Learning Mandarin: Relative times for Months

I wrote in previous posts how Chinese refer to relative days and relative weeks in Mandarin. In this post, we'll look at how they refer to months.

(Yuè) is the word for Month.

这个月 (Zhège yuè) means "This month"

Similar to weeks, the words for up and down are used to make previous and next months:

上个月 (Shàng gè yuè) means "Last month" (where Shàng means "Up")

下个月 (Xià gè yuè) means "Next month" (where Xià means "Down")

Other periods are a bit different though. While you can double the ups and downs like we could with weeks:

上上个月 (Shàng shàng gè yuè) is "The month before last" or literally "up up month".

下下个月 (Xià xià gè yuè) can be used for "The month after next", even though Google translates it as "Next Month" (I think it's just wrong on that).

More commonly, I seem to hear these variations used:

前一个月 (Qián yīgè yuè) can be used for "The month before last" or "The previous month". Qián means "In front of".

下个月之后 (Xià gè yuè zhīhòu) seems pretty common for "The month after next". The zhīhòu part means pretty much "after that".

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.

A new year wish for all my Chinese buddies

I recently read a wish that I liked the sound of. Although it related to the Chinese new year, it seems appropriate for the Western new year as well. I've adapted it slightly:

新的一年,祝你微笑多一点,烦恼少一点,活力多一点,忧愁少一点,朝气满一点,脾气小一点,事情多做点,失败少一点。

(Xīn de yī nián, zhù nǐ wéixiào duō yīdiǎn, fánnǎo shǎo yīdiǎn, huólì duō yīdiǎn, yōuchóu shǎo yīdiǎn, zhāoqì mǎn yīdiǎn, píqì xiǎo yīdiǎn, shìqíng duō zuò diǎn, shībài shǎo yīdiǎn.)

In the new year, I wish you more smiles and less worries, more vitality and less sorrow, more vitality and less bad temper, achieve more and fail less.

 

Learning Mandarin: Relative times for weeks

I wrote in a previous post how relative times work for days. (Similar to how we say tomorrow, yesterday, day before yesterday, day after tomorrow, etc. in English).

Well the options for weeks are a bit different to the ones for days. To start with, it's worth noting that there are two common words for weeks:

星期 (Xīngqí) is literally "star period" but means week. It's pronounced like "shing chee".

(Zhōu) also means week but can mean many other things as well.

I commonly hear (Zhōu) used in 周末 (Zhōumò) which is pronounced somewhat like "Joe Moore" would be in English.

So let's look at the relative references:

这个星期 (Zhège xīngqí) is pronounced like "jer ger shing chee" and means "this week". Similarly you could use 这个周 (Zhège zhōu), and you might even leave out the middle character (ge). I've also seen 本星期 (Běn xīngqí) used for "this week".

Last week is 上个星期 (Shàng gè xīngqí) is pronounced like "shung ger shing chee". Curiously the first character means "up" not "last".

And based on that, it's not surprising that 下个星期 (Xià gè xīngqí) which is pronounced like "shaa ger shing chee" means "next week". The first character means "down" not "next".

Often you'll just see people say 下周 (Xià zhōu) which is shorter and to the point.

Chinese is wonderfully concise at times, and 上上个星期 (Shàng shàng gè xīngqí) is a good example. It's the week before last. You can also just write that as 上上周 (Shàng shàng zhōu).

And no surprise, for the week after next, we can just say 下下个星期 (Xià xià gè xīngqí), or more commonly, the beautifully short 下下周 (Xià xià zhōu).

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.

 

Learning Mandarin: Relative times for days

In English, we have a few ways of referring to time, relative to the current time. Mandarin is similar, and has a few patterns.

For days:

(Tiān) is day (although it can relate to the heavens, God, and much more)

Although 每个天 (Měi gè tiān) is literally "every (or each) day", doubling-up the character as 天天 (Tiāntiān) can also be used for every day

今天 (Jīntiān) is today

昨天 (Zuótiān) is yesterday

明天 (Míngtiān) is tomorrow (and roughly translates to "bright day")

前天 (Qiántiān) is the day before yesterday (and roughly translates to "in front day)

后天 (Hòutiān) is day after tomorrow (and roughly translates to "rear (or perhaps behind) day"

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.

 

Learning Mandarin: Saying "How"

In my last Learning Mandarin post, I described how to say "what". Another very common word in English is "how". And again, it also has a simple translation in Mandarin.

怎么 (Zěnme) is the word for "how".

Similar to what I mentioned for "what", you can use "how?" on it's own, the same way we do in English.

怎么? (Zěnme?) is equivalent to "How?"

Some more examples are:

你怎么样? (Nǐ zěnme yàng?) is "How are you?". (Again literally, it's "you how" and then a word that means "kind" or "type").

