Chapter 5:Chinese Nouns
In this chapter we introduce Chinese nouns including common Chinese nouns, Chinese pronouns and reflexive pronoun 自己, inclusive pronoun, possession involving pronouns and Chinese proper nouns.
In Mandarin, the same form of the noun is used in subject and object position.
猫吃鱼 Māo chī yú. Cats eat ﬁsh. (or) The cat eats ﬁsh.
他学中文 Tā xué Zhōngwén. He studies Chinese.
我养猫 Wǒ yǎng māo. I raise cat /cats.
我喜欢他 Wǒ xǐhuan tē. I like him.
With the exception of the written form of the third person pronoun, tp (see below),
Mandarin nouns are not marked for gender, and there is not the distinction between masculine, feminine and neuter found in many European languages. The properties of Mandarin nouns are described here.
1. Common nouns
Most nouns are common nouns. Their referents may be concrete (纸 zhǐ ‘paper,’ 桌子 zhuōzi ‘table,’ 水 shuǐ ‘water’) or abstract ( 思想 srxiǎng ‘thought,’ 原则 yuánzé ‘principle,’ 自由 zìyóu ‘freedom’). Mandarin makes no grammatical distinction between ‘mass’ and ‘count’ nouns.
Mandarin common nouns have a single, invariant form. They do not reﬂect number, and the same form of the noun is used whether the noun is singular or plural. When no number is used with a noun, the noun is understood to be neither singular nor plural, but simply unspeciﬁed for number. In addition, nouns that occur without any modiﬁers or descriptions have a general rather than a speciﬁc reference. For example, 书 shū refers to ‘book’ in general and not to any speciﬁc book.
When it is necessary to indicate the number of a noun, the noun is modiﬁed by a number + classiﬁer phrase. The classiﬁer is required after the number. Number + noun without an intervening classiﬁer is ungrammatical. Compare the following:
一本书 yì běn shūone book
一书 yì shū
三个人 sān gè rén three people
三人 sān rén
when a speciﬁer 这 zhèI zhèi ‘this/these,’ nà, nèi ‘that/those,’ or the question
speciﬁer nk, nli ‘which’ modiﬁes the noun, it also must be followed by a classiﬁer or
number + classiﬁer. If the number is one, the number may be omitted.
|这（一）本书 ||那两本书 ||哪三本书？ |
|zhè (yì) bln sht ||nà likng bln sht ||nkspn bln sht? |
|this book ||those two books ||which three books? |
A small number of common nouns referring to people can be sufﬁxed by –们 men, the sufﬁx that also marks the plural form of pronouns (see section 2. below).
|同志们 ||tóngzhìmen ||comrades |
|孩子们 ||háizimen ||children |
|学生们 ||xuéshengmen ||students |
This use of - 们 men with common nouns is relatively rare. It conveys a sense of inclusion and is sometimes used when addressing an audience.
Tóngxuémen, jīntiān wǒmen tìng Mǎ lǎoshī zuò bàogào.
Fellow students, today we are going to listen to a report by teacher Ma.
When a noun is sufﬁxed with 们 men it cannot be further modiﬁed with any kind of modifying phrase, including a number classiﬁer phrase.
Say this： 我们的同学 wnmen de tóngxué our fellow students
Not this：我们的同学们 wnmen de tóngxuémen
Say this：三个孩子 sān gè háizi three children
Not this：sān gè háizimen
2. Chinese Pronouns
Mandarin has ﬁrst, second, and third person pronouns and has a reﬂexive pronoun.
Mandarin pronouns have the following properties:
• Pronouns are not distinguished in terms of grammatical role. The same pronouns are used for subject, object, possession, etc.
• Pronouns have singular and plural forms. The sufﬁx - 们 men is added to the singular form to make it the plural form.
