Viewpoint:Mandarin Chinese Pronouns Are So Easy


Chinese Grammar  Updated: Sun, Oct 21, 2012 00:47 AM   By HugChina


You only need to remember these seven Chinese words: 我, 你, 您, 他/她/它, 们, 的, 自己; but in English, you have to learn almost 40 words to express the same meaning as what the seven Chinese words are enough to do.

In this article I want to demonstrate how simple Mandarin Chinese is when learning the pronouns and related vocabulary. In English we have the following basic pronouns:


We don't have a plural pronoun for "You" i.e. when addressing a crowd. We simply say "you" or "all of you". French however does have a word for this i.e. "vous" and Chinese also has a word to convey "you" in the plural. However Mandarin Chinese is very easy when it comes to learning pronouns. Let's pretend for example we could just add an "s" to make the pronouns plural like so :

I = I

We = Is

You = You

All of you = Yous

He = He

They = Hes

Can you imagine how much easier English would be to learn if we could apply a rule like this ? Instead someone learning English must learn each individual pronoun. However, in Mandarin Chinese this is exactly what they do. There are only 3 basic spoken pronouns as follows (Pinyin Romanized Chinese) :

I = Wo

You = Ni

He/She/It = Ta

So already you can see that in order to learn 5 English words in Mandarin you only need to learn 3 - Wo, Ni & Ta. In spoken Mandarin Chinese they don't verbally differentiate between "he" "she" and "it". Theses are all the same spoken word (however they are written differently). Therefore when speaking about someone and referring to them as "Ta" we don't know if we are talking about a boy or girl. This may sound a bit strange but when you think about it it's quite logical. Through the context of the conversation we know whether we are talking about a male or female or thing.

If I am talking about my wife I have no need to explain that she is female as the context already explains that. Therefore when referring to her in Chinese in the 3rd person "Ta" is sufficient. Of course there are times where I do have to ask the person I am speaking with if they are talking about a male or female, but this isn't that often. Due to this reason, many Chinese learners of English often mix up the 3rd person pronouns referring to their husband as "she" and to their girl friend as "he" etc. This is one of the biggest basic problems for native Mandarin Speakers as they are un accustomed to having different spoken 3rd person pronouns and therefore constantly make this mistake.

Now let me demonstrate how easy it is to learn how to say "We", "You - plural" and "They". In Mandarin Chinese you don't need to learn 3 new words, you simply add another word to convey the idea of plural. That word is "men".

We = Wo men (i.e "I" + plural "men")

You plural = Ni men (i.e "You" + plural "men")

They = Ta men (i.e "He/She/It" + plural "men")

Here we have another example of "Buy 1 get 2 free" or "learn 1 get 2 free". Simply by learning 1 word, "men", we learn how to convey 3 new words in Mandarin Chinese. Therefore by knowing how to pronounce these 4 words : Wo, Ni, Ta & Men we can say 8 equivalent English pronouns : I, We, You, You plural, He, She, It & They.

However, not only that but there are more free words that you gain by knowing how to say simply Wo, Ni, Ta & Men.

Look at these English sentences :

She gave the ball to her

He gave the ball to him

He gave the ball to me

They gave the ball to them

They gave the ball to us

Notice we can't say :

She gave the ball to she

He gave the ball to he

He gave the ball to I

They gave the ball to they

They gave the ball to we

No, but a learner of English must learn 5 more words to be able to speak correctly. If someone said "she gave the ball to she" of course we would understand the meaning of the foreigner, but it's still incorrect grammar. In Mandarin Chinese this problem doesn't exist because that's exactly how they speak. Let me replace the pronouns above with their Mandarin Chinese pinyin versions to illustrate

"Ta" gave the ball to "ta"

"Ta" gave the ball to "ta"

"Ta" gave the ball to "wo"

"Ta men" gave the ball to "ta men"

"Ta men" gave the ball to "wo men"

The above sentences are grammatically correct in Mandarin. So you have just gained another 5 more words for free. By knowing how to say just Wo, Ni, Ta & Men (4 words) you can say the following 12 English words : I, Me, We, Us, You, You plural, He, Him, She, Her, It, They, Them.

Possessive pronouns

The Possessive Pronouns in Chinese is also much simpler than in English. To indicate possession 的 (de) is appended to the personal pronouns. Mandarin Chinese further lacks a distinction between the possessive adjective ("my") and possessive pronoun ("mine"); both are formed by appending the particle 的 (de).

my=我的 wo de

your=你的 ni de

his=他的 ta de

her=她的 ta de

its=它的 ta de

our=我们的 wo men de

your=你们的 ni men de

their=他们的 ta men de

mine=我的 wo de; example: This book is mine=这本书是我的 zhe ben shu shi wo de

yours=你的 ni de

his=他的 ta de

hers=她的 ta de

its=它的 ta de

ours=我们的 wo men de

yours=你们的 ni men de

theirs=他们的 ta men de

In literature or in some daily phrases (especially ones about family or concepts very close to the owner) this is often omitted, e.g. 我妈/我媽 (wǒ mā); is a synonym for 我的妈妈/我的媽媽 (wǒ de māmā, "my mother").

Relexive pronouns

The Chinese personal pronouns is made reflexive by appending 自己 zìjǐ, "self". Example:









In summary, you only need to remember these seven Chinese words: 我,你,您,他/她/它,们,的,自己; but in English, you have to learn almost 40 words to express the same meaning as what the seven Chinese words are enough to do.

Are Chinese pronouns very easy?

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