Why Chinese Grammar Sounds Like Yoda Speak

Learn the building blocks of basic Chinese grammar. It can sometimes sound like a fan-favorite Star Wars character.

Yoda is a beloved character from the Star Wars franchise that despite being a Jedi Master, has not quite mastered English. One of the defining characteristics of Yoda is the peculiar order of his words when he speaks. 

Here are some actual Yoda quotes:

“Much to learn, you still have.”

"Ohhh. Great warrior. Wars not make one great.”

Even linguists struggle to figure out what language Yoda-Speak is most similar to in terms of grammar. But the odd syntax is present in some more complicated Chinese sentences, which can make Chinese grammar look like Yoda-speak! 

Basic Chinese Sentence Structure

Chinese and English follow the same sentence structure for basic sentences. It is the Subject-Verb-Object order.

He drink alcohol.
他喝酒 (tā hē jiǔ)

I love you.
我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ)

He likes cats.
他喜欢猫  (Tā xǐhuan māo.)

Related: Gender Pronouns in Chinese

Pretty simple, and exactly the same as English. 

Intermediate Chinese Sentence Structure

When adding time to the mix of Chinese grammar, the concept of “when” an action happens is at the front of the sentence, after the subject. This becomes Subject-Time-Verb-Object.

他今天喝酒 (tā jīn tiān hē jiǔ)
He today drink alcohol.

我明天去北京 (wǒ míng tiān qù běi jīng)
I tomorrow go to Beijing.

You can see where the Yoda grammar comes into play, right?

Now let’s take a look at a more complicated sentence: 

你 今天 想 跟 我 一 起 吃 晚饭吗?(Nǐ jīntiān xiǎng gēn Wǒ yī qǐ chī wǎnfàn ma?)
You today want with me together eat dinner?
English: Do you want to eat dinner with me today? 

我下午给你发电子邮件。(wǒ xià wǔ gěi nǐ fā diàn zǐ yóu jiàn)
I afternoon give you send email.
English: I’ll send you an email in the afternoon.

Of course, Yoda grammar does not equal Chinese grammar. But by breaking the words down literally, you can be more familiar with the odd syntax and patterns in Chinese that you may have been unfamiliar with. Now practice these sentences in your best Yoda voice!

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