If we add the time period "today" to the sentence, it becomes:

你今天怎么样? (Nǐ jīntiān zěnme yàng?) and that's a reasonably common greeting, even though many would just abbreviate it to:

怎么样?(Zěnme yàng?)

If you need to add a verb to "how" to describe the action, it goes after it:

你怎么说"Hello"? (Nǐ zěnme shuō "Hello"?) is How do you say "Hello"? (Notice again that the order is different to English. Literally, it's "you how say Hello?").

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.

Learning Mandarin: Saying What

One very common word in English is "what". It also has a simple translation in Mandarin.

什么  (Shénme) is the word for "what".

On it's own, you can use it in a sentence the same way we do in English.

什么? (Shénme?) is equivalent to "What?"

Some more examples are:

那是什么? (Nà shì shénme?) is "What is that?" (Notice the order is different to English. Literally, it's "that is what?").

你叫什么名字? (Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?) is "What is your name?". (Again literally, it's "you call what name?".

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.

Learning Mandarin: Not only but also

An interesting pattern in Mandarin relates to how we translate the English "not only A but also B".

This is a good example of the fact that you can't just try to translate words directly between languages.

Here's a Mandarin example:

他不但很帅,而且很聪明 。 (Tā bùdàn hěn shuài, érqiě hěn cōngmíng.)

It's "He is not only handsome but also very smart".

不但 (Bùdàn) would literally translate to "not but", and 而且 (Érqiě) is pretty much like anything from "and" to "moreover" or "in addition".

Instead of 而且 (Érqiě), it's also common to use (Yě) to connect the two parts of the sentence. It normally means "also".  Here's an example:

这道菜不但好吃,也好看。(Zhè dào cài bùdàn hào chī, yě hǎokàn.)

That's "This dish not only tastes good, but also looks good".

The word (Hái) normally means "still" but can also mean "also" and can be used in place of (Yě).

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.

 

Learning Mandarin – it all happened suddenly

Another group of words that are probably best learned as a set are the ones that are related to things happening suddenly. And you'll notice they are similar in one way.

突然 (Túrán) is basically "suddenly" but can also be used for "abruptly" or "unexpectedly".

忽然 (Hūrán) is also "suddenly" or "all of a sudden". But the difference is that it's a bit softer. 突然 (Túrán) can be intended to be quite harsh or jarring. 忽然 (Hūrán) might be "sudden but not unexpected".

竟然 (Jìngrán) can also be "suddenly" but it tends to indicate more of a surprise that has happened, so more like "unexpectedly".

居然 (Jūrán) is also "suddenly" or "unexpectedly" and is closer in meaning to 竟然 (Jìngrán) but 居然 (Jūrán) is softer than 竟然 (Jìngrán).

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.

Learning Mandarin: Saying Not- the difference between 没 (Méi) and 不 (Bù)

In English, the word not delivers the opposite meaning to other words, usually to verbs. So He is here becomes He is not here, and I do like it becomes I do not like it. But in Mandarin, there appear to be two words that are used in much the same way.

(Bù) and (Méi) and both used to indicate "not". And unlike in English, they go before the verb.

Even though I've been learning Mandarin for the best part of a decade now, my teachers are still often correcting me when I've used the wrong one of these. So which should be used when?

Some rules

The simplest first rule is that if you're using the verb (Yǒu), it's always 没有 (Méiyǒu). A really simple question in Mandarin is about whether or not you have something: 有没有? (Yǒu méiyǒu?) is literally "have not have" but is used for "Do you have (it)?".

If you have things that sound like habitual actions, these invariably are reversed with (Bù). For example: 我不喝啤酒 (Wǒ bù hē píjiǔ) is "I don't drink beer".

Most adjectives (particularly descriptive ones) are also reversed by using (Bù). For example: 她不高 (Tā bù gāo) is "She is not tall".

There is also a sense of tense with these two words:

我不吃 (Wǒ bù chī) is "I don't eat" or more likely "I will not eat".

我没吃 (Wǒ méi chī) is more like "I didn't eat". (Note the past tense).

And not quite the opposite

It's interesting that when you combine (Bù) with 错 (Cuò), you produce something that's much more positive than in English. Google translates 它很不错 (Tā hěn bùcuò) as "It is very good". In English "not bad" isn't so positive.

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.

Learning Mandarin: Sets of words – positions and directions

I find that learning whole sets of words is useful, rather than just trying to learn words in isolation. A good example is that when I was learning colors, I'd just learn as many colors as I could, and I'd just look around me in whatever room I was in, and try to name the colors that I saw.

A similar useful set is positions and directions. These are also good to learn as a set:

左边 (Zuǒbiān) is to the left

右边 (Yòubiān) is to the right

前面 (Qiánmiàn) is in front

后面 (Hòumiàn) is behind

上面 (Shàngmiàn) is on top (or above)

下面 (Xiàmiàn) is under (or below)

旁边 (Pángbiān) is next to (or beside)

对面 (Duìmiàn) is across from (or opposite)

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.