In English, nouns can be "linked" to stative verbs and other nouns with the verb "to be." In Chinese, nouns are linked to other nouns in one way, but linked to stative verbs in a completely different way. Nouns are linked to other nouns with 是 (shì). Nouns are linked to stative verbs with 很 (hěn).
The noun in this structure is the subject of the sentence. Sometimes the 很 (hěn) in this structure is translated as "very," but often it is just a way to link a noun to a stative verb.
In the following examples, 很 (hěn) is just a link (you could think of it as a substitute for the verb "to be"), and the sentences could be translated as "(Noun) is (Stative Verb).”
Wǒ hěn hǎo.
Nǐ hěn piàoliang.
You are pretty.
Tā hěn gāoxìng.
He is happy.
Zhōngwén hěn nán.
Chinese is difficult.
Lǎobǎn hěn shēngqì.
The boss is angry.
Wǒmen hěn lèi.
Wǒ gēge yě hěn gāo.
My older brother is also tall.
Nǐ jiā yě hěn yuǎn ma?
Is your house also far away?
Bàba hěn máng, māma yě hěn máng.
Dad is busy, and mom is also busy.
Tā hé tā dìdi dōu hěn shuài.
He and his younger brother are both handsome.
Remember that 是 (shì) is not used to link stative verbs to nouns. This is a classic mistake that almost everyone makes when learning Chinese. Make sure you use 很 (hěn) and not 是 (shì) to link stative verbs to nouns, as shown below:
- 他是高。<<< BAD EXAMPLE, never say it this way!
Tā shì gāo.