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2.6: Lesson 1 Grammar - Connecting Nouns with the Verb 是 (shì)

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    65599
  • The verb to be is not used in Chinese the same way as it is in English. In Chinese, 是 (shì) is for connecting nouns, and is generally not used together with stative verbs (or, to use the equivalent term as in our textbook, "adjectives") in a sentence.

    Basic Usage

    Structure 

    The structure for connecting nouns with 是 (shì) is:

    Noun 1 + 是 + Noun 2

    This is equivalent to "Noun 1 is Noun 2" in English.

    Chinese does not conjugate verbs. That is, the form of the verb is the same no matter who is doing it. In this case, it is always 是 (shì) and never changes. As you can see, it's easy to form simple sentences expressing to be in Chinese. The only tricky thing about 是 (shì) in Chinese is that it's used to link two nouns, so you can't rely too much on translating directly from English when it comes to expressing the English verb "to be" in Chinese.

    Examples 

    • 我是学生。
      Wǒ shì xuésheng.
      I am a student.
       
    • 你是 John 吗?
      Nǐ shì John ma?
      Are you John?
       
    • 他们是有钱人。
      Tāmen shì yǒuqián rén.
      They are rich people.
       
    • 你是老板吗?
      Nǐ shì lǎobǎn ma?
      Are you the boss?
       
    • 这是我男朋友。
      Zhè shì wǒ nánpéngyou.
      This is my boyfriend.
       
    • 那是你们公司吗?
      Nà shì nǐmen gōngsī ma?
      Is that your company?
       
    • 你妈妈是老师吗?
      Nǐ māma shì lǎoshī ma?
      Is your mother a teacher?
       
    • 这都是你的钱。
      Zhè dōu shì nǐ de qián.
      All of this is your money.
       
    • 那是什么菜?
      Nà shì shénme cài?
      What food is that?
       
    • 我也是他的朋友。
      Wǒ yě shì tā de péngyou.
      I am also his friend.

     

    Other Uses of 是 (shì) 

    Be careful and take note. As you can see above, 是 (shì) is only used to link two nouns. It cannot be used to link a noun and a stative verb (or "adjective"). This is a very common mistake for people just beginning to learn Chinese. For that kind of sentence, you'll want to use a different structure with the linking word 很 (hěn).

    In Chinese it is also possible to use the phrase "是不是 (shì bu shì)?" It can be used at the beginning or end of a sentence. It's meaning is quite similar to the English expressions "right" and "aren't you?" This is very useful if you want to express concern for a person, or if you want to mix up your sentence structure a bit and make it more interesting. The 是不是 (shì bu shì) pattern is also part of affirmative-negative questions, which we will learn more about later in the semester.

    Another way to use 是 (shì) is to use it as a tag question. You can add “是吗?” (shì ma?) to the end of a question to mean the English equivalent of: "is it" or "yeah?" Using this in a question usually allows the speaker to get a confirmation answer.

    Examples 

    • 他没听到,是不是?
      Tā méi tīngdào, shì bu shì?
      He didn't hear you, right?
       
    • 你是不是还没吃饭?
      Nǐ shì bu shì hái méi chīfàn?
      Haven't you eaten yet?
       
    • 你们是不是中国人?
      Nǐmen shì bu shì Zhōngguó rén?
      Are you Chinese?
       
    • 你到了,是吗?
      Nǐ dào le, shì ma?
      You have arrived, yeah?
       
    • 你有两个孩子,是吗?
      Nǐ yǒu liǎng gè háizi, shì ma?
      You have two kids, yeah?

    [adapted from AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA 3.0]

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    Any Questions? 

    If you have any questions about this grammar point, please ask in the class forums!