This Chinese grammar page states

是 (shì) is only used to link two nouns. It cannot be used to link a noun and an adjective.

For instance, you should not say this in Mandarin: 我是高

But in Cantonese, it seems like you can say 我係高, and it would be considered grammatically correct. This seems like a common way to emphasize some quality as in Yes, I *am* tall.

  1. Is the grammar page correct, that is you cannot use 是 to link a noun and adjective?

  2. If the grammar page is correct, does this mean Cantonese and Mandarin differ in this regard, or is it wrong even in Cantonese to say 我係高?

2 Answers 2


我(高)是高 in Mandarin and 我(高就)係高 in Cantonese are both common phrases. They are always followed by a contrasting statement

Simply put, you have to follow "我是高" or "我係高" with a "but"


"我(高)是高, 但還沒高到可以打職業籃球" (I am tall, but not tall enough to play pro basketball)

Same goes to Cantonese: "我(高就)係高, 但仲未高到可以打職業籃球" (I am tall, but not tall enough to play pro basketball)

Both "我是高, 因此可以打職業籃球" and "我係高, 高到可以打職業籃球" are grammatically incorrect because there are no contrasting statement.

One difference:

"我高是高"(It is true that I am tall) is not usually reduced to "我是高" in Mandarin , even it is not technically wrong; on the other hand, "我高就係高" is routinely shortened to "我係高" or even "我高" in Cantonese"

  • Thanks again! You're awesome. Could you say instead of 專業籃球 instead of 職業籃球? It seems like in Cantonese you would usually say 專業籃球 ?
    – Crashalot
    Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 22:35
  • 2
    專業籃球 and 職業籃球 are equally common in Cantonese. They are both correct.
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 22:39
  • Are they both equally correct for Mandarin? Thanks again!
    – Crashalot
    Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 22:41

Nothing impossible in a language. It depends how people usually use them, which is what it called natural and idiomatic.

For example, "he is tall" is natural, but "他是高" in Chinese is not (could imply different meanings as Tang ho mentioned). What the idiomatic way to express "he is tall" is "他(的)个子高".

So, In English "noun + be + adjective" is correspondent to "noun + (adv.)adjective" or "noun + 是 + (adjective)noun"most of time in Chinese. Besides the aforementioned example, "he is nice" -> "他人(很)好".; "she is beautiful" -> "她真漂亮","她是美女"; "he is fat" -> "他很胖","他是胖子(胖子 is a noun)".

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