I am learning Chinese with the Memrize App and noticed that often, to say something like "You are x", you will actually say "nǐ hěn x" instead of "nǐ shì x".

For example as translated by Google: "Nǐ hěn máng" means "You are busy". This confuse me because an example from the app would be "Tā juéde tā hěn piàoliang" meaning "He thinks she is very pretty". Here, "hěn" is obviously used to reinforce "piàoliang".

  1. Why isn't "Ni shi..." used to say "You are..."? Or is it used like that but I just haven't come across it yet?

  2. How do you say "You are very busy". Do I have to use another reinforcing word such as "tai"(I know that "tai" doesn't quite fit, but I haven't learn too many words yet ^.^)?

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    see grammars, (1) adjectives function as predicate (w/o 是)e.g. 任务紧急。这朵花好看。他很诚恳。他很着急。(2)function of 很 often discussed at this site before (search site) – user6065 Apr 24 '18 at 11:30

usually a noun will be used following shi... if an adjective such as piaoliang and mang follows behind shi,it sounds strange....hen can take the place of shi in this case and will make u sound idiomatic...😊

i.e. you can say "ni shi mei nv"(你是美女) but you can't say "ni shi piaoliang"(你是漂亮) it sounds like that ur name is piaoliang.

instead, u should say "ni hen piaoliang"(你很漂亮) in chinese culture, it's polite to praise others so it's common to say "hen" which is not actually overemphasizing but sound like overemphasizing....(maybe the one just common beautiful instead of very beautiful) chinese people've already got accustomed to express in this way since ancient china...

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    Oh so basically, saying shi in this case would be saying "You ARE this thing", not "You have the characteristic of this thing", which is why it is wrong? So how would I express someone being extraordinarily beautiful for instance? Seeing as "hen" is basically standard". – Alex Eggers Apr 24 '18 at 11:12
  • @AlexEggers you could use something like 非常 or 超级 for incredibly or extraordinaryly. – user3306356 Apr 24 '18 at 14:21
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    One point I want to add here is that 你是漂亮 is a valid sentence too. It is used to clarify the fact that you are indeed beautiful. You can feel the nuance between 你很漂亮 and 你是很漂亮. – dan Apr 25 '18 at 0:40
  • No beginner learner will be able to feel any nuance between those sentences – user2137196 Apr 25 '18 at 8:10
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    @dan Th original question is about 是 as a to-be verb. But in the sentence 你是漂亮 , 是 is NOT a to-be verb, it is an adverb equivalent to "indeed". It is not the same topic of the question. – cnwang09 Apr 25 '18 at 11:47

There are two things that need to be aware of here.

  1. The Chinese word 是(shi) is NOT equivalent to English "is/am/are". The Chinese 是(shi) functions as a "=". So both sides of the equal sign should have the same nature. So "ni shi mang" doesn't make sense.

  2. A Chinese adjective is also a verb! That is, "mang" is already "to be busy"; "pretty" is already "to be pretty". Literally "you are busy" is "ni mang". But "hen" should be added to balance the rhythm of the sentence, and it isn't necessary to mean "very". So, the right sentence is "ni hen mang".

Finally, if you want to emphasize "very busy", it can be "ni fei chang mang".

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