Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

Grammar material/books for classical language student


Recommended Posts



I never really understood grammar in high school. Then at university I tried Latin, Greek and Sanskrit and my eyes were opened. I just loved all the details and rules... It was like somebody opened my computer and explained how everything works... in high school the teachers and grammar books just told me how to turn it on, how to click the mouse, how to.... mmm yeah.. no third example this time :)

Anyway, now when I'm learning Mandarin I'm facing the same problems again as in high school... I don't get enough grammatical explanations. My teacher doesn't understand my questions, and I can't really ask her "how does this compare to Latin"

Of course I understand that Chinese is not an indo-european language, but I'm very much craving for deeper explanations. And by deeper explanations I mean analyzing sentences word by word, which word is dependent on which word, explaining different word categories and how they work, what is the history of this and that rule etc.

One of my teacher's favorite phrases is: "There is no grammar in Chinese!" Every time I hear this my brain turns upside down :) Most of the people in my class are happy (or at least they look happy) when the teacher says: "Just put de after the adjective!" But at this moment my whole learning process stops, and questions start popping in my head: "Why de? Why after? How would you classify de in western terms? What does de do to the adjective? Is it really even an adjective?" and so on.

So what material or grammar books would you suggest for a person who has studied Latin, Classical Greek and Sanskrit?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

At what level are you now?

I don't know if getting all your grammar from a grammar book is the best option if you are at a beginner stage, perhaps grammar explanations from a good textbook (introduced gradually and with context) would be better. Which textbook are you using?

I'd be wary of any teacher who claims that "Chinese has no grammar".

Definitely check some previous grammar threads, they have some of the best explanations I've been able to find, especially on 了.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I had the same problem when I first started with Chinese. Part of it is letting go of grammar in the traditional sense. The other part is just getting more familiar with example sentences and more practice.

The Routledge Grammar series has a book titled Intermediate Chinese, and this book really helped me get over this initial hurdle. If you have a teacher who can help correct the exercises for you, then you'll be even luckier and you're learn more.

Link to post
Share on other sites

See here for some recommendations on grammar books:


One of my teacher's favorite phrases is: "There is no grammar in Chinese!"

If Chinese did not have grammar, then it should make sense to say "yufa meiyou zhongwen" instead of "zhongwen meiyou yufa" ("grammar have no Chinese" instead of "Chinese have no grammar"). You should be able to slap words together any way you feel like, and it should make sense.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The Routledge Grammar series has a book titled Intermediate Chinese, and this book really helped me get over this initial hurdle.

There's also Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar, which is a more traditional book, much longer, no exercises. If you're just starting out then for practical purposes the Intermediate Chinese one will be more than adequate for some time - but if you like reading about grammar this may be a decent investment.

Edit: And I like Gato's Grammar has no Chinese line - I guess if you're not from a SVO language, Chinese actually has plenty of grammar.

Edited by roddy
Link to post
Share on other sites

I had a roughly similar experience:). The best modern grammar book I've come across is "Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar" by Charles Li and Sandra Thompson. It's a nice blend between "functional" grammar and some linguistic theory (which seems to be what you're after).

For classical Chinese, "An Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar" by Pulleyblank is absolutely amazing.

On a side note, it is impossible for any language not to have a grammar. Languages require rules otherwise no one would be able to understand each other:P

Link to post
Share on other sites

My BA was linguisticsand I both enjoy learning grammar and want explanations which take account of modern linguistics. I use Routledge's 'Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar' by Claudia Ross and Jingheng Sheng Ma. This is a reference grammar and there's a workbook which goes with it.

I also use 'Intermediate Chinese: a Grammar & Workbook' bu Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington, but I don't find this anywhere near as satisfactory, though it's good to be able to cross-check with another reference source.

I'm studying on my own (in the UK), mainly using the BLCU course books, '汉语教程' (Hanyu Jiaocheng). Like most Chinese-produced coursebooks, each unit has some grammar points. So I then go to the grammar books for more on those particular grammar points. I end up with a much better understanding of the grammar, and check my understanding with a native speaker by giving her a collection of my own sentences using the particular grammatical structure. I think this is a basic method I got from studying linguistics. You're given acceptable examples, and then you test the rule by imitating and extending the range. It does seem to work. If you like that sort of thing.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 9 months later...

leeyah, are you still standing by your claim that "Chinese originally had no grammar"? I of course strongly disagree, but I wanted to read your link first, but it seems to be broken. Can you provide a summary, or maybe find it somewhere else on web?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...