THE MOST FREQENTLY USED CHINESE WORDS
The most frequently used word in Chinese: de1. possessive marker used a) after a personal pronoun to form a possessiveadjective or a possessive pronoun: wode (my, mine); nide (your, yours); tade(his); tade (her, hers); tade (its); womende (our, ours); nimende (your,yours, plural) and tamende (their, theirs); and b) between two nouns to showa possessive relationship: laoshi de shu (the teacher's book); Meiguo degongsi and (America's companies). When a modifying noun describes thecharacteristic of another noun instead of showing a possessive relationship,de is not used: Yingyu baozhi (English language newspaper); Faguo cai(French food). When the name of a country is used as a modifier, thepresence and absence of de makes a difference in meaning: Zhongguo decanguan (China's restaurants, i.e. restaurants in China); Zhongguo canguan(Chinese restaurants). 2. modifier marker used a) after a disyllabic orpolysyllabic adjective to indicate its attributive relationship with thefollowing noun: gaoxingde shi (happy event); youyisi de dianying(interesting movie). A monosyllabic attributive adjective modified by anadverb also requires the use of de before a noun: hen hao de ren (very goodperson); feichang re de xiatian (extremely hot summer); and b) after anattributive prepositional phrase or sentence to define a noun that followsit: guanyu Zhongguo de dianying (movie about China); ni zotian mai de shu(the book that you bought yesterday). Note that prepositional phrases andrelative clauses follow the nouns they modify in English, but they precedethe nouns in Chinese. Given enough contexts, the noun modified by a verbalphrase can be left out, resulting in a nominal construction: you qian de(the person who has money; rich people); chi de meiyou wenti (there is noproblem with food; chi de = chi de dongxi "things to eat"). De is often leftout from the possessive pronoun when: a) it is monosyllabic (wo, ni, ta, andta) and followed by a noun indicating a close relationship, particularly afamily relationship: wo baba (my father); ni gege (your older brother); tapengyou (her friend); b) it is followed by a noun indicating a place thatthe person represented by the pronoun is affiliated with: women xuexiao (ourschool); tamen gongchang (their factory). Given the proper context, the noundefined by an adjective + de, a verb + de or a sentence + de can often beleft out: haode (ren) duo, huaide (ren) shao (there are more good peoplethan bad people); wo shuo de (hua), ni dong bu dong (do you understand whatI say)?See under shi for the shi ... de structure.... de hua Used at the end of a conditional or hypothetical clause inconnection with conjunctions such as ruguo, jiaru and yaoshi: ruguo tian xia yu de hua (if it rains); jiaru ni you qian dehua (if youhave money); yaoshi wo shi ni dehua (if I were you). In theprevious examples, either the conjunction or dehua, but not both, canbe left out.... de shihou when, used at the end of a clause. If the subordinate clauseshares the same subject as the main clause, either one of them is left out:wo zai Meiguo de shihou qu guo Huashengdun (when I was in the U. S., I had been to Washington); Shangban de shihou buyao kan baozhi (don't read newspapers when you are at work).
