When you were a Chinese beginner, you may have heard that word order in Chinese is very similar to that of English. But gradually, you’ll start to realize that there are quite a few ways in which the word order of even relatively simple sentences simply doesn’t match in Chinese and English. If you speak Chinese, but with English language habits, you may find that the listeners will misunderstand. So, now you’re going to have to work just a little bit to master the Chinese word order.
There are some very useful golden rules of Chinese word order:
This is the simplest daily sentence. SVO stands for Subject-Verb-Object. In this case, the Chinese word order is similar to English. Such as, “He drinks coffee,” “I love you,” “I like swimming,” and “I go to school.”
If you want to make a complex sentence and add more information and details to your basic sentence, you should abide by the following word order, which are also the golden rules:
Time words, the when part of a sentence, have a special place in Chinese. They usually come at the beginning of a sentence, right after the subject.
When you want to tell where something happened in Chinese (at school, at work, in a company, etc.), you’re most often going to use a phrase beginning with 在(zài). This phrase needs to come after the time word and before the verb. Pay attention to this last part: before the verb. In English, this information naturally comes after the verb, so it’s going to be difficult at first to get used to saying WHERE something happened before saying the verb.
Pay attention here: the where word means the location where the action takes place. Sometimes you can see the where word at the action position, but don’t confuse these two words.
In this sentence, you can see two where words 家里 and 学校. 家里 is the action place and 学校 is the object.
Manner refers to how you do something (as in quietly, quickly, angrily, drunkenly, etc.) or through some means or with tools. This can be done adverbially (before the verb), but it’s worth remembering that a complement works very well too.
When you talk about how long, you’re getting into duration. It’s not the same as a regular time word; it has its own rules.
In conclusion, we can see that in the case of the basic SVO (Subject-Verb-Object) sentences, the Chinese word order is similar to the English word order and we can just follow the English language habits. But in the case of complex sentences, we should do it the Chinese way. Just remember this Golden Rule (Subject-When-Where-How-Action) carefully, put every word in the correct position, and you will be able to speak like a native Chinese person!