1. Among the initial consonant sounds “b” and “p” in Mandarin Chinese, which one has a stronger airflow?
Many people might mistakenly think that “b” has a stronger airflow because its sound is louder. However, this is incorrect. The exhaled airflow for “p” is actually much stronger than for “b.” Don’t believe it? Try holding a piece of paper a few centimeters in front of your mouth and produce these two sounds. Similarly, the airflow for the initial consonant “t” is stronger than for “d.” This explains a phonetic phenomenon: why “跟头” (gēntóu) can be pronounced as “跟dou,” and why “糊涂” (hútú) can be pronounced as “糊du.” In the latter cases, the second character is pronounced with a neutral tone (轻声), causing the airflow to weaken and the aspiration to disappear, making the initial consonant “t” sound like “d.”
2. What determines the actual pitch of the neutral tone in Mandarin Chinese?
Let’s compare “木头” (mùtóu) and “里头” (lǐtou). Both instances of “头” are pronounced with a neutral tone, yet their actual pitches are clearly different; the second “头” has a much higher pitch. So, what determines the actual pitch of the neutral tone? The example mentioned above demonstrates that it’s not solely based on the neutral tone itself. Could it be related to the preceding word? Not quite either. Take “椅子” (yǐzi) and “李子” (lǐzi) as examples; the pronunciation of “子” is identical. However, we unintentionally notice that the pitch of both “子” in these words is similar to that of “头” in “里头.” This leads us to consider that the actual pitch of the neutral tone might be influenced by the tone of the preceding word. After comparing words like “珠子” (zhūzi), “竹子” (zhúzi), “主子” (zhǔzi), and “柱子” (zhùzi), where the initial and final sounds of the two characters are the same, yet the actual pitch of the “子” varies, it becomes evident that the tone of the preceding word plays a role. Generally, when the preceding word is in the first tone, second tone, third tone, or fourth tone, the actual pitch of the neutral tone varies as 2, 3, 4, or 1 respectively.
3. The phenomenon of “erhua” doesn’t necessarily convey diminutive or endearing meanings.
Many words undergo erhua without retaining a sense of endearment or endearing meaning. For instance, “100分儿” (100 fēn er), “前边儿” (qiánbiān er), and “词儿” (cí er) have all lost the connotation of being endearing or affectionate. Additionally, another purpose of erhua is to differentiate meanings. The meanings of many words change after undergoing erhua. For instance, “盖” (gài) as a verb and “盖儿” (gàir) as a noun, or “尖” (jiān) as an adjective and “尖儿” (jiānr) as a noun.
4. It’s not limited to nouns when it comes to 儿化erhua.
Pronouns can also undergo erhua, as seen in “这儿” (zhèr) and “那儿” (nàr). Many measure words can undergo erhua as well, like “份儿” (fènr) and “片儿” (piānr). Can you think of examples where verbs, adjectives, and adverbs undergo erhua? Take a moment to ponder, and the answers are provided below:
Verb: 玩儿 (wánr) Adjective: 蔫儿 (niānr) Adverb: 倍儿 (bèir)
5. The particles “啊” (a), “呀” (ya), “哇” (wa), and “哪” (nǎ) cannot be used interchangeably.
We say “天哪” (tiān nǎ), “好哇” (hǎo wa), and “你呀” (nǐ ya), but why can’t we say “天呀,” “好哪,” or “你哇”? This is because “天” (tiān), “好” (hǎo), and “你” (nǐ) are originally followed by the particle “啊” (a). However, due to their respective final sounds (/n/, /u/, /i/), “啊” (a) is assimilated into “哪” (nǎ), “哇” (wa), and “呀” (ya), resulting in the fixed expressions “天哪,” “好哇,” and “你呀.” Note that the actual pronunciation of the diphthong “ao” is /au/.
6. We can say “把马遛遛” (bǎ mǎ liù liù) but not “把马骑骑” (bǎ mǎ qí qí); we can say “把衣服洗洗” (bǎ yīfú xǐ xǐ) but not “把衣服买买” (bǎ yīfú mǎi mǎi); we can say “把报纸念念” (bǎ bàozhǐ niàn niàn) but not “把报纸借借” (bǎ bàozhǐ jiè jiè). Why is this so? What conditions must be met for actions to be expressed using this grammatical structure? Try to come up with more examples and identify their common traits.
It is widely believed that actions like “遛马” (liù mǎ), “洗衣服” (xǐ yīfú), and “念报纸” (niàn bàozhǐ) fulfill the criteria of being “clear in motive” and “yielding an inevitable result.” Only actions meeting these criteria can be used in the sentence structure “把+名词+动词重叠” (bǎ + míngcí + dòngcí chóngdié).
