Note: Visit this lesson's Stroke Order subpage to see images and animations detailing how to write the following characters. Audio files of the words are linked from the pīnyīn when available. Problems listening? See media help.
The sentence structure of Chinese is very similar to that of English in that they both follow the pattern of Subject-Verb-Object (SVO). Unlike many languages, verbs in Chinese aren't conjugated and noun and adjective endings don't change. They are never affected by things such as time or person.
S + V + O
Wǒ jiào Àiměi.
I'm called Amy.
Note that in Chinese you do not need the auxiliary verb to be to use other verbs as in English. While the sentence is translated as "I am called Amy", saying "我是叫艾美" would be considered awkward.
Shì, the equational verb to be, can be used as the English is or equals. Shì can only be used to equate combinations of nouns, noun phrases, and pronouns. In Chinese, shì, the "to be" verb, is not used with adjectives, as it is in English, as in, "He is cold."
S + 是 + O
Wǒ shì Zhōngguórén.
I am a Chinese person.
Tā shì Jīnní.
She is Ginny.
Tāmen shì Yīngguórén.
They are English.
Shì is negated when preceded by bù [不]. Bù is normally 4th tone, but changes to a 2nd tone when it precedes another 4th tone.
Using the ending modal particle ne [呢] makes a question when the context is already known, similar to saying "How about...?" in English. A common circumstance is when you wish to repeat a question that was just asked for another subject. Simply add ne to the end of the noun or pronoun to ask "How about this".
Like particles, question words make statements into questions without changing the order of the sentence. To make one, simply substitute the QW in for the place the subject would be in the answer.
Tāmen shì nǎ guó rén?
What country are they from?
Shéi shì Měiguórén?
Who is American?
Tā shì shéi?
Who is she?
*literal translation. In Chinese, sentences are commonly structured like so, as opposed to in English. In the case of example sentence 3, "Tā shì shéi?" ("She is who?") is used while "Shéi shì tā?" ("Who is she?") is uncommon. As described above, an easy way to find the correct order is by using the response to the question as a template. In this case, the correct form of the response is "Tā shì Jīnní" or "She is Ginny", since the other form "Jīnní shì tā" or "Ginny is she" does not really make sense. Therefore, the question should be worded in the form "Tā shì shéi?", not "Shéi shì tā?".