In grade schools we don't learn grammar systematically, especially for modern Chinese. What we learn is only something like wrong fixed patterns of sentence structure and how to correct them. As for Classical Chinese, we only learn what is different from modern Chinese.

I turned to college Chinese textbooks for Chinese majors, but none of them were written fully under a modern linguistic framework that is comparable cross-linguistically, not to mention Leipzig Glossing. Leipzig Glossing is something like

Gila abur-u-n ferma hamišaluǧ güǧüna

amuq’-da-č. now they-OBL-GEN farm forever behind stay-FUT-NEG

I've read an excellent grammar book for Nuosu Yi. I'm wondering if there's something like that for Chinese written in Chinese or English (my impression is that there are no such books written in Chinese). It doesn't matter whether it's Mandarin, non-Mandarin or Classical Chinese.

2 Answers 2


Good linguistic analyses of Chinese have been written in English only in the last few decades. Because Chinese grammar is so different from the languages traditionally studied in the West over the last few centuries, the framework is still being worked out. If you want something discussing technical linguistic approaches, I am only aware of various papers, such as this one that deals with very specific topics:

JOURNAL ARTICLE ON TWO FUNCTIONS OF PLACE ADVERBIALS IN MANDARIN CHINESE James H-Y. Tai Journal of Chinese Linguistics Journal of Chinese Linguistics Vol. 3, No. 2/3 (MAY/SEPTEMBER 1975), pp. 154-179 (26 pages) Published by: The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press on behalf of Project on Linguistic Analysis

This is just a random paper I happed to read recently, but there are many others on various topics on this JSTOR cite and other cites. I think you have to register on JSTOR to view most of the articles.

If you are interested in classical Chinese, there are now many good choices that treat Chinese well, but are written for English-speaking learners, not scholars. Here is a random choice on Amazon that claims to be bilingual and that allows a little browsing of the introductory pages. Be warned that the specific cites I happen to hyperlink to below for my convenience may or may not be fully appropriate for viewing in mainland China, and you may want to access them through other links if that applies to you. The content itself is fine. I am just not sure of the cites they happen to be on:

Classical Chinese for Everyone: A Guide for Absolute Beginners (English and Chinese Edition) Bilingual Edition

I think there are also scholarly books like: Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar by Edwin G. Pulleyblank and Du's Handbook of Classical Chinese Grammar by Archie Barnes. I used these once, but they may be a little dated now.

If you are interested in a scholarly approach to modern Mandarin, I think the first work that established a new paradigm was: Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar by Charles N. Li and Sandra A. Thompson. Another possibly good choice is the more recent Chinese: An Essential Grammar (Routledge Essential Grammars) by Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington.

A somewhat specific book, but a favorite of mine is: A Discourse Grammar of Mandarin Chinese (Berkeley Models of Grammars) by Chauncey C. Chu (Author) I very much enjoyed it because I had not understood how much of Mandarin grammar is driven by discourse considerations, which is a newer area of linguistics and something usually not discussed at all with respect to the grammar of other languages traditionally studied in the West.

  • Thanks very much for the recommendation. It's very helpful! I'm reading Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar now.
    – lilysirius
    Jan 31 at 12:51
  • Terrific! I think something is gained by treating Classical Chinese on its own merits, instead of as a condensed form of Modern Chinese with archaic particles and old character meanings. I was particularly surprised by the extension discussion of nominalization particles, since that is not a prominent feature of Modern Chinese Jan 31 at 14:49

You might want to check out Chao, Yuen Ren's classic work "A Grammar of Spoken Chinese". 趙元任 - 中國話的文法. This is not a textbook for learners of the Chinese language, but, using the author's own word, a "discussion book", that assumes prior knowledge of the language.

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