The second most frequently word: yiYi is pronounced the first tone when a) it is read in isolation; b) itserves a designating or identifying function rather than a quantity such asin a telephone number and account number: (telephone number) 212-744-8181(er yi1 er qi si si ba yi1 ba yi1); or c) it appears in the ones and tensposition of a number: 511 (wu bai yi1 shi yi1). Otherwise it is pronounced the fourth tone before a first tone, a second tone or a third tone word: yi4ben3 shu1 (one book), and the second tone before a fourth tone word: yi2 ci4(one time). In an ordinal number, yi is always pronounced in the first tone:di yi1 jia canguan (the first restaurant); yi1 yue (January). If pronouncedin isolation as in a designating number that consists of three or moredigits, "yi1" can be read as "yao1".1. one. 2. Used between reduplicated monosyllabic verbs to suggest that theaction is brief, informal or tentative. As such, it is pronounced in theneutral tone: kan yi kan (have a look); ting yi ting (listen for a minute);deng yi deng (wait a minute). Yi in these expressions can be omitted withoutaffecting the meaning. 3. whole, entire, full: women yi jia ren zuotian qule bowuguan (our whole family went to the museum yesterday); ta you yifangzi de shu (he has a roomful of books). Unless it appears at the beginning of a sentence, yi can be omitted when used with a classifier toqualify a noun: wo xiang mai (yi) jian maoyi (I'd like to buy a sweater); tashi (yi) ge hao laoshi (she is a good teacher).yi...jiu...as soon as: ta yi lai wo jiu qu (as soon as he comes, I'll go). Note that 1)the main clause always follows the subordinate clause, and 2) the subject ofthe main clause precedes jiu instead of following it.yiban 1. usually; generally. 2. ordinary; average; regular; most; plainyibian... yibian...Used in pairs to indicate two actions are taking place simultaneously: taxihuan yibian kanshu yibian ting yinyue (he likes to listen to music whilereading). If the two verbs share the same subject, yi in the expression canoften be left out; otherwise, it must be present: ta xihuan bian kanshu bianting yinyue (he likes to listen to music while reading); ni yibian shuo, woyibian ji (while you were talking, I took notes). Bian in yibian can oftenbe substituted by mian.yidianr a littleyiding1. definitely, certainly, must be: Niuyue yiding you Zhongguocheng (theremust be a Chinatown in New York). 2. certain, given, necessary: zuo zheyangde shi, bixu you yidingde tiaojian (to do such a thing, there must benecessary conditions). 3. must, used in imperative sentences, often withverbs such as yao (need) or dei (have to): ni yiding yao zao lai (you mustcome early).yifangmian ... yifangmian on one hand, on the other handyihuir in a little whileyiqi togetheryixiarUsed after a verb to suggest "briefly", "informally", "casually" and "tentatively": qing lai yixiar (please come here for a minute); wo jieshaoyixiar Shanghai (let me say a few words about Shanghai). Yixiar can be usedinterchangeably with the "Verb yi Verb structure": zuo yi zuo/zuo yixiar;yong yi yong/yong yixiar (use for a minute).yixie1. some; a few. Yi can be omitted if it does not appear at the beginning ofthe sentence: wo zuotian qu shudian mai le yi xie shu (I went to thebookstore yesterday and bought a few books). 2. Used before shenme (what) ina question to soften the speech. Yi is usually left out: nimen xiang chi xieshenme (what would you like to eat)? 3. Used after an adjective to mean"somewhat". Yi is usually left out: wo mama de shenti xianzai hao xie le (mymother's health is a little better now)? yiyang1. same: yiyang de shu (the same book), nide qiche he wode qiche yanse yiyang (your car has the same color as my car). 2. similarly; as ... as:Suzhou he Hangzhou yiyang haowan(Suzhou is just as fun as Hangzhou). If the negative word bu is used in 1and 2, it more often than not precedes yiyang instead of gen or he: Zhongcangen Xican bu yiyang (Chinese food is not the same as Western food). 3. like,used with xiang: jintian xiang dongtian yiyang (it is just like wintertoday).
The third most frequently used word in Chinese: shi1. to be, used between two nouns to indicate identity. Different from verb"to be" in English, "shi" in Chinese is only used when the subject and thepredicative have the same referent: wo mama shi yisheng (my mother is adoctor), zhe shi tamen de xuexiao (this is their school). If the predicativeindicates a condition or description in the form of an adjective, or alocation in the form of a prepositional phrase, "shi" is not to be used:Riben de dongxi hen gui (things in Japan are very expensive); Zhongguoyinhang zai Zhongguocheng (Bank of China is in Chinatown). "Shi" can be leftout when the predicative indicates a time, age, etc.: jintian (shi) xingqisan (today is Wednesday); xianzai shi ba dian (it is eight o'clock now). 2.exist, used in an existential or presentational sentence: Meiguo de beibianshi Jianada (north of the United States is Canada). Note that the itemfollowing shi must be definite or specified. If it is not, you should beused instead: Meiguo de beibian zhi you yi ge guojia (there is only onecountry north of the United States).
