I have noted the confusion for using "SHI4" and too struggle to grasp the difference.

Common rule for learners is that Noun + Adjective is never linked with "SHI4". As in "He is tall" etc.

However, I have also read (though only in one resource) that for facts and undisputable truth, such as colors, we do need to use "SHI4".

In a comment on a related question here, the author mentiones that for comments about subject/topic, this is commonly used. But isnt it always a comment?

Which is the reason then for "Sky is blue" being translayed with "SHI4" instead of "HEN3". Could it the be translated that way?

  • 1
    Consult grammar about 是的 sentences,e。g。这两本书颜色不同,一本是红的,一本是蓝的,also note specifying colors uses 色 e.g. 天是蓝色, e.g. *天是蓝 seems ungrammatical
    – user6065
    Nov 15, 2016 at 16:47
  • Yes, it's the context of the emphasis of "the sky is blue"; if you are emphasising the comment, the 是 usually pairs with a 的. For example, if you wanted to say "the sky on Mars is red (probably)" with emphasis on "red", you can say 火星上,天[空](可能) 红[色]
    – Michaelyus
    Nov 18, 2016 at 0:00

2 Answers 2


It is much easier if you know how your own mother language works, instead of trying to understand "grammar logic" of foreign language with your own understanding.

Let's look at some example :

the sky [is] blue :天空[是]蓝(色)的
the sky [is] crystal blue : 天空是透蓝的 
The air [is] bad : 空气[很]差/坏
he [is] bad : 他[很]坏.  他[是]个坏人. 他[很]差劲
he [is] naughty : 他[很]顽皮
he [is] (a) bad guy : 他[是] (个) 坏蛋/坏人

If you think the confusion is cause by mandarin connector, it is half true.

I.e., the sentence The air is bad carry out (ambiguous) relative comparison . Mandarin use 很 to explicit brought out relative comparison attributes.

So He is tall , is relative. It carry out additional comparison message e.g. "He is tall, compare to his sibling". 他很高,和他兄弟姐妹比较的话。

是 used for affirmative, or agree

He is (a) USA citizen 他是(个)美国人
His lucky charm is a penguin 他的幸运物是只企鹅

Now ,I think you shouldn't have trouble differentiate this :



If you use both affirmative 是 and 很, it just emphasize 很, nothing conclusive, but just agree others about something.

最近生意是很差 (Recently, the business is really bad )
(well, the business is really bad, last time one used to make $1000 a day, now only take home $990 a day, really bad.)  

So in a conversation :

Lee : The business is bad
李 : 生意很差
Business partner : Yupe, the business is bad, but it is not doom
生意伙伴 :生意是很差, 不过还没那么坏

In short, you use 是 if agree on another person relative statement. X : he is tall 他很高 Y : yes, he is really tall compare to his sibling, 是呀, 他是很高, 和他家的兄弟姐妹比较的话。

However, sometime you will prefer to use really 真的 , as agreement or emphasize your statement.

He is really tall , 他真的很高
  • Well but whe ypu put "is" in the brackets in your examples? It is incorrect, possible, optional? I feel it helped me but for me, the answer is too implicit - if you elaborate, i would be extremely grateful!
    – Roudak
    Nov 15, 2016 at 22:30
  • People I ask have no objection to '空气是很差的‘ , why did you write it without 是?
    – Gangosa
    Nov 15, 2016 at 23:27
  • @Roudak : I just want to show the connecting word is equivalent to Mandarin
    – mootmoot
    Nov 17, 2016 at 9:09
  • @Gangosa : Depends.
    – mootmoot
    Nov 17, 2016 at 9:15

In English, words such as adjectives, they CANNOT be used as verb (predicate). So we have to use "Be" as "link verb" to construct a whole, suitable syntax-based sentence. Something like: He is tall.

However, in Chinese, adjectives can be also used as predicates, so you DON'T need to add the "link verb" (Be,是) to link both adjectives with subjects.

E.g:他很高。(“高” is an adjective, so you can directly use it after the subject).

Such sentences as "天蓝,地广,人多".

Besides, if you say AA 是 BB,this means We define AA as BB(AA=BB)in the Chinese meaning. So you have to use nouns to define someone is AA/BB. And adjective is ONLY used to describe part of something of someone BUT NOT WHOLE.

Let's analyse this sentence:

1)他很高。(This means his height is high, it DOESN'T MEAN He = high, because "He" is a man, "tall" is only an adjective that descirbes his height NOT himself whole!)

2)他是一个学生 (He = a student, because he is learnning at school, this is what he is wholly!)

But if you add "是" between an adjective and a noun (used as a subject). This DOES NOTHING EXCEPT FOR the enhancements of the meaning of the sentence itself!

e.g: A:他很高? B:是的,他很高。(Yes, he is REALLY very tall).

  • That is a great explanation of the rule. But there is no explanation for the exception/usage I mentioned - why it is said that "Sky is blue" and "是" is used? It is then SKY=BLUE, right? And is it true that I can us 是 when talking about something that is absolute truth, not relative?
    – John V
    Nov 16, 2016 at 5:59
  • "Sky is blue" is an English way, in Chinese we only say “天蓝” instead of “天是蓝”. In Syntax, an adjective can be used as a predicate. In the meaning understanding, “天” NOT EQUALS TO “蓝”,So We cannot use “是” to define “天” as “蓝”.
    – xqMogvKW
    Nov 16, 2016 at 9:01
  • But the problem is that I can see it in Chinese learning books. On a blog, it says that 是 is used in this sentence because it is stating a fact that is not relative, it is just a truth. So I am confused :( Also I think 天蓝” is not the same meaning as "sky is blue", rather it is "blue sky".
    – John V
    Nov 16, 2016 at 14:07
  • @user970696 : Depends on needs. sky is blue can be abbreviate to 蓝天 or 天蓝. But you must use 天空是蓝的 when you talk to a kid that want to understand the sky colour. In addition, in most language, blue sky just mean good weather.
    – mootmoot
    Nov 17, 2016 at 9:45
  • @user970696:Do you mean "天是蓝" is right?No. We don't say that. And "天蓝" is "Subject+Predicate" (Adjective used as a predicate). “蓝天” is a word :"Adjective+Noun"。Though they have the same meaning with different structures in syntax.
    – xqMogvKW
    Nov 18, 2016 at 1:22

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