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And, Or and But: Chinese Conjunctions Part 1

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Conjunctions are words that connect phrases and clauses together to form a sentence.

In English, some examples of conjunction words are ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘if’ and ‘because’. These words are very similar within the Chinese language, but often follow specific rules and patterns for them to make sense.

Below is the first half of our lesson on Chinese conjunctions that focuses mainly on ‘and’ ‘or’ and ‘but’ in Chinese, followed by ‘because’, ‘so’, and ‘if’ in the next half.

According to different connecting components, Chinese conjunctions can be divided into two types:

  1. Used to connect words and phrases:

(hé), (gēn), (tóng), (yǔ), (jí), 以及 (yǐ jí), (huò) etc

  1. Used to connect clauses and sentences:

虽然 (suī rán), 尽管 (jǐn guǎn), 然而 (rán ér), 因此 (yīn cǐ), 所以 (suǒ yǐ), 并且 (bìng qiě), 而且 (ér qiě), 还是 (hái shì) 由于 (yóu yú), 因为 (yīn wèi), 只有 (zhǐ yǒu),  不管 (bù guǎn) etc.

Sometimes, the 2nd type of conjunction can also be used to connect a word or phrase. They can also be used alone, or used with another conjunction or conjunctive adverb in a pair.

Single conjunction:

城东在下雨,而城西却是晴天。(chéng dōng zài xià yǔ, ér chéng xī què shì qíng tiān)

The east of the city is rainy, but the west of the city is sunny.

Conjunctions used in pairs:

因为今天下雨,所以我没有出门。(yīn wèi jīn tiān xià yǔ, suǒ yǐ wǒ méi yǒu chū mén.)

I did not go out today, because it was raining.

Conjunctions used with a conjunctive adverb in a pair:

只要明天不下雨,我们就去露营。(zhǐ yào míng tiān bù xià yǔ, wǒ men jiù qù lù yíng)

As long as it is not raining tomorrow, we will go camping.

Now let’s look at some specific conjunctions in the Chinese language, and how to use them to construction sentences in both spoken and written Chinese.

1. 并列关系 (bìng liè guān xì) Parallel or ‘and’ Relationships

And Chinese Conjunctions
(hé), (gēn), (tóng), (yǔ), (jì), (jí), 以及 (yǐ jí), (ér), (bìng)

(hé), (gēn), (tóng), (yǔ) can all work as conjunctions and prepositions. The differences between using them as conjunctions and prepositions are as follows:

1. If, when used as a conjunction, the subjects change position within the sentence, the meaning does not change.

For example, in this sentence ‘he’ and ‘i’ change positions within the sentence, and still produce the same meaning:

我和他都喜欢喝茶。(wǒ hé tā dōu xǐ huan hē chá) = 他和我都喜欢喝茶。(tā hé wǒ dōu xǐ huan hē chá)

He and I both like drinking tea.

If they are used as a preposition and the position of the subjects are changed, then the meaning also changes:

我和他开玩笑。(wǒ hé tā kāi wán xiào) / 他和我开玩笑。(tā hé wǒ kāi wán xiào)

I was joking with him.  ≠ He was joking with me.

2. A modifier can be used in front of the preposition, but can not be used in front of conjunction:


我经常和他开玩笑。(wǒ jīng cháng hé tā kāi wán xiào) I often joked with him. √

我经常和他都喜欢喝茶。(wǒ jīng cháng hé tā dōu xǐ huan hē chá) He and I often like to drink tea. ×

3. The components in front of the preposition can be omitted, but the ones in front of conjunction can not.

和他开玩笑。(hé tā kāi wán xiào) joked with him. √

和他都喜欢喝茶。(hé tā dōu xǐ huan hē chá) Often liked to drink. ×

To work as conjunctions, (hé), (gēn), (tóng), (yǔ) can be used to connect nouns. However, 和 (hé), 跟 (gēn), 同 (tóng) are typically found in spoken Chinese, whereas 与 (yǔ) is mostly found in written Chinese. In written Chinese, 和 (hé) is always used as the conjunction, 跟 (gēn) and 同 (tóng) are always used as prepositions.

Conjunctions can also be used to connect verbs and adjectives:

运动和饮食控制都很重要。(yùn dòng hé yǐn shí kòng zhì dōu hěn zhòng yào.)

Exercise and diet are both important.

她是那样的可爱和聪明。(tā shì nà yàng de kě ài hé cōng ming.)

She is so cute and smart.

(jí) and 以及 ( jí)

Similarly to 和 (hé), 及 (jí) and 以及 (yǐ jí) can be used to connect parallel components, but there are differences between them such as importance and order of priority.

请把纸、笔及其他文具递给我。(qǐng bǎ zhǐ, bǐ jí qí tā wén jù dì gěi jǐ wǒ)

Please hand me the paper, pens and other stationery.