shi bu shi Used to form a question at the beginning of a sentence or after the subjectto seek confirmation of a supposition: ni shi bu shi zai yinhang gongzuo (isit true that you work at a bank)? shi bu shi Zhongguoren dou yong kuaizi chi fan (is it true that every Chinese eats with chopsticks)? In colloquialspeech, shi bu shi can also appear at the end of the sentence: ni hui shuoFayu shi bu shi (you speak French, right)? Shi bu shi has the same effect asa disjunctive question in English such as you work at a bank, don't you?Chinese People all eat with chopsticks, don't they? The answer to thequestion formed by shi bu shi is either shi (yes)/bu shi (no) or dui(correct)/bu dui (not correct).
shi ma?1. Used at the end of a question to mean the same as shi bu shi: Riben zaiDongya, shi ma (Japan is in East Asia, isn't it)? The answer to the question is either shi (yes)/bu shi (no) or dui (correct)/bu dui (not correct). 2.Used as a response to suggest surprise and disbelief with the meaning of "really?"
shi aUsed as a response to suggest agreement.
shi ... de1. Used to emphasize or contrast the subject and the adverbial (time, place,manner of the action) in a sentence, similar to the "it is ... that ..."structure in English. "shi" appears before the item to be emphasized and"de" comes at the end of the sentence: shi wo wanshang zai xuexiao xueZhongwen (it is I who study Chinese in the evening at school); wo shiwanshang zai xuexiao xue Zhongwen de); wo wanshang shi zai xuexiao xue Zhongwen de (it is at school that I study Chinese in the evening). 2. Usedto ask questions about the time, place, and manner of a past event. Shi canbe omitted: ta (shi) shenme shihou qu Zhongguo de (when did he come toChina)? ni jintian (shi) zenme lai de (how did you come today)? When theverb is a transitive one, de is usually placed between the verb and theobject: ni jintian (shi) zai nar chi de zhongfan (where did you eat lunchtoday)? ni (shi) zai nar shang de daxue (where did you go to college)? Notethat the response to the questions above should take the same form. If theobject is a pronoun or if it is a noun followed by a directional complement,de must be placed at the end of the sentence: ni shi zai nar renshi ta de(where did you become acquainted with him)? Ta shi zuotian ji lai zhe fengxin de (she sent this letter yesterday). 3. Used to emphasize purpose. Thisusage involves two verbs, the first of which is often a verbal phraseintroduced by "lai"(come) or "qu (go): wo shi qu Zhongguo gongzuo de (I'mgoing to China to work, implying that I'm not going there for pleasure).
The fourth most frequently used word in Chinese: bubunot, used before all the adjective, adverbs and verbs except you (to have).In isolation, it is pronounced the fourth tone, but when followed by afourth tone word, it is pronounced the second tone: bu4 lai2 (not come); bu2qu4 (not go). Bu is pronounced in the neutral tone when used in the"verb/adjective bu verb/adjective" Yes/No question form: ni jintian mang bumang (are you busy today)? Ni taitai gongzuo bu gongzuo (does your wifework)?bubi not necessary; don't have to: ni bubi gei wo qian (you don'thave to give me money).bubi can be used interchangeably with buyong.budan ... erqienot only... but also, adverbs such as ye (also), hai (still)or you (further) are often used in the second clause: ta budan huishuo Shanghi hua, erqie ye hui shuo Guangdong hua (he can speak not only Shanghai dialect, but also Guangdong dialect). Erqie can be substituted by hai. Ifthe two clauses introduced by budan and erqie share the same subject, thesubject appears before budan. However if the two clauses do not share thesame subject, the two subjects appear after the conjunctions respectively:budan wo bu zhidao zhe ge zi, erqie wode laoshi ye bu zhidao zhe ge zi.buganangUsed as a response to a compliment, which literally means "I don't deserveit". Another commonly used expression is "nali".buguanno matter (what, who, when, how, etc) The presence of dou, ye or haishi isrequired in the main clause to suggest that there is no exception: buguanmingtian xia bu xia yu, wo ye yao qu gongyun (I'm going to the park tomorrowwhether it rains or not); buguan wo zenme shuo, ta dou bu ting (no matterwhat I say, she refuses to listen). buguo nevertheless.bujin ... erqienot onl ... but also, used mostly in written language.bulun no matter (what, who, when, how, etc), used interchangeably with buguan. bulun is more formal than buguan.bu shi ...ma?Used in a rhetorical question to expect an affirmative answer:zhe ge zi bu shi hen nan xie ma (isn't this character difficult to write)?buyongnot necessary; don't have to, used interchangeably with bubi.
