The basic phrase order of the Chinese sentence is topic + subject + predicate. Chinese prepositional phrases always occur right before the verb and its objects: subject + prepositional phrase + verb + direct object
1. Basic phrase order
The basic order of the Mandarin sentence is
topic + subject + predicate
A sentence need not have an overt topic. In addition, if the subject is understood from the context of the sentence, it is often omitted from the sentence.
The predicate consists of everything in the sentence except for the topic and subject, including the verb, its objects, negation, adverbial modiﬁers, and prepositional phrases.
2. The position of direct and indirect objects
In the neutral sentence in which nothing is emphasized, the direct and indirect objects of the verb follow the verb. We refer to the verb and its objects as the verb phrase.
If there is an indirect object, it precedes the direct object.
subject + verb + indirect object + direct object
Tp gěi wǒ yī běn shū
He gave (gives) me one book.
Most verbs take only a direct object.
subject + verb + direct object
Wǒ kàn le nà xiē shū.
I read those books.
The object may also occur before the subject for emphasis. In this position it is topicalized.
3. The position of prepositional phrases
Prepositional phrases always occur right before the verb and its objects.
subject + prepositional phrase + verb + direct object
Tā gēn tā de nǚ péng you chī wǎnfàn.
He eats dinner with his girlfriend.
4. The position of location phrases
The location phrase is a type of preposition phrase. It always occurs before the verb phrase.
subject + location phrase + verb phrase
Wn zài jiā chī fàn.
I eat at home.
Within the location phrase, the order of constituents is from the largest to the smallest. Letters are addressed following this principle.
Zhōngguó Běijīng Cháoyáng qū Jiànguó mén wài dà jiē yī hào
China Beijing Chaoyang District Jianguo Gate Outer Road Number 1 -->
Number 1, Jianguo Gate Outer Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
5. The position of ‘time when’ phrases
A phrase that indicates the ‘time when’ a situation takes place occurs at the beginning of the predicate.
subject + time when + predicate
wǒ měitiān hē kāfēi.
I drink coffee every day.
subject + time when + predicate
Tā měitiān gēn tā de nǚ péngyou chī wǎnfàn.
He eats dinner every day with his girlfriend.
If ‘time when’ is emphasized or contrasted with another time, it may occur before the subject:
Zuótiān wǒ bù tài shūfu. Jīntiān yǐjing méi wèntí le.
Yesterday I was a bit uncomfortable. Today it is no longer a problem.
Within the ‘time when’ phrase, the order of constituents is from the largest block of
time to the smallest block of time:
yī jiǔ jiǔ bā nián èryuè shíwǔ rì
1998 year February 15 --> February 15, 1998
zuótiān wǒnshang bā diǎn zhōng
yesterday evening 8 o’clock --> 8 o’clock last night.
6. The relative order of the ‘time when’ phrase and the location phrase
When a sentence includes both a ‘time when’ phrase and a location phrase, ‘time when’ generally occurs before location.
subject + time when + location + verb phrase
Wǒ měitiān zài jiā chī fàn.
I eat at home every day.
7. The position of adverbs
Adverbs occur at the beginning of the predicate, before the verb and any prepositional phrase. Adverbs usually occur after the ‘time when’ phrase.
Wǒ shàng gè yuè zhǐ kàn le yī gè diànyǐng.
Last month I only saw one movie.
8. The position of negation
Negation occurs before the verb and any prepositional phrase. It usually occurs after an adverb, though certain adverbs may either precede or follow negation.
9. The position of duration phrases
Duration phrases are time phrases that indicate the length of time that an action occurs. Duration phrases directly follow the verb. Unlike English, there is no preposition associated with the expression of duration in Mandarin.
Wó zài Zhōngguó zhù le sān nián.
I in China lived three years. --> I lived in China for three years.
Wǒ zuótiān wǎnshang shuì le bā gè zhōngtóu.
I yesterday evening slept eight hours. --> I slept for eight hours yesterday.
10. Order within the noun phrase
The main noun in the noun phrase, the head noun, occurs as the last word in the phrase. All phrases that describe or modify the head noun occur before the head noun.
nà běn hěn yǒu yìsi de shū
that very interesting book
11. Phrase order in questions
In Mandarin, the order of phrases in questions is identical to the order of phrases in statements. Unlike English and many European languages, Mandarin questions are not characterized by a special question word order.
Wǒ xǐhuan tā.
I like him.
Nǐ xǐhuan shéi?
Who do you like?
Yes – no question
Nǐ xǐhuan tā ma?
Do you like him?