There are a total of:

  1. 23 consonants (声母) for example, xin, yun, shang, fen
  2. 24 simple or compound vowel (韵母) e.g. gua, sheng, tou
  3. 16 syllables (音节)

There are 4 tones (声调) in Chinese

  1. mā, má, mǎ, mà
  2. A rhyme to help remember which vowel should the tone mark be placed on: “有 a 不放过,无 a 找 o、e,i、u 并列标在后”

A syllable (音节) is a combination of consonants, vowels, and tones. 

  1. When vowel “ü” and consonant “j、q、x、y” are used together, the vowel “ü” will automatically be changed to “u”, such as “ju”. 
  2. When writing pinyin of a noun that represents a person or an item, the first letter should be capitalized, such as Shanghai.

The apostrophe (隔音符号) should be added to the beginning of the new syllable starting with “a”, “o”, or “e” to avoid confusion. 

  1. Examples include ping’an (平安) and qi’e (企鹅). 

Discovering The Real Struggle Of Learning Chinese: Hanyu Pinyin

Chinese characters

Strokes (笔画) &  stroke orders (笔顺)


Radicals (偏旁部首) & the 7 visual structures (间架结构)

Radicals (偏旁部首)

  • 亻(单人旁)
  • 女 nǚ (female)
  • 宀 (宝盖头)
  • 氵 (water 三点水)
  • 月 yuè (flesh 肉月旁)
  • 辶 (movement 走字底)
  • 彳 (two people 双人旁)
  • 犭(animal 反犬旁)
  • 饣(food 食字旁)
  • 目 mù (eye 目字旁)
  • 木 mù (wood 木字旁)
  • 贝 bèi (shell 贝字旁)
  • 冫(ice 两点水)
  • 户 hù (household 户字头)
  • 虫 chóng (insect 虫字旁)

The 7 visual structures (间架结构):

  1. Single structure (独体字) such as 中, 日, 米
  2. Left-right structure (左右结构) such as 秋, 村, 联, 伟, 刷, 刚
  3. Left-middle-right structure (左中右结构) such as 做, 街, 滩,
  4. Top-down structure (上下结构) such as 恩, 思, 华
  5. Top-middle-bottom structure (上中下结构) such as 翼, 意, 褒, 裹
  6. Fully surrounded structure (全包围) such as 园, 圆, 国
  7. Not fully surrounded structure (半包围结构) such as 区, 医
  8. 品 structure (品字形结构) such as 晶, 众

How to search for the definition of a term using a dictionary (3 ways) 

  1. Tone sequence (音序查字法): Like using an English dictionary, identify the first letter to search
  2. Radical (部首查字法): Identify the radical to search
  3. Number of strokes (数准笔画数): Count the number of strokes to search

The rules to search via radicals:

  • Use the top instead of bottom radical, except 心字底 and 四点火)
  • Use left instead of right radical
  • Use external instead of internal radical
  • For single structured word, the first stroke is identified as its radical

Similar Chinese characters (形近字) — 8 representations

This refers to Chinese characters that are structurally identical.

Having the same stroke orders and number of strokes but strokes land in different positions e.g. 由 & 甲, 人 & 入 

  1. Structurally similar but different formation e.g. 外 & 处, 己 & 已
  2. Structurally similar but different radical e.g. 晴 & 睛, 峰 & 锋
  3. Structurally similar but different number of strokes e.g. 今 & 令, 木 & 本
  4. Same radical but different position e.g. 陪 & 部
  5. Structurally and phonetically similar e.g. 很 & 狠
  6. Structurally similar but with slightly different tones e.g. 清 & 情
  7. Structurally similar but with different pronunciation e.g. 贫 & 贪, 治 & 冶

Polyphones (多音字): A single character with multiple pronunciations 


很好 hěn hǎo

好奇 hào qí

着火 zháo huǒ

提着 tí zhe

身着 shēn zhuó

快乐 kuài lè

音乐 yīn yuè

Also note homophones (同音字): Could be structurally similar or not but different pronunciation e.g. 燥 & 躁, 再 & 在

Polysemy (多义字): Character having several readings and meanings e.g. 长, 曾, 看

Word/term (词语)

