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Language Construction and Grammar Differences between English and Chinese
By:Larry Romanoff

There are some major differences in the language structures of English and Chinese.

Chinese has much less grammar than English and, being ideograph-based, cannot alter the ‘spelling’ of a word to express a change in meaning as we do in English. Chinese has no prefixes or suffixes as in English, and instead uses auxiliary words to express moods, cases, tenses and voices.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but may be useful in considering the focus of lessons since these are areas where Chinese students usually have difficulty with English.

• Chinese has almost no use for small words like prepositions, conjuctions, auxiliaries ....... in, at, to, of, for .....

• Chinese has no articles. No 'the', no 'an', no nothing.

• The word 'no' does not exist in Chinese. 'He drink not.'

• Chinese has no singular and plural. "One child, two child, three child....".

• Since there are no singular and plural, subject-verb agreement doesn't exist.

• Chinese does not distinguish between countable and non-countable nouns; one money, one homework, one child.

• Chinese has no gender forms, other than words for 'he, she, it' - which have the same pronunciation.

• Chinese has no Nominative or Accusative cases. 'I' and 'me' are the same, as are 'he' and 'him', 'she' and 'her'.

• Chinese has no Genitive case in either verbs or nouns: One word (de) is used to indicate possession. 'I de' is 'my' or 'mine'. Etc.

• Chinese has no expressions for Dative, Ablative or Locative cases: 'I give she book.' 'I go store.' 'I live Shanghai.' 'Thank you reply me'. 'I travel boat.'

• Chinese verbs do not express time, but simply action, so Chinese has no verb tenses.

Time expressions are done with temporal adverbs. 'He future travel.' 'I tomorrow shop.'

The Chinese do not talk in the present about the future being in the past, for e.g.: 'By Friday I will have gone...'.

• Chinese verbs are one word and express a simple action meaning, in contradistinction to English.

This is not a small thing.

In English, the verbs carry so much of the meaning that we could often toss the rest of the sentence without loss. 'I would have had to have gone to Beijing had I wanted to do what you have suggested.' is a complete sentence in English constructed (almost) entirely with verbs; to the Chinese, it's jibberish.

• Our need for the verb 'to be' is a non-existent concept - 'I am going'; Chinese says, 'I go', or ‘I will happy’, or ‘We will always together’.

• Chinese does not have hundreds of words that function as different parts of speech with minor variations in spelling, like 'hesitate, hesitant, hesitation ...'. 'Don't be hesitated ...' makes perfect sense in Chinese.

• Chinese has no negative questions. Never say to a Chinese friend 'You aren't going to the party, are you?' If he’s not going, he will answer, “Yes”.

• There is trouble with large numbers. English has a name for ones, tens, hundreds and thousands. We have no name for ten thousand or one hundred thousand - we just say 'ten of those back there' or 'one hundred of those back there'. Chinese has names for ten thousand and one hundred thousand, so translating the cost of a $250,000 house will likely produce either 25 hundred thousands ($2.5 million) or 2.5 ten thousands ($25,000).

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