16+ Intermediate and Advanced Sentence Structures

I have been curious lately about more intermediate or advanced structures that might exist in Mandarin Chinese. Textbooks do list them from time to time, but it’s hard to know which ones are common and which ones are out of date. So with the help of 汉英虚词词典 – a dated but useful dictionary of Chinese-English function words – and some Chinese friends I’ve come up with a list of interesting structures that you might find useful. Some you may already know; others, perhaps not. All example sentences have been checked for naturalness.

1. 爱…不… ài… bù…

Translation (翻译): Don’t care whether…; do as one pleases
Register (语域): Colloquial (口)
Examples (例子): 这 部电 影你爱看不看,我无所谓。— See the movie or not, I don’t care. 他这个人很高傲,对人总是爱理不理的,所以大家都不喜欢他。— This person is so arrogant, no one likes him because he’s so cold.
Comments (评论): Note that 爱理不理 àilǐbùlǐ can also be understood as a set phrase or adjective meaning “standoffish” or “cold and indifferent”.

2. 既不…也不… jì bù… yě bù…

Translation (翻译): Neither… nor…
Register (语域): Neutral
Example (例子): 这 件事情既不关系到他的利益,也不关系到我的利益。— This matter does not affect his interests, nor mine. 如果不做好作业,他既不能出去玩,也不能看电视。— If she doesn’t finish her work she can neither go out and play nor watch TV.

3. 要么…要么… yàome… yàome…

Translation (翻译): Either… or…
Register (语域): Colloquial (口)
Examples (例子): 你欠我钱,所以你要么给我还钱,要么把你的车给我!— You owe me money – either give it back or give me your car!
Synonyms (近义词): 不是…就是… bùshì…jiùshì

4. 不是…就是… bùshì… jiùshì…

Translation (翻译): Either… or…
Register (语域): Colloquial (口)
Examples (例子): 这份文件不是语法上错误多,就是语言上不够地道。— Either this document has a lot of grammatical errors or the language is just not natural enough. 他不是学生,就是工人。— He’s either a student or a worker.
Synonyms (近义词): 要么…要么… yàome…yàome
Comments (评论): This structure is confusing to learners, because 就是 jiùshì is usually just understood as meaning “is” or “is exactly”. However when it is used together with 不是 bùshì, we observe what’s called a “并列的关系 bìngliè de guānxi” – in other words, a “coordinating” or “juxtaposed” relationship. Basically you need to open your mind up a bit to how you can interpret the words according to the context.

5. 不是…而是… bùshì… érshì…

Translation (翻译): Is not… but rather…
Register (语域): Neutral
Examples (例子): 你不是很傻,而是特别的傻。 — It’s not that you’re dumb, but rather especially stupid.  我不是在说你做的工作如何,而是你的工作态度问题。— I’m not criticising your work, but your work ethic. 一个人的成功不是在于其大脑有多聪明,而是后天的努力。— A person’s success does not come about through intelligence but hard work.

6. 从…的角度来看 cóng… de jiǎodù lái kàn

Translation (翻译): From the perspective of…; according to…
Register (语域): Neutral
Example (例子): 从经济学的角度来看,现金流是最重要的。— From an economic perspective, cash flow is the most important thing.
Synonyms (近义词): 从…出发 (a little dated); 对…来说 (common)

7. 到…为止 dào… wéizhǐ

Translation (翻译): Up until…
Register (语域): Neutral
Examples (例子): 到目前为止。— Up until now; so far. 到去年为止。— Up until last year.
8. 给…以… gěi… yǐ…

Translation (翻译): To give someone or something something
Register (语域): Formal (书)
Example (例子): 总理打算给学校以帮助。— The president plans to give assistance to schools.
Comments (例子): This is really a formal, perhaps even pedantic, way to express an assistance of some sort.

9. 把…叫… bǎ… jiào…

Translation (翻译): Call someone or something something
Register (语域): Neutral
Example (例子): 我不知道为什么我们把春节叫过年。— I don’t know why we call the Spring Festival the “New Year”.
Synonyms (近义词): 管…叫… (Northern Mandarin 北; colloquial 口); 把…称呼为… (formal 书); 将…称呼为… (formal 书)

10. 还是…好 háishì… hǎo

Translation (翻译): It would be better; something would have been better
Register (语域): Colloquial (口)
Example (例子): 还是坐火车好。

11. …来…去 … lái… qù

Translation (翻译): Go back and forth
Register (语域): Neutral
Examples (例子): 走来走去。— To walk back and forth. 飞来飞去。 — To fly back and forth. 说来说去。— To say something over and over again.

