Please note that I have re-written this question for clarity.

Subjective Comprehension

In a number of questions asked here on CLSE, I have noticed answers that include responses about how something just doesn't "sound right" in Chinese. Here is an example from a recent answer posted:

Strictly, they are not all the same. The second one sounds some more poetic in Chinese. But in daily life, you will say the first one to express the meaning,"he lies on the grass quietly", the second one may make you seems sort of strange.

I understand from an English perspective how subjective the structure of sentence can lead to an awkward sounding phrase. Also as a student, I am observing a number of grammatical rules (which when broken, would be an obvious indication of awkward sounding grammatical structures).

But, beyond an obvious break with grammatical rules, what are some ways that I can determine if a grammar structure (sentence, question, or phrase) sounds awkward? I realise that one answer is to have this sense develop over time and with practice, however I am looking for a perspective from native speakers who might be able to give guidance on what makes a Chinese sentence, question, or phrase sound awkward. Examples would be great.

I want to reiterate that I have many grammar books and websites that discuss proper Chinese grammar and I am reviewing the information provided but these sources lack a cultural perspective, which I believe is most important in this case.

1 Answer 1


Here I try to give some guidelines, not hard rules for sure.

Wrong Word Order

When you are not sure in what order to put elements in a sentence, stick to this:

Attributive + Subject + Time Adverbial + Place Adverbial + Manner Adverbial + Verb + Complements + Attributive + Objective.

For example: 新来的/那个/同学/昨天/在图书馆/高兴地/借/到了/那本/很有名的/小说。

新来的 - Attributive
那个 - Attributive
同学 - Subject
昨天 - Time Adverbial
在图书馆 - Place Adverbial
高兴地 - Manner Adverbial
借 - Verb
到了 - Result Complement
那本 - Attributive
很有名的 - Attributive
小说 - Object

If you change the order of them, it is likely to make it sound awkward.


Don't say 他在床上躺, instead say 他在床上躺着. 躺着 has the sense of completeness over just 躺.

Wrong Usage

Don't say 我病, instead say 我(生)病了.

Don't say 我很病, instead say 我病得(很)厉害.

Missing the 2nd part of a phrase pattern

There are a lot phrase patterns in Chinese made of paired words, like 一...就, 不是...而是, 即使...也. Sometimes the stuff going into between may be very long, so don't forget the 2nd part of those patterns.

So don't say the following sentences:

我一听到这个令人振奋的消息来了。 (Should say: 我 听到这个令人振奋的消息 来了)

迟到的人不是他我。 (Should say: 迟到的人 不是而是 我)

即使明天下雨我去。(Should say: 即使 明天下雨我 去)

Wrong Tones

In one episode of 非诚勿扰, a Korean girl was asked by the host that where, if ever, on her body she got plastic surgery. She wanted to say 秘密 (secret) but she said 咪咪(a slang for breasts) which made the audience burst out laughing.

  • Please do say: 我有病!
    – Mou某
    Commented May 31, 2014 at 4:14
  • Usually we say 你有病 (you are sick), which has 2 meanings depending on how you say it and the context. It could mean "you are ill (as suffering from a disease or not feeling well)", or "you are gross or disgusting. Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 18:37

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