3 particles that will make your Chinese sound more natural

I'm really happy to feature a guest post today from Judith Meyer.

Judith is currently working on LearnYu.com, a free Chinese course which learns your individual strengths and weaknesses and generates custom-tailored exercises just for you.

Now here's the exciting part! There is currently a campaign going on to raise money for the creation of more levels of the course. The aim is to eventually run all the way up to the HSK 6 (equivalent of C2… or super advanced!!!).

If you like the site and would like to get involved, please consider donating towards the creation of more lessons. The campaign runs until Wednesday this week! Enter Judith…



Are you among the growing number of people learning Chinese?

Beginner-level Chinese is quite easy. You can just put words together, forget about grammar… and it's usually OK!

It can end up sounding quite clinical though, devoid of emotions or inflections. What's more, you can't rely on sentence melody to convey your state of mind either. Tones are difficult to get right, and Chinese sentence melody is different anyway.

So what's the quickest way to add flavour to your Chinese?

Here are three words that will have a huge impact.


嘛 ma

This particle is pronounced “ma”, just like the question particle 吗, but it's only used in obvious statements / rhetorical questions:

我没看见你上线嘛?wǒ méi kànjiàn nǐ shàng xiàn ma?
I didn't see that you were online?!


呢 ne

Textbooks usually teach “ne” in the phrase
你呢? nǐ ne?
And you? How'bout you?
That's the easiest way to turn a question back to the asker.

呢 also works as “How about …”:

北京下雨了。上海呢? Běijīng xià yǔ le. Shànghǎi ne?
It's raining in Beijing. How'bout in Shanghai?

Native speakers also use 呢 in other questions though, in the sense of “I wonder”:

他去哪儿呢? tā qù nǎr ne?
I wonder, where did he go?

我该做什么呢?wǒ gāi zuò shénme ne?
I wonder, what should I do?

为什么不订些批萨呢?wèishénme bú dìng xiē pī sà ne?
I wonder, why don't we order pizza? (this softens the suggestion)




啊 a

This is the most versatile Chinese particle. The pronunciation is usually “a”, but can be “ya”, “wa”, “na” when it merges with the previous word.

You can use this in many different situations:

1) Like “wow”, at the end of an exclamation:
雨下得真大呀! yǔ xià de zhēn dà ya!
(The rain is coming down really heavily, wow!)
故宫真漂亮啊!gùgōng zhēn piàoliang a!
(The Forbidden City is really beautiful, wow!)

2) Like “you know”, at the end of an explanation or a reminder:
你不该吃太多,很容易发胖啊。 nǐ bù gāi chī tài duō, hěn róngyì fā pàng a.
(You shouldn't eat so much, it's easy to get fat, you know.)

3) Like “right?” when you're doubting some information:
他不去北京啊? tā bú qù běijīng a?
(He didn't go to Beijing, right?)

4) To soften commands or questions:
小心点儿啊! xiǎo xīn diǎnr a!
(Be a little careful!)
快说,你喜欢不喜欢哪? nǐ xǐhuān bù xǐhuān na?
(Tell me, do you like it?)

So there you go!

I recommend paying attention to how your Chinese friends are using these particles and then gradually start to add them into your own speaking.

You will immediately come across as more friendly and more likeable!

Thanks Judith! 

Please take a minute to check out LearnYu.com, and remember you have until Wednesday this week (1st October) if you'd like to support the growth of the site!

Personally I'm really looking forward to seeing how well LearnYu does, and to watching it's development over the coming year. It's going to be a great addition to the Chinese-learning community!

Do you know anyone who's learning Chinese? Why not share this post using the buttons on the sidebar and let them know?

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