed up. Yes, they do know the difference between "he" and "she", but it's easy to make that mistake because it's not a distinction they normally think about while speaking.

And the plural pronouns:

我们 (wǒ men) we/us
你们 (nǐ men) you (plural)
他们 (tā men) they/them (masculine or mixed-gender group)
她们 (tā men) they/them (feminine)
它们 (tā men) they/them (objects)

Yeah, you just take the singular form and put 们 on the end. It really is that easy.

And sometimes this 们 is used to make other nouns plural. In general, in Chinese there isn't a singular and plural form of a noun, it's just the same. (In English, to make a noun plural you usually add "s". In Chinese, eh, no difference between singular and plural.) For example, 朋友 (péng yǒu) means "friend" but it also means "friends". Sometimes if you want to make sure everyone knows it's plural, you say 朋友们 (péng yǒu men). But I've only ever seen 们 used like this for plural groups of people, not objects. And using 们 like that isn't necessary- you're better off not doing it if you're not sure.

And something I want to say about 它 and 它们 (meaning "it" and "they", referring to objects or animals): These words don't get used that much. I'm actually not sure if I've EVER heard 它们 used. Usually instead of saying "it" in Chinese you just use the actual name of the object.

And here's a mistake I make when speaking Chinese (you know, to go along with the anecdote about Chinese people mixing up "he" and "she"): So you know how in English, if you're talking about somebody but you don't know if they're male or female, you just say "they"? It's not really grammatically correct but it's what we do.

So in Chinese I find myself saying 他们, the literal translation of "they". But that's totally wrong- dude, the words for "he" and "she" are both pronounced "tā", so this is TOTALLY NOT AN ISSUE when speaking Chinese. Just say "tā" and it could mean either "he" or "she". But, you know, my first language is English, so this is a mistake I tend to make.

Speaking Chinese is just so freaking fascinating.


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1 comment:

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