  1. Notional word (实词): 
    1. Nouns (名词) e.g. 木, 天, 水
    2. Verbs (动词) e.g. 跑, 走, 想
    3. Adjectives (形容词) e.g. 美丽, 机灵, 动人 
    4. Numeral (数词) e.g. 一, 十, 万
    5. Measure word (量词) e.g. 位, 条, 只
    6. Pronoun (代词) e.g. 你, 我, 他们 

Part of speech (词性划分)

Function word (虚词): 

  • Adverb (副词) e.g. 特别, 不
  • Preposition (介词) e.g. 在, 关于
  • Conjunction (连词) e.g. 和
  • Particle (助词) e.g. 着, 的, 啊
  • Onomatopoeia (象声词) e.g. 叮咚

Synonyms and antonyms (近义词和反义词)

Synonyms (近义词)

Term/word with identical definitions:

  • 爸爸——父亲
  • 互相——相互

Term/word with analogous definitions:

  • Differing in significance e.g. 愉快 VS 高兴 VS 快活 
  • Differing in range e.g. 战斗 VS 战役 
  • Differing in emotions e.g. 果断 VS 武断
  • Differing in collocation e.g. 严厉 VS 严格
  • Differing in usage and object of application e.g. 希望 (自己) VS 期望 (别人)

Antonyms (反义词)

There are 2 types of antonyms in Mandarin Chinese; absolute antonyms (绝对反义词) and relative antonyms (相对反义词). Absolute antonyms (绝对反义词) conveys more emotions than relative antonyms (相对反义词) for instance:

Absolute antonyms (绝对反义词)

  1. 生 VS 死
  2. 富 VS 穷

Relative antonyms (相对反义词)

  1. 前 VS 后
  2. 高 VS 低

Term/word classification (词语归类) e.g. plants, animals, fruits, vegetables, etc. 

Word structure (词语结构)

  AA: 一群群

  AABB: 重重叠叠, 干干净净 

  ABAB: 研究研究

Idioms and proverbs (成语和谚语) 

Students can struggle with including idioms and proverbs into their writing at times, especially when their Chinese language skills are weak. Using the right ones spice up writing, and the not-so-great-ones might spoil the flow of the article. Previously, we’ve sort out the 10 most flexible Chinese phrases & idioms students can use in composition writing, including 司空见惯, 不绝如缕, 犬牙交错, etc. 

Bonus tip: Read more, think more, memorize more 

Sentences (语句)

Single sentences (单句) are sentences made up of one subject (主语) and one predicate (谓语).

Classified into 4 types based on usage: 

  • Declarative (陈述句): A combination of narration and description (叙述 + 说明)
  • Interrogative (疑问句): An inquiry or question-based sentence 
  • Imperative (祈使句): A sentence that depicts request or instruct 
  • Exclamatory (感叹句): Usually indicates strong emotions or an emphasis on certain emotions 

Compound sentences (复句) mean sentences that are made up of more than one subject (主语) and predicate (谓语).

Constellation (并列关系) 

  • ……也……
  • ……又……
  • 一边……一边……
  • 有时……有时……
  • 不是……而是……

Progressive (递进关系)

  • 不但……而且……
  • ……还……
  • ……甚至……
  • ……也……

Preference (选择关系)

  • ……或者……
  • 是……还是……
  • 不是……就是……
  • 要么……要么…
  • 与其……不如……

Transition (转折关系) 

  • 虽然……但是
  • ……可是……
  • ……然而……
  • 尽管……还是
  • ……却……

Hypothetical (假设关系)

  • 如果……就……
  • 即使……也……
  • 要是……才……

Conditional (条件关系)

  • 只有……才……
  • 只要……就……
  • 除非……才……
  • 无论……都……任凭……

Causal (因果关系)

  • 因为……所以……
  • ……因此……
  • 之所以……是因为……
  • 既然……就……
  • Methods to comprehend the meaning of sentences:
      1. Capture significant terms and phrases 
      2. Relate context from the beginning to ending

Extension (扩句), contractions (缩句) and merge (合并句)

Extension of a sentence (扩句):

Addition of words and qualifiers to modify the sentence

The principles of extending a sentence: 

  • Does not change the main component of the original sentence 
  • The supplementary elements that extend the sentences must be reasonable
  • The method of extending a sentence:
  • Identify the main component of the sentence 
  • Add modifier in front of the main component
  • Check if the sentence reads smoothly 

Contraction of a sentence:

Remove words and qualifiers and retain the main component of the sentence

The method of contracting a sentence: 

  • Identify the sentence pattern and “who” “did what” 
  • Identify the main component of the sentence 
  • Remove any modifiers in the sentence 

Merging sentences:

Remove any repetition in the sentence and merge sentences into one

The method of merging sentences:

  • Use conjunctions (关联词) to merge sentences 
  • If the same subject is “doing” two things at a time in the sentence, remove one of the subjects. 