7. When can we use “别” (bié) and when can we use “甭” (beng)?
We can say “别理他” (bié lǐ tā) and “甭理他” (béng lǐ tā); however, we can say “别感冒了” (bié gǎnmào le) but not “甭感冒了” (béng gǎnmào le). Why? Find more examples and try to identify the pattern for verbs that can take “别” but not “甭.”
Answer: Verbs like 感冒 (gǎnmào), 出事 (chūshì), 失败 (shībài), 病 (bìng), 忘 (wàng), and 饿 (è) are non-volitional verbs, actions that cannot be initiated voluntarily by a person. These actions only take “别” and not “甭.”
8. Let’s categorize voluntary and non-voluntary verbs in two columns:
A) 走 (walk) 吃 (eat) 买 (buy) 听 (listen) 睡 (sleep) 洗 (wash) 修 (repair) 游行 (parade) 讨论 (discuss) 打扫 (clean) 学习 (study) 分析 (analyze) 参加 (participate) 思考 (think)
B) 病 (fall ill) 忘 (forget) 醉 (get drunk) 醒 (wake up) 饿 (hungry) 死 (die) 怕 (afraid) 感冒 (catch a cold) 出事 (encounter an accident) 看见 (see) 失败 (fail) 获得 (obtain) 知道 (know) 产生 (occur)
We already know that verbs in category (A) can generally take both “别” and “甭,” while verbs in category (B) cannot use “甭.” Can you identify more grammatical distinctions that differentiate these two categories?
(A) can be used in imperative sentences, e.g., “走” (Go); (B) requires the addition of “了” (le) in imperative sentences, e.g., “病了” (Fallen ill).
(A) can be reduplicated, e.g., “走走” (Take a stroll), “讨论讨论” (Discuss); (B) generally cannot be reduplicated. An exception is “醒醒” (Wake up), but in this case, “醒” already carries a sense of self-initiation.
(A) can be preceded by “马上” (mǎshàng) or “立刻” (lìkè); (B) can only be preceded by “立刻” (lìkè) and not “马上” (mǎshàng).
(A) can serve as objects of “肯” (kěn) and “值得” (zhíde), e.g., “他不肯走” (He is unwilling to go), “这值得学习” (This is worth studying); (B) cannot.
(A) can be modified by “不便” (bùbiàn), e.g., “不便走” (Inconvenient to leave); (B) cannot.
(A) can be modified by adverbs of manner, e.g., “亲自走” (Walk personally); (B) cannot.
9. the fundamental method of grammatical analysis:
placing words or phrases in various grammatical contexts for comparison. Consider this question: Why do we say “教室里有人做作业” (jiàoshì lǐ yǒu rén zuò zuòyè) and “今天有人没交作业” (jīntiān yǒu rén méi jiāo zuòyè) as subject-predicate structures rather than adverbial clauses?
Here are a few distinguishing features between (A) and (B):
In a subject-predicate structure, you can insert “是不是” (shì bùshì) between the subject and predicate, whereas in an adverbial clause, you cannot. For example, “他睡了” (tā shuì le) can be extended to “他是不是睡了” (tā shì bùshì shuì le); similarly, “苹果没熟” (píngguǒ méi shú) can be extended to “苹果是不是没熟” (píngguǒ shì bùshì méi shú). Applying this test, “教室里有人做作业” (jiàoshì lǐ yǒu rén zuò zuòyè) can be transformed to “教室里是不是有人做作业” (jiàoshì lǐ shì bùshì yǒu rén zuò zuòyè), confirming that it is a subject-predicate structure.
This method has limitations. When a subject-predicate sentence emphasizes the subject, it cannot be tested with the addition of “是不是.” For example, “我想去” (wǒ xiǎng qù) can be extended to “我是不是想去” (wǒ shì bùshì xiǎng qù), as the focus is on “想去” (want to go); however, “谁都想去” (shéi dōu xiǎng qù) cannot be tested in the same manner because the focus is on the subject.
10. Some Intriguing Chinese Grammar Phenomena.
In the Chinese language, even prosody can impact grammar. For instance, you might have noticed that many word combinations follow a pattern of “one-one” or “two-two.” We can say “重新学习” (chóngxīn xuéxí) or “重学” (chóng xué), but it’s uncommon to say “重学习” or “重新学.” Similarly, we say “百般劝阻” (bǎibān quàn zǔ) and not “百般劝” (bǎibān quàn), “购买书籍” (gòumǎi shūjí) and not “购买书” (gòumǎi shū), and “连看三遍” (lián kàn sān biàn) and not “连阅读三遍” (lián yuèdú sān biàn). Sometimes, to maintain prosody, we even disregard grammar rules and separate closely related components. For example: “一衣/带水” (yī yī/dài shuǐ), “我也/想买” (wǒ yě/xiǎng mǎi).
11. The scope of subject-predicate combinations in Chinese is vast.
Do you think there’s an issue with the sentence “我是女孩，她是男孩” (Wǒ shì nǚhái, tā shì nánhái)? In certain contexts, this construction is valid! Two mothers have just given birth. Holding their own babies, they sit together and chat. A passerby asks, “Did you both have girls?” One of the mothers smiles and replies, “No, I am the girl, she is the boy.”