他对这位演员以及他背后的故事都非常感兴趣。(tā duì zhè wèi yǎn yuán yǐ jí tā bèi hòu de gù shi dōu fēi cháng gǎn xìng qù.)

He is interested in this actor and the stories about him.

(ér) and (bìng)

而 (ér) is always used in written Chinese, and used to connect parallel verbs or adjectives. When而 (ér)  is used to connect verbs, it expresses a relationship between the verbs or progression of a relationship.

When 而 (ér) is used to connect adjectives, it expresses a parallel or opposition relationship:

她看过的书多而杂。(tā kàn guò de shū duō ér zá)

She reads many books but they are varied.

并 (bìng) is also used to connect predicate clauses, often used in written Chinese. It is also often used to express ‘furthermore’:

他完全赞成并接受了公司的安排。(tā wán quán zàn chéng bìng jiē shòu le gōng sī de ān pái.)

He completely agreed and furthermore accepted the assignment from the company.

2. 选择关系 (xuǎn zé guān xì) Alternative ‘Or’ Relationships

Or Chinese Conjunctions

还是 (hái shì), 或者 (huò zhě), (huò), 不是 (bú shì)…就是 (jiù shì)

还是 (hái shì) and 或者 (huò zhě) are used to express the ‘or’ relationship. however 还是 (hái shì)  can only be used in a question, whereas 或者 (huò zhě) can not.

你来还是他来?(nǐ lái hái shì tā lái) Will you come or will he?

你来或者他来都可以。(nǐ lái huò zhě tā lái dōu kě yǐ)

It’s fine if either you or he comes.

In some statements, if there is question mood, we still need to use 还是 (hái shì):

你来还是他来,由你们自己决定。(nǐ lái hái shì tā lái, yóu nǐ men zì jǐ jué dìng.)

It is up to you to decide whether you or he will come.

我不记得那件衣服是黑色还是深蓝色。(wǒ bù jì de nà jiàn yī fu shì hēi sè hái shì shēn lán sè.)

I can’t remember whether the clothes are black or dark blue.

In addition, 或者 (huò zhě) can used in a pair, 还是 (hái shì) can not. However, 还是 (hái shì) can be used with 是 (shì) in a pair:

或者去购物,或者去游泳,随便你。(huò zhě qù gòu wù, huò zhě qù yóu yǒng, suí biàn nǐ)

It’s up to you whether we go shopping or swimming.

你是喝咖啡,还是喝茶?(nǐ shì hē kā fēi, hái shì hē chá.)

What would you like, coffee or tea?

3. 转折关系 (zhuǎn zhé guān xì) Changing ‘but’ Relationships

But Chinese Conjunctions
但是 (dàn shì), 可是 (kě shì), 虽然 (suī rán), (què), 然而 (rán ér), 只是 (zhǐ shì), 不过 (bù guò) etc

但是 (dàn shì) can be used in the second half of a sentence, and is often used with 虽然 (suī rán) and 尽管 (jǐn guǎn).

(dàn) can also be used alone.

他虽然已经七十岁了,但是身体很健康。(tā suī rán yǐ jīng qī shí suì le, dàn shì shēn tǐ hěn jiàn kāng.) He is already 70 years old, but in good health.

The usage of 可是 (kě shì) is similar as 但是 (dàn shì).

雨下得很大,可是他坚持要出门。(yǔ xià de hěn dà, kě shì tā jiān chí yào chū mén.)

It is raining heavily outside, but he insists on going out.

只是 (zhǐ shì) is slightly adversative, in that its emphasis is less than 但是 (dàn shì) and 可是 (kě shì). 不过 (bù guò) is used in a similar way:

这本书很好,只是太贵了。(zhè běn shū hěn hǎo, zhǐ shì tài guì le)

This book is very good,  it’s just that it’s too expensive.

你说对了,不过你是怎么知道的?(nǐ shuō duì le, bù guò nǐ shì zěn me zhī dao de?)

You are right, but how do you know that?

(què) also has a lighter meaning than the other adversatives mentioned above.

她年纪很小,却很机灵。(tā nián jì hěn xiǎo, què hěn jī líng)

She is young, but very smart.

然而 (rán ér) is used in the second half of a sentence, and can sometimes be used with 却 (què).

我们想了很多办法,然而却没有一个可行的。(wǒ men xiǎng le hěn duō bàn fǎ, rán ér què méi yǒu yī gè kě xíng de)

We found many methods, but none of them were feasible.
 

You can read the second half of this article, Because, If and Not Only: Chinese Conjunctions Part 2.

Exercises

Test your understanding of Chinese conjunctions by completing these exercises. You can post your answers below, and we’ll check them for you. The answers are in the comments section of our Epic List of Chinese Phrases for Beginners Part 1.

1.Use “虽然…但是…” to make a sentence
2. Please fill the blank with suitable conjunctions

2a: 晚上我_____妈妈会去看电影。

Options:  和  /  并
    
2b: 我打算明天_____后天去一趟北京。

Options:  还是  /  或者

 
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