Hey 你好! Yangyang here.
This is the ninth in a series of ten posts on the most common mistakes English speakers make when speaking Chinese.
In my years of teaching Chinese, I have come to notice that English speakers tend to make similar mistakes over and over again. Today, I am going to tell you the most common mistake #2.
The goal here is to become aware of these mistakes to help you avoid making them in the first place!
Mistake #2: Assuming "to be" = "是 (shì)"
When people ask you "how are you", how would you answer "I am good" in Chinese? "我是好 (wǒ shì hǎo) - I am good"? Wrong.
Probably the very first thing you learned in China is that the verb "to be" in Chinese is "是 (shì)". So you automatically assume that whenever you need to say "is, am, are, were, was" you should use "是 (shì)", but this assumption is wrong!
In Chinese, adjectives such as "beautiful", "smart" and "funny" function as verbs so "beautiful" is already "to be beautiful", smart is already "to be smart" and "funny" is already "to be funny". Therefore, you don't need to say "She IS beautiful", you only need to say "She, beautiful". "Is" is assumed and should be dropped.
Also, you need to add the word "很 (hěn)" before the adjectives to provide a rhythmic balance. "很 (hěn)" means "very", but its meaning is weak here. So, from now on, do take the trouble to add "很 (hěn)" each time you say "She's pretty", "I'm happy", "He's smart."
So, "I am good" in Chinese should be "我很好 (wǒ hěn hǎo)."
She is pretty. (lit. She very pretty.)
tā hěn piào lianɡ。
I am glad to meet you. (lit. I very glad know you.)
wǒ hěn ɡāo xìnɡ rèn shi nǐ。
I am tired. (lit. I very tired.)
wǒ hěn lèi。
I just mentioned although “hěn (很)” means “very,” its meaning is very weak. If you want to express the meaning that “I am VERY tired,” use the word “fēi cháng (非常) instead of “hěn (很).”
I am very good. (lit. I very good.)
wǒ fēi chánɡ hǎo。
She is very pretty. (lit. She very pretty.)
tā fēi chánɡ piào lianɡ。
I am very tired. (lit. I very tired.)
wǒ fēi chánɡ lèi。
I am very very busy. (lit. I very very busy.)
wǒ fēi chánɡ fēi chánɡ mánɡ。
The usage of “shì (是)”
Remember, in Chinese, we use “shì (是)” a lot LESS OFTEN than we use the verb “to be” in English.
In Chinese, “shì (是)” is used when talking about someone’s profession, identity or nationality. To simply put, you can think of “shì (是)” as the equal sign “=”.
I am Mary.
wǒ shì Mary。
She is a student.
tā shì xué shēnɡ。
We are American.
wǒ men shì měi ɡuó rén。
Hope that helps! Thank you for reading and please feel free to let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below!