• Gender is not reﬂected in the spoken language. The written language has distinctions for the second and third person pronouns, though only the third person gender distinction is commonly used.
| ||Singlar ||Plural |
|Firstperson ||我 wǒ I/me ||我们 wǒmen we/us (exclusive or neutral) 咱们 zánmen we (inclusive) |
|Second person ||你nǐ(masculine or neutral) 妳nǐ (feminine) you ||你们nǐmen you |
|Thirdperson ||他 tā(masculine or neutral) 她 tā(feminine) 它 tā(non-human or inanimate) ||他们 tāmen(masculine or non-speciﬁc for gender) 她们tāmen(feminine) tāmen (feminine) they/them |
|Reﬂexive ||自己 zìjǐ self || |
2.1 The Chinese reﬂexive pronoun zìjǐ ‘self’
Mandarin Chinese has only one reﬂexive pronoun, and it is not marked for person or gender. To indicate person, the reﬂexive may optionally be preceded by the relevant personal pronoun.
|我自己wǒzìjǐ myself ||我们自己wǒmen zìjǐ ourselves |
|你自己nǐzìjǐ yourself ||你们自己nǐmen zìjǐ yourselves |
|他自己/她自己tpzìjǐ himself, herself ||他们自己tāmen zìjǐ themselves |
zìjǐ ‘self’ is also used without a personal pronoun. When it occurs in object position, it is understood to refer to the subject:
Nǐ zài Zhōngguó yīdìng děi bā zìjǐ zhàogù hǎo.
When you are in China you certainly should take good care of yourself.
Méi yǒu rén bù xǐhuan zìjǐ de.
No one doesn’t like him/herself.
zìjǐ ‘self ’ may be used to indicate contrast with another noun phrase or pronoun:
Wǒ xīwàng tāmen jiéhūn, kěshì wǒ zìjǐ bù xiǎng jiéhūn.
I hope they will get married, but I myself don’t plan to get married.
Zhè shì wǒ zìjǐ de shì. Nǐ bù yòng guǎn.
This is my affair. You need not be concerned with it.
2.2 The inclusive pronoun 咱们 zánmen ‘we’
The inclusive pronoun 咱们 zánmen ‘we’ is used in northern dialects of Mandarin.咱们 zánmen ‘we’ refers to the speaker, other people associated with the speaker, and to the addressee. When a speaker uses咱们 zánmen ‘we’ as the subject, he or she includes you in the remarks.
Zánmen dōu shì zìjǐ rén.
We are all family. (We, including you, are all one family.)
‘Inclusive’ 咱们 zánmen contrasts with an ‘exclusive’ use of ‘we’ that is associated with我们wǒmen. In the exclusive sense, 我们 wǒmen refers to the speaker and others associated with the speaker but not to the addressee.
Wǒmen huānyíng nǐ.
We welcome you.
咱们 zánmen only has the inclusive meaning. In addition,咱们 zánmen is only used as subject, and never as object.
我们 wǒmen can have either inclusive or exclusive meaning and it occurs as subject and object. It is much more commonly used than咱们 zánmen.
2.3 Modiﬁcation of pronouns
Pronouns represent an entire noun phrase. Therefore, in general, they are not further modiﬁed. However, Mandarin has a small number of literary expressions in which the pronoun is modiﬁed:
可怜的我 kělián de wǒ
美丽的她 měilì de tā
善良的高老师 shànliáng de Gāo lǎoshī
good hearted professor Gao
2.4 Possession involving pronouns
Mandarin does not have possessive pronouns. The meaning of possessive pronouns is conveyed by pronoun + 的 de.
我的朋友 wǒ de péngyou
他的小狗 tā de xiáogǒu
Here is a table showing the Mandarin equivalent of English possessive pronouns.
|Singlar || ||Plural || |
|my ||我的 wǒ de ||our ||我们 的 wǒmen de 咱们的 zánmen de |
|your ||你的 nǐde ||your ||你们的 nǐmen de |
|his(hers) ||他的(她的) tāde ||their ||他们的(她们的) tāmen de |
|自己的 zìjǐde || || |
|Interogative whose ||谁的 shui de || || |
3. Proper nouns
Proper nouns include personal names, place names, names of companies, names of schools, etc.
牛津大学 Niújīn Dàxué
The Great Wall
喜马拉雅山脉Xǐmǎlāyǎ shān mài
Proper nouns, like pronouns, typically occur without additional modiﬁcation. As is the case with pronouns, Mandarin has a small number of literary expressions in which the proper noun may be modiﬁed. Here are some examples.
可爱的王美玲 kě’ài de Wáng Měilíng
Charming Wang Meiling
山清水秀的台湾 shānqīng shuǐxiù de Táiwān
Taiwan of green hills and clear streams --> beautiful Taiwan
地大物博的美国 dìdà wùbó de Měiguó
America vast in territory and rich in resources