12. 时而…时而… shí’ér… shí’ér…

Translation (翻译): Sometimes… sometimes…; one moment it’s; the other moment it’s…
Register (语域): Formal (书)
Examples (例子): 路 上的 车很多,时而前进,时而停下来。— There are many cars on the road – one moment we’re moving forward, the next we’re stopping. 灯时而亮时而灭。— Sometimes the light is bright, sometimes it is out. 高山上的天气时而阳光灿烂,时而狂风暴雨。— The weather on the top of mountains goes from sunny to stormy.
Synonym 近义词: 一会儿…一会儿… (colloquial 口, e.g. 今天天气糟糕,一会儿晴天,一会儿下雨。— The weather’s awful today – one minute it’s fine, the next minute it’s raining.); 有时(候)…有时(候)… (common)

13. …也罢…也罢 … yěbà… yěbà

Translation (翻译): Regardless; no matter whether
Register (语域): Colloquial (口)
Examples (例子): 你 来也 罢,不来也罢,这次活动都会举行。— Whether you come or not, this activity will still be held. 这个生意赚也罢,赔也罢,我们都要承担风险。— Regardless of whether this business makes money or not, we still have to take the risk.
Synonym (近义词): …也好…也好

14. …也不是…也不是 …yě bùshì… yě bùshì

Translation (翻译): Neither will work; neither is appropriate
Register (语域): Colloquial (口)
Example (例子): 我的朋友做错了,我批评也不是,不批评也不是。— My friend made a mistake. It’s not right to criticise him, but I can’t just let it slide either.

15. 一来…二来… yīlái… èrlái…

Translation (翻译): First… then…; not only… but also…
Register (语域): Colloquial (口)
Example (例子): 我们应该挖一口井,这样一来可以解决喝水的问题,二来也可以为子孙后代造福。— We should build a well; not only would it solve our water problem but it would also benefit the next generation.
Synonym (近义词): 不但…而且

16. 一方面…另一方面 yī fāngmiàn… lìng yī fāngmiàn…

Translation (翻译): On one hand… on the other hand
Register (语域): Neutral
Examples (例子): 一 方面 我很喜欢她, 另一方面我又不想和她结婚。— On one hand, I really like her; on the other hand, I don’t want to marry her. 中国一方面作为一个大国有很多钱,但另一方面由于它庞大的人口,又造成人均财富很少。— On one hand, as a great nation China has a lot of money; on the other hand, its huge population means its average per-capita wealth is very low.

Bonus Points

For homework you can also check out how the structures are used online by typing the structure into Google with an asterisk (“*”) where the dots are and surround it with quotation marks, e.g.: “把*叫”.

8 Comments to "16+ Intermediate and Advanced Sentence Structures"

  1. Ankichikun's Gravatar Ankichikun
    27/01/2011 - 12:44 am | Permalink

    First, let me say what a great site! Lots of really useful tidbits. I’m going to have to remember to check out your blog more regularly.
    Just wanted to suggest a tweak to No. 4 – 不是…就是…
    The Chinese structure is actually (如果/要)不是…( 那么)就是…, so a more accurate translation in English would be “If it’s not …, then it’s …”.
    It’s only a small difference in nuance, but it is stronger than a simple “either … or …”
    (Also, you may want to run your example sentences by a native speaker …)

  2. dora's Gravatar dora
    29/06/2011 - 9:16 pm | Permalink

    here are 4 questions :(about linguistics)
    1. do you thinkk that the following passage is a coherent discourse? why or why not?
    I bought a Ford. A car in which President Wilson rode down the Champs Elysees was black. Black English has been widely discussed. The discussions between the presidents ended last week. A week has been seven days. Every day I feed my cat. Cats have four legs. The cat is on the mat. Mat has three letters.

    2.In what way does Mandarin Chinese interfere with your English studies? Give examples to illustrate your point.

    3. Which maxim does this speaker seem to be particularly careful about:
    Well, to be quite honest, I dont think she is ill today.

    4. How would you describe this short exchange in terms of the actions perfomed by the speakers?

    Carol: Are you coming to the party tonight?

    Lara: I’ve got an exam tomorrow

    if you were given these 4 questions, how will you answer them ? give me your answers please
    these questions are about linguistics please use linguistics knowledge to answer them hehe

    thank you so much

  3. bion's Gravatar bion
    14/10/2011 - 7:26 am | Permalink

    great stuff! very clear and well demonstrated. thanks for maintaining this site! i’ve been living in china for over a year now and studying daily. this post among others of yours are just what i’ve been looking for to keep my grammatical complexity developing steadily.

    p.s. the other comments have me chuckling.

  4. Alain's Gravatar Alain
    15/12/2016 - 8:15 am | Permalink

    Hi! I really don’t know if this is still active so maybe I won’t have any answer but let’s try.

    I have an interpreting exam on Friday and I’m just looking for useful mandarin chinese structures like these ones. Would you maybe have more of them? Thanks in advance!

  5. 万马克's Gravatar 万马克
    13/06/2019 - 9:06 am | Permalink

    I heard a saying that is supposed to have come from China. Perhaps you have heard of it.
    Tell me, I forget
    Show me, I remember
    Involve me, I never forget

    I love the Chengyu, didn’t know they had a name. Sorry you didn’t mention 一五一十

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