Learning Mandarin: Common newbie mistake is to overuse "is"

In many ways, verbs in Mandarin are easier than the ones in English. There's no need to learn any equivalent of conjugation and tense.

In English, we have a verb like make but then we have to learn made, making, and how to use will make, has been made, etc.

In Chinese, there's pretty much a single form of the verb, and there's another character that is often used to indicate that an action is complete.

Do we even need the verb?

Even simpler, the verb is often omitted entirely and replaced by a type of adverb. Let me show you a concrete example:

(Shì) is the verb closest to "is". (As a verb, perhaps also "be" or "exist").

The general use of "is" is quite like in English.

我是澳大利亚人。(Wǒ shì àodàlìyǎ rén.) means "I am Australian". Literally, it's like "I is Australia person".

车是蓝色的。(Chē shì lán sè de)  means "the car is blue". Literally, it's like "car is blue colored".

Common Mistake

But the common mistake made by many new learners is to include the "is" when it's not needed.

Coming from English, if we try to translate "she is beautiful", it's tempting to try:

她是漂亮。(Tā shì piàoliang.) Literally "she is beautiful".

But that's incorrect. Instead, when combining a subject with an adjective, you normally use the word (Hěn) which is pronounced somewhat like "hun" but has a falling and rising tone in the middle. It would normally be translated as "very".

So it's used like this instead:

她很漂亮。(Tā hěn piàoliang.)  Literally, this is "she very beautiful", which sounds odd in English but perfectly fine in Mandarin. And note, that unlike English where every sentence must have a verb, that sentence has no verb.

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

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