OTHER RESOURCES – GRAMMAR BOOKS
Although Chinese grammar isn’t overly complex, it’s sufficiently different than English that it can throw off your listening (and reading) comprehension if you’re not super clear about sentence structure, verb complements and the many 结构。
At Breakthru Chinese ®, we’re constantly working on software-driven approaches to illustrating grammar concepts, but in the meantime, we’ve used the following books in our own studies.
One note – while Chinese grammar can be explained in English, all examples really need to be in Chinese to get a felt sense of Chinese grammar. Some of the books below provide Chinese-only examples and some provide translations.
PRACTICAL CHINESE GRAMMAR FOR FOREIGNERS
|AUTHOR||LI DE JIN|
WHAT WE LIKE
This book is extremely well-organized and covers almost all aspects of Chinese grammar, except for 结构 (set Chinese grammatical structures, such “the more A (occurs), the more B (occurs)”.
Of particular interest is the overview (rather detailed) of verb complements. English doesn’t have a corresponding grammatical structure, and most grammar books struggle with presenting this concept.
All grammatical concepts are explained in both Chinese and English, but examples are Chinese only (albeit relatively straightforward and consistent in terms of the characters used). So you may want to tackle this book after you’re reasonably comfortable with characters (somewhat of a Catch-22).
Best used as a reference book for deep-dives on specific topics, rather than as an end-to-end textbook…unless you work with a teacher (or language partner) who can keep the material moving along…:>)
The biggest problem with this book is the issue with examples. Unless you can already read Chinese characters (or have someone who can help you read), slogging your way thru each topic will require some level of commitment…we should note that the English version of the grammar concepts is actually quite clear. And we used it with a teacher who used her own examples for each topic, so it wasn’t a problem in our own studies.
MODERN CHINESE GRAMMAR – A PRACTICAL GUIDE
WHAT WE LIKE
We bought this book for ourselves (and keep recommending it to colleagues and students) for one reason – it does a superb job of explaining sentence structure in context of usage.
As with any language, Chinese word order is somewhat context-sensitive – both SVO and OSV models are used and verbs and verb complements have their own mini-set of rules.
We were in the process of writing our own Word document to track all the word order permutations we were encountering as students until we found this book. For one of the best explanations of sentence structure, this book is worth the price of admission.
All grammar concepts are English only. All examples include: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Pinyin and English. So working through all the concepts and the examples is quite straightforward.
This book is organized in two sections that are completely opposite in their approach.
The first section is similar to the Practical Chinese Grammar for Foreigners – it’s organized hierarchically according to Chinese grammar structures:
- Written Chinese Concepts
- Parts of Speech
- Verbs (limited)
The second section tries to provide practical real-world situations and functions.
The problem with this approach is that neither section completely covers all aspects of grammar structure (first section) or all situations and functions (second section).
This first section is organized well enough that it can be used as a grammar reference.
The second section is a bit all over the map – it presents grammar from the perspective of real-world situations (and is indeed quite practical). Think of a phrase book built around grammar…to be fair, the Chinese 结构 (set Chinese grammar patterns) are really tough to organize (we’ve tried ourselves and we’re still working on it!).
But this section includes topics, such as verb complements) that would be better off in a hierarchically organized list of grammar concepts.
CHINESE GRAMMAR WIKI
WHAT WE LIKE
First, it’s probably worth noting that John has been plying his trade as a linguist and Chinese educator for many years in Shanghai. He was one of the original cast on many of the Chinesepod lessons and several years ago started his own school (consultancy) in Shanghai.
What’s interesting about this book is that it brings together the precision of a purist with a very clear, straightforward approach to explaining what is for many students a very opaque topic. In addition, this book is an alternative media for the original Grammar Wiki (also edited by John), so, whether you get the Kindle or epub edition, there are numerous cross-references that make this book a pleasure to use (while we still think Chinese Grammar for Foreigners is the ultimate Bible for Chinese grammar, it’s just kludgy compared to this digital reference).
The Chinese Grammar Wiki is organized in sort of a matrix – grammar points have been organized by skill level from elementary to more advanced. That means that there isn’t yet one ebook that contains the entire compendium of grammar points, but this still is a big step forward in providing the Chinese student community with an accessible grammar reference.
The challenge for any Chinese grammar book is organization:
Chinese Grammar for Foreigners is rigorously (rigidly?) organized by grammatical elements (sentence structure, nouns, verbs, verb complements, etc) and, while it provides probably the most systematic overview of Chinese grammar, it lacks the contextual / situational framework of Modern Chinese Grammar.
Modern Chinese Grammar provides a wealth of situational (real-world) use cases, but it’s poorly organized, so you have to search for the grammatical element that addresses the situation you want to express.
Chinese Grammar Wiki does a good job of striking a balance between the systematic organization of Chinese Grammar for Foreigners and the real-world usefulness of Modern Chinese Grammar. And because it’s a hypertext document:
- The pop-up side menu makes navigation to any topic super easy.
- It’s very easy to find relevant use cases and navigate between multiple grammatical elements.
The only hiccup is the formatting of the epub edition – the summary / structure / examples format sometimes has page spillover, so the examples are not always on the same page as the summary and structure explanations. An easy fix in the next release.