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 ^.^)?

  • 1
    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, 2018 at 11:30

3 Answers 3


Usually a noun will be used after 是 shì.

If an adjective, such as 漂亮 piàoliang or 忙 máng follows behind it instead, it would sound strange. 很 hěn can take the place of 是 shì in this case and will make you sound idiomatic... 😊

For example you can say:

你是美女 ("ni shi mei nv")

But you can't say:

你是漂亮 ("ni shi piaoliang")

It sounds like your name is Piaoliang. Instead, you should say:

你很漂亮 ("ni hen piaoliang")

In Chinese culture, praising others is a sign of politeness, so it's common to say 很 "hen". It may sound like overemphasizing, but actually is not. It only sounds like that (maybe the interlocutor is just a common level of beautiful instead of very beautiful). In China, people has grown accustomed to speak this way since ancient times.

  • 1
    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". Apr 24, 2018 at 11:12
  • @AlexEggers you could use something like 非常 or 超级 for incredibly or extraordinaryly.
    – Mou某
    Apr 24, 2018 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, 2018 at 0:40
  • No beginner learner will be able to feel any nuance between those sentences Apr 25, 2018 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, 2018 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".


“You are” has 2 translation, nǐ hěn 你很 or nǐ shì 你是. They have the same meaning. You can check this video, so you can understand better.

But in Chinese grammar, nǐ hěn 你很 add an adjective, for example: You are beautiful, beautiful is an adjective, so you should say nǐ hěn piào liàng 你很漂亮.

You are busy,busy is an adjective, so you should say nǐ hěn mánɡ 你很忙.

nǐ shì 你是 add a noun, for example:

You are my friend, friend is a noun, so you should say nǐ shì wǒ de pénɡ yǒu 你是我的朋友.

You are a student, student is a noun, so you should say nǐ shì yì wèi xué shēnɡ 你是一位学生.

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