Adjectival sentences

First of all, let’s not get scared just yet by reading the title. Technical terms aside, adjectival sentences are extremely common types of sentences in daily life conversations.

We express our opinions all the time, either when we describe a person, tell people how our day has been, or comment on the movie we watched last night… However, to construct such sentences is not as easy as it seems. As we know, the complexity of grammatical structures in Chinese requires us to work extra hard on the linguistic context in order to understand and also convey the right meaning ourselves as speakers. It is to say that it’s important to put us in the real situation to understand why we use certain expression instead of others. And it is also what this article is about.

So… When we describe something we can see them as two possible scenarios. Let’s make an example with “The sky is blue”. In Chinese we would say:

天空 是 蓝色 的。
Tiānkōng shì lánsè de.

We normally use this structure when we are addressing a general, universally agreed fact. For example, in this case we know the fact that the sky is blue.

However, there is a possible second scenario: when want to express that the sky is blue today, because maybe it has been a good day for us, we want to use another way, which is more subjective. In this case, we use an special structure Noun + Adv. + Adj. Notice that we don’t use the verb “is/are”. This is the tricky part! For this structure remember that we use the adjective as the predicate, so we won’t use any verb.

So, to say “The sky is blue today” in this second scenario, instead of translating word by word, we should say instead:

今天 天 很 蓝。
Jīntiān tiān hěn lán.
(The sky is very blue today)

And if we want to throw in a bit more enthusiasm, we can say:

今天  天 真 
Jīntiān tiān zhēn lán a!
(The sky is so blue today!)

Be careful now! Although these are the perfect examples of when to use Noun + Adjective structure, however it has become so common, now most the comments we make, such as “Today is cold”, “She is tall”, we need to use this structure. If you think about it, when you describe things there is almost always a personal opinion involved. Isn’t it? So here are two examples:

他 是 很 高。
shì hěn gāo.
他 很 高。
Tā hěn gāo.
(He is very tall)

There is this adverb 很 hěn in the example, by itself it means “very”. Students sometimes may find a bit odd to always add in this kind of sentences, but remember that we use these adverbs to express a kind of “personal mood”. Other adverbs that we use similarly would be:

不太  bú tài (not very)
特别  tèbié  (especially)
非常  fēicháng  (extremely)

Since we always need to put some adverbs in this type of sentences,  hěn is more like a default adverb, but if something doesn’t reach the  hěn level just yet, we can use another word 挺 tǐng , it means “relatively”.


tǐng gāo de.
(He is relatively tall)

There are exceptions that we don’t use these adverbs. That is when the comments are very long or imply more information, which is also a good indicator of the grammatical function of the word “很 hěn“, since without the adverbs people will expect more information in your sentences. For example:

她 好看 我 好看?
Tā hǎokàn wǒ hǎokàn?
(Is she prettier or I am?)
她 好看。
Tā hǎokàn.
(She is prettier)
今天 冷, 多 穿 点 衣服。 
Jīntiān lěng, duō chuān diǎn yīfu.
(Today is cold, wear more clothes)

Now let’s go back to the “Sky is blue” as a universal fact. As you can see, here we have another structure, which is Noun + 是 + Adjective. You would want to use it when you describe nature qualities, such as colors, shapes, materials… For example:

天 是 蓝色 的。
Tiān shì lánsè de.
(The sky is blue)
椅子 是 木头 做 的。
Yǐzi shì mùtou zuò de.
(The chair is made of wood)

Do not forget that the word 的, when paired with nouns or verbs, it changes them into adjectives!

Here are some more examples of these two structures mentioned above. Reflect about why we use each of the structures in each sentence. Let’s see if you can master this structure already!

中文 很 难。
Zhōngwén hěn nán.
(Chinese is difficult)
这 个 电影 很 好看。
Zhè gè diànyǐng hěn hǎokàn.
(This movie is very good)
你 的 头发 很 长。
Nǐ de tóufa hěn cháng.
(Your hair is long)
这 把 椅子 是 Ikea 买 的。
Zhè bǎ yǐzi shì Ikea mǎi de. 
(I bought this chair from Ikea)

Feel free to leave me a comment if you have any doubts! 再见!

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