The fifth most frequently used word: leAspect particle used to indicate the completion of an action, cf. wo chizaofan (I eat breakfast) and wo chi le zaofan (I ate breakfast). Le cannotbe used for cognitive verbs and non-action verbs such as renshi (know),xihuan (like), shi (be), xiang (resemble). If there is a series of two verbsin the sentence sharing the same subject, typically with qu (go) as thefirst verb, le must appear after the second verb, not the first one: ta quyiyuan kan le tade pengyou (he went to the hospital to see his friend). Thenegative form of a verb with le is meiyou instead of bu. Once meiyou isused, le has to be dropped because there is no completed action to speak of.Note also a completed action can take place in the future as well as thepast. The following is an example of le used to indicate a completed actionas projected from the present time: wo chi le fan qu kan dianying (afterI've finished eating, I'll go to see a movie). Since le only indicates theperfect aspect, a habitual action, a universal truth or a description of asequence of events, whether in the past or present, can never take le: wozai Beijing de shihou chang qu Gugong (I often went to the Palace Museumwhen I was in Beijing). 2. Modal particle, used at the end of a sentence toindicate that a) an event has taken place. This use of le differs from theaspect le in that an action may be completed, but the whole event may nothave taken place, cf. wo chi le fan jiu qu kan dianying (after eating themeal, I'll go to see the movie) and wo chi le fan jiu qu kan dianying le(after eating the meal, I went to see the movie). When both the completionof the action indicated by the verb and the completion of the event indicated by the sentence have taken place, the use of the second le at theend of the sentence is often determined by the nature of the object in thesentence. If the object is a simple one, i.e. one that is not modified by anattribute such as a number, an adjective, and a pronoun, a second le must beused at the end of the sentence, cf. wo chi le Zhongguo fan (I ate Chinesefood-fan is modified by Zhongguo and the second le is not necessary) and wochi le fan le (I ate Chinese food-fan is not modified and the second le isnecessary). Absence of the modal marker le at the end of the sentence whenthe object is a simple one gives the impression that the sentence is notcomplete. However, the first le can often be omitted without affecting themeaning. For I saw a movie yesterday, both wo zuotian kan dianying le and wozuotian kan le dianying le are correct. If the word yijing (already) appearsin the sentence, the modal particle is invariably used at the end of thesentence. b) There is a change of condition. It often suggests the contrastto the contrary: tian leng le (it is getting cold, implying that it is nolonger warm). Compare: wo meiyou qian (I don't have money-a statement offact) and wo meiyou qian le (I've spent the money-a temporary situationimplying that I had money before). The negative form in this use is bu instead of meiyou unless the verb is you, when mei should be used: wo bu xiyan le (I no longer smoke); ta meiyou qiche le (he no longer has a car).This use of le can also suggest the emergence of a new situation: xianzai sidian le (it is four o'clock now), women shang ke ba (let's begin our class);wo sanshi sui le (I'm thirty years now).
(Source: China Institute e-Newsletter by Yong He)
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