Have you heard of this expression?
你吃先，我不饿。(Literally: You eat first. I’m not hungry.)
Do you think this Chinese sentence is grammatical?
The fact is, it isn’t.
Here’s the correct way of expressing it:
你先吃，我不饿。(Please go ahead. I’m not hungry.)
In our daily lives, most of us go for ‘functionality’ and do not pay much attention to grammar when we speak. We tend to overlook the accuracy of our expressions as long as we can understand the meaning.
The problem is, how we speak translates to how we write.
That’s why many students write ungrammatical sentences, or 病句 in their compositions and open-ended comprehension questions. In fact, they tend to construct Chinese sentences by literally translating them from the English language, following the English sentence structures and ways of expression.
So, what’s the big deal?
Imagine saying this:
妹妹的其中一只右脚受伤了。(My sister has injured one of her legs.)
And inviting this comment:
请问你妹妹是蜈蚣吗？ (Is she a centipede?)
(Adapted from a popular internet joke)
It’s not exactly what you hope for, right?
Ungrammatical sentences can be awkward to read, cause confusion in the reader, change the meaning of the message and make a laughing stock of you. Moreover, they adversely affect the quality of your writing in open-ended Chinese comprehension answers and Chinese compositions.
To express your ideas and opinions completely, fluently and clearly, you need to observe Chinese grammar rules.
What should you do if you want to write grammatically sound sentences?
You need to recognise the different types of ungrammatical sentences!
In a rush? Download this article in English and Chinese + more practices on ungrammatical sentences all collated in a pdf! Grab your free copy here:
5 Common Types of Ungrammatical Sentences
1) Missing components 成分缺少*
The siblings do not squabble and will help the younger brother with his homework. (This English sentence is also wrong.)
The subject after the comma is missing. Before the comma, the subject is ‘The siblings’ (姐姐和弟弟) and not ‘The elder sister’ (姐姐). Without the subject in the second part of the sentence, it sounds like the siblings help the younger brother with his homework. Thus, after the comma, we need to insert the subject, ‘The elder sister’ (姐姐) to emphasise that it is she who helps her brother with his homework.
The siblings seldom squabble. The elder sister will help her younger brother with his homework.
The siblings seldom squabble. The elder sister even helps her younger brother with his homework.
*Currently, the official Chinese term for this type of ungrammatical sentence is 成分残缺, but we have renamed it to better reflect the missing component in the sentence.
2) Incorrect sequence of parts of speech 语序排列不当
My house is near my school, so I walk home after school. (This English sentence is correct.)
By writing the phrase 放学后 (after school) at the end of the sentence, the student is following the English sentence structure. In Chinese, the adverbial phrase 放学后 should be placed before the verbal phrase 走路回家.
My house is near my school. After school, I walk home.
As my house is near my school, I always walk home after the school.
My house is near my school so every day after school, I will walk home.
3) Redundant components 成分多余
Many students are glued to their mobile phones the moment they reach home. They ignore and disregard their parents. (There is redundancy in the English sentence too.)
Ignore (不管) and disregard (不理) convey a similar meaning. Hence, it is redundant and cumbersome to use both words in the sentence. You can replace the words with a suitable Chinese idiom (成语).
Many students are glued to their mobile phones the moment they reach home. They ignore their parents.
Many students are glued to their mobile phones the moment they reach home. They disregard their parents.
4) Inappropriate collocation 搭配不当
Mom instructed the housework to my brother and I. (The English sentence is incorrect too.)
We can only instruct 人 (a person) and not 事情 (matter) to do something. To use ‘instruct’ directly with the ‘matter’, you need to change the sentence to 妈妈吩咐的事，我都做好了。 (I have completed the matter/task that Mom instructed me to do.) You need to write 的 after 吩咐 to use it with 事情.
Mom instructed my brother and me to do the housework.
Mom told me to clean my room.
Mom told my brother to do his homework.
5) Inappropriate conjunction 关联词不当
There isn’t anything unique about the stone, and also many people want to buy it and keep offering a higher price for it. (This English sentence also contains conjunctions that do not clearly explain the meaning of the sentence.)
This sentence conveys the meaning that the price of an ordinary stone increases when people are vying for it.
To better convey the meaning, you can use不但……而且 (not only…but also) and 虽然……但 (although).
不但……而且 conveys the progress of a situation and includes additional information.
虽然……但 conveys a twist in the situation. We expect that no one would buy an ordinary stone but in reality, people are interested in buying it.
Not only are many people interested in buying this ordinary stone, but also they are offering a high price for it.
Although this stone is ordinary, many people want to buy it. They are even willing to pay a high price for it.
Although this stone is ordinary, many people want to buy it.
Now that you know the different types of ungrammatical sentences, how can you improve your skills in detecting them?
- Use simple sentences for a start and master them before attempting complex sentences. As a beginner, it is more manageable to express one or at most two ideas in a sentence. Once you are confident of writing simple sentences, challenge yourself to write complex sentences.
- After writing a sentence, read it silently to check if it sounds awkward or if it falls under the types of ungrammatical sentences mentioned above.
- Practise correcting ungrammatical sentences to increase your language sensitivity.
As the Chinese saying goes,“读书破万卷，下笔如有神”(pore over thousands of books and eventually you will write well), if you read a variety of genres such as prose, news and fiction, and pay attention to fluent and beautifully written sentences, in time, you will be able to write well.
Do you want this article in English and Chinese + more practices on ungrammatical sentences all collated in a pdf? Download your free copy here:
Here’s a comment from one of our readers (shared with permission):
Original Chinese article by: Ng Mei Wan
Mei Wan majored in Chinese and was an Ex-Chinese teacher in a Singapore independent school. Currently registered with MOE-IRS, she has taught local students, international students and adults at government and private schools in Singapore, accumulating more than 10 years of teaching experience.
Article translated by: Fun Language Learning