Grammatical particle in Chinese

In this article we’ll synthetically address one of the peculiarities of the Chinese language and other “oriental” languages, the particles under a phrase.

The Chinese language uses particular characters under a phrase, conventionally called “particles”. Thanks to these particles, the phrase assumes a different nuance. One of the characteristics of these particles is that they don’t have any tone, they are atonal.

The particle 吧 (ba)

The particle 吧 indicates when the speaker has a certain evaluation about something but isn’t sure of it (supposition); when the speaker wants to lessen the intensity of a phrase; or when a phrase has a rhetorical sense. Here are some examples:

Zhè shì nǐ de xiǎo érzi ba?
This is your kid, no?

Bié chǎo ba!
Come on, don’t make a racket!

Wǒmen yīqǐ qù, hǎo ba?
We’ll go together, ok?

Important: When, in a question, we find characters that express an evaluation or a conjecture, such as for example 大概(dàgài), which means “approximately / probably”, 也许 (yẹ̌xǔ), which means “perhaps”, or 大约 (dàyuē), which means “about”, the interrogative modal particle 吗(ma) is normally substitute with 吧.

Here’s an example:

Xiànzài dàgài shí’èr diǎnle ba?
It’s almost twelve, right?

The particle 呢 (ne)

La particella呢 has several uses. First of all, when its found at the end of an assertive phrase, it implies a continuing situation or an action and or state in progress. Here are a few examples:

Xiàyǔ ne.
Its raining.

Nàli de tiānqì hái fēicháng rè ne.
It’s still really hot there.

Another use of the particle 呢è is to ask the same question that was just asked without repeating it. Here are a few examples:

A: 你在哪里工作?
A: Nǐ zài nạ̌li gōngzuò?
A: Where do you work?

B: 我在中国银行。你呢?
B: Wǒ zài Zhōngguó yínháng. Nǐ ne?
B: At the Bank of China, and you?

The particle 呢, moreover, can make it so that the predicate can be omitted from a question when you can understand its meaning without the help of the verb. Let’s look at a few examples:

Sì de yī bàn shì èr, èr de yī bàn ne?
Half of four is two, and half of two?

Zhège wèntí, Tú Méngduō, Mài Yìjié doūhuì huídá. Mí Sēnnà, nǐ ne?
To this question, Tu Mengduo and Mai Yijie know how to answer. And you, Mi Senna?

A last use of the particle 呢 consists in asking “where” someone or something can be found when the speaker doesn’t see what they expected to see. Let’s look at a few examples:

Nǐ yī gèrén lái kàn diànyǐng ma? Nǐ nǚpéngyou ne?
You came to see the movie alone? Where’s your girlfriend?

Hēi, cháguǎn ne?
Hey, where’s the tea house?

The particle 的 (de)

The particle 的, inserted at the end of a phrase, signals a certainty and security that the one speaking possesses regarding to what they’re affirming. Here are two examples:

Tā yīdìng zhīdao zhè jiàn shìqing de.
He knows this for sure!

Wǒ de lǎoshī bùyào nà liàng qìchē de.
Surely my professor wouldn’t want that car!

The particles 呗 (bei) and 啊 (a)

The particle 呗 indicates a lack of enthusiasm or indicates that things must be done only in a certain manner. In other words, it expresses the obviousness of something. Here are some examples:

A: 你为什么要坐公共汽车?
A: Nǐ wèishénme yào zuò gōnggòng qìchē?
A: Why do you have to take the bus?

B: 去学校呗
B: Qù xuéxiào bei.
B: Well, to go to school…

The particle 啊, instead, implies a doubt that approaches a request for confirmation. Here’s an example:

Nǐ shuō nǐ bù xiǎng qù a?
Are you saying that you don’t want to go?

The particles 了 (le), 咯 (lo) and 啰 (luo)

The particles了, 咯 and 啰, put underneath a phrase, are used to make deductions regarding a situation. When these particles are used with this function, you often find 那么 (nàme) or 那 (nà) in a phrase. Here are a few examples:

A: 那个学生跟你很像,她是谁?
A: Nàge xuésheng gēn nǐ hěn xiàng, tā shì shuí?
A: That student looks a lot like you, who is she?

B: 我跟她同姓,但是她不是我姐姐。
B: Wǒ gēn tā tóngxìng, dànshì tā bụ̀ shì wǒ jiějie.
B: We have the same last name but she isn’t my older sister.

A: 那么,她是你妹妹了?
A: Nàme, tā shì nǐ mèimei le?
A: In that case, she’s your younger sister, no?

Photo Credits: Creative Commons License Chinese-English dictionary by Ian Lamont

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