Word order (语序): 4 types of sentence arrangements

  1. Development of things (事情发展顺序)
  2. Time-series (时间先后顺序)
  3. Overview-narration (先总述后分述顺序)
  4. Spatial lapse (间推移顺序)

Diathesis alternation (句式转换)

  1. Sentences with “把” (Active voice) and “被” (Passive voice): Change of subject: conversion of role between action initiator and action recipient 
  2. The 3 changes to make for changing storytelling role 

First, change of punctuation, like “” to .

Second, change of persons. 

Third, remove unnecessary or repetitive terms to ensure the sentence reads smoothly.

The following points – editing grammatically correct sentences and using rhetoric – are what students will learn in secondary school. We included them in the list because it’s never too late to learn what’s expected. 

Edit grammatically incorrect sentences (病句) — 中学适用

  1. Lack of elements e.g. 我们要从小养成讲文明。
  2. Misuse of terms e.g. 妈妈非常关爱我。
  3. Mismatch e.g. 例句 她穿着一件粉色上衣和一顶白色帽子。
  4. Repetition e.g. 他总是首先第一个发言。
  5. Reversed sequence e.g. 语文对我最感兴趣。
  6. Contradiction e.g. 五颜六色的红旗在迎风飘扬。
  7. Vague e.g. 王宇和李军是好朋友,他经常到他家一起学习。
  8. Illogical e.g. 盲姑娘见有人进屋,赶紧站起来让座。

Tips to edit grammatically incorrect sentences: 

  1. Understand the common types of grammatically incorrect sentences
  2. Remember to retain the original meaning of the sentence after making changes
  3. Changes are to be made only to the grammar while retaining the main component of the sentence 
  4. Add in or remove terms, lexically speaking 
  5. Make sure sentences fulfills logic 

Forming Grammatically Correct Sentences in Chinese (Part 1)

Forming Grammatically Correct Sentences in Chinese (Part 2)

The 6 common ways to use rhetoric (修辞) — 中学适用

  1. Metaphor (比喻) – Make an analogy based on the similarities between things or matters. Common methods include using plain, concrete and typically known matters to symbolize abstract matters. Here’s an example of how metaphor can be used: Tenor (本体) + metaphorical term (比喻词) including 像, 仿佛, 似乎, 如同, 好比, 变成 + vehicle (喻体)
  2. Personification (拟人) – Portray a matter as a human being e.g. 古老的威尼斯沉沉地睡了。 
  3. Parallelism (排比) – Involves one or more sentences with similar structures to produce a pattern of repetition and balance. 
  4. Rhetorical question (反问) – Asking a question in a sentence even when there’s an obvious answer, mainly to add suspense and flair e.g. 这比山还高的情谊,我们怎能忘怀?
  5. Hypophora (设问) – As compared to a rhetorical question, a hypophora is a figure of speech where the writer asks a question and immediately answers it e.g. 狼的本性会突然改变吗?不会,绝对不会!
  6. Exaggeration (夸张) – Used to communicate the importance of something, it is a method that overstates or understates the physical appearance or indications of an item or issue e.g. 飞流直下三千尺。

Punctuations (标点符号)

  • Full stop (句号) “。”
  • Question mark (问号) “?”
  • Exclamation point (感叹句) “!”
  • Comma (逗号) “,”
  • Enumeration comma (顿号) “、”
  • Semicolon (分号) “;”
  • Colon (冒号) “:”
  • Quotation (引号) “”
  • Bracket (括号)()
  • Em dash (破折号) ——
  • Ellipsis (省略号) ……
  • Title marks (书名号)《》
  • En dash (连接号) —
  • Middle dot (间隔号) •

We hope you find this summary of primary school Chinese learning key points useful. It should serve as a guideline when your kid’s learning Chinese, making sure they don’t miss out on any important learning points. 

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