The 5 Most Common Chinese Language Mistakes




with Miss Wang


Learning any language can be tricky and Chinese is no different. Though, if you are willing to spend a bit of time with the grammar, you will find that it is actually much simpler than most languages. And it is always helpful to review the basics from time to time. So here are some simple explanations of the most common errors to help you quickly improve your Chinese.

1) Measure words

Measure words seem foreign to many students of Chinese language, but English does have equivalents, it’s just that in English they just aren’t as common or necessary. Some common measure words in English are: a pair of pants, a herd of elephants, a bunch of flowers, or a pack of cards.

In Chinese, measure words are used whenever a quantity of a noun is involved (including the quantity 1). The default measure word in Chinese is 个 gè and this can be used for most nouns and you will be understood. However, once you are past the beginning stage, you should really learn and use the correct measure word for Chinese nouns. Here are some of the most common ones:

kuài:  for “big” money (Chinese yuán 元, US dollars, British pounds)

máo: for 1/10 of the “big” money (Chinese jiǎo 角, US dimes)

wèi: for people (polite)

běn: for bound materials (books, magazines)

zhāng: flat stuff (pieces of paper, tables, CDs)

fèn: for bundles/batches (servings of food, multi-page documents)

zhī: 1 of a pair (1 chopstick, 1 shoe, 1 eye)

zhī: stick-like things (pen)

shuāng: pairs (2 chopsticks, 2 shoes, 2 eyes)

liàng: vehicles with wheels (but not trains)

jié: for class periods

shǒu: songs, poems

tiáo: for roads, long pieces of clothing (pants)

Also, note that 天 and 年 do not require measure words (两天liǎng tiān, 二十年èrshí nián).

2) Or

Without fail, every young student will mix up 或者 and 还是, though the distinction is quite simple. 或者 or 或 is used in statements. 还是 is used in questions. Be vigilant about using these correctly.

3) Sentence order

Subject + Time + Manner + Place + Negation + Auxiliary + Verb + Complement + Object.

Chinese is pretty consistent about the sentence order, so you can always refer to the above order to construct standard sentences. For beginners, just remember the basic order of: Subject + Time + Place + Verb + Object. That should get you pretty far in your early days.

4) 是 + adjective

Often beginner students will try to directly translate the English structure of to be + adjective. In Chinese, 是 shì is only used with nouns or noun phrases. If you want to describe a noun with an adjective, use 很 hěn instead. The correct structure is Subject + 很hěn + adjective. You could also use 满 (mǎn, quite), 挺 (tǐng, quite), or 非常 (fēicháng, extremely).

5) Different types of “and”

is exactly like “and” in English, but it can only be used between two nouns (subjects or objects). It should not be used to connect verbs or a series of events (e.g. I like to shop and eat. I went shopping and had dinner with a friend.)

gēn is very similar to 和 , even though it is often translated as with. However, 跟 gēn is typically used to join two people and is less commonly used for objects.

has the same function as 和 and 跟 gēn, but it is used in formal and literary writing.

然后 ránhòu is used to link a series of events, similar to “and then” in English. It is also possible to leave this out entirely and just say the two verbs in direct succession. (e.g. 我去了商店买吃的东西。Wǒ qùle shāngdiàn mǎi chī de dōngxi.I went to the store [and] bought something to eat.)


I hope you found that helpful. If you can master these 5 concepts, your Chinese will be much better in many situations, though of course there is much more to Chinese than these 5 points. Join us for a Chinese class to learn grammar, vocabulary, listening, speaking, reading, writing and more! Have a look at our Chinese classes or contact us for more information. Hope to see you soon!

Quick Form

Please complete the quick form below, we will get back to you within 12 hours (working day).