12. The most fascinating aspect of the Chinese language
Would you believe that in some subject-predicate structures, the subject is the recipient of the action, and in some verb-object structures, the object is the initiator of the action? Can you think of examples?
In subject-predicate structures, the subject is the recipient: 信写好了 (Xìn xiě hǎo le). 苹果已经吃了 (Píngguǒ yǐjīng chī le). These sentences are subject-predicate structures, and you can insert “是不是” (shì bùshì) between them.
In verb-object structures, the object is the initiator: 来客人了 (Lái kèrén le). 住了一个人 (Zhù le yīgè rén).
Verb-object structures offer rich semantic depth. “洗衣服” (xǐ yīfú) is an action directed towards clothes, while “照镜子” (zhào jìngzi) involves an action unrelated to the mirror itself; the mirror is merely a tool. “写一本书” (xiě yī běn shū) is a verb-object combination, but the “book” doesn’t exist before it’s written – it signifies the result of the action. The phrase “写一条狗” (xiě yī tiáo gǒu) can be puzzling without context; it takes a while to realize that “一条狗” refers to the content of an article. “跳芭蕾舞” (tiào bālěiwǔ) is even more intriguing; “芭蕾舞” isn’t an object but rather a manner of “jumping.” Expressions like “吃食堂” (chī shítáng) and “踢后卫” (tī hòuwèi) are stranger still, and their exact structure remains debated.
13. In Chinese, word order can subtly affect sentence meaning.
“在桌子上跳” (Zài zhuōzi shàng tiào) indicates the location of an activity, while “跳在桌子上” (Tiào zài zhuōzi shàng) signifies the endpoint of movement.
Chinese subjects tend to be definite. When we say “客人来了” (Kèrén lái le), everyone knows who the guest is, as they are awaiting their arrival. When we say “来客人了” (Lái kèrén le), it implies a sudden visit, and the identity of the guest is still unknown. We wouldn’t say “一个同学站在操场上” (Yīgè tóngxué zhàn zài cāochǎng shàng) because adding “一个” (yīgè) implies indefiniteness, which isn’t suitable in the subject position. “操场上站着一个同学” (Cāochǎng shàng zhànzhe yīgè tóngxué) works much better.
14. In “白跑一趟” (Bái pǎo yī tàng), “白” (bái) signifies “without gain.” In “白吃白喝” (Bái chī bái hē), “白” (bái) implies “without cost.”
15. What’s the difference between “突然” (tūrán) and “忽然” (hūrán) grammatically?
We can say “不突然” (Bù tūrán), “很突然” (Hěn tūrán), but not “不忽然” (Bù hūrán), “很忽然” (Hěn hūrán). This is because “突然” (tūrán) is an adjective, while “忽然” (hūrán) is an adverb. While both adjectives and adverbs can function as adverbials, adverbs typically don’t take modifiers like “不” (bù) and “很” (hěn). This is a fundamental method of identifying parts of speech.
16. Difference between”白” (bái) and “雪白” (xuěbái)
“白” (bái) and “雪白” (xuěbái) may seem similar, and saying “衣服是白的” (Yīfú shì bái de) and “衣服是雪白的” (Yīfú shì xuěbái de) might seem interchangeable. However, their grammatical functions differ significantly. We can say “不白” (Bù bái), “很白” (Hěn bái), “白得很” (Bái de hěn), “白一点” (Bái yīdiǎn), but we can’t add “不” (bù) or “很” (hěn) before “雪白” (xuěbái), nor can we say “雪白得很” (Xuěbái de hěn) or “雪白一点” (Xuěbái yīdiǎn). Similar phenomena occur with words like “通红” (tōnghóng), “笔直” (bǐzhí), “众多” (zhòngduō), “干干净净” (gān gānjìng jìng), “灰不溜秋” (huī bùliūqiū), and others. They don’t indicate degree but only describe a state, earning them the title “descriptive words.”
There’s another curious category of adjectives that can only function as modifiers and cannot be paired with “很” (hěn), “不” (bù), or “…得很” (de hěn) phrases. Even the structure “某某是…的” (mǒumǒu shì … de) cannot be used. Can you think of such words?
17. Compare “大” (dà) and “大型” (dàxíng)
The distinction becomes clear. While “大” (dà) can often stand alone, “大型” (dàxíng) is mostly used as a modifier before nouns. Even “这台机器很大型” (Zhè tái jīqì hěn dàxíng) isn’t natural. Similar words include 男 (nán), 公 (gōng), 金 (jīn), 高级 (gāojí), 民用 (mínyòng), 固有 (gùyǒu), 彩色 (cǎisè), 野生 (yěshēng), and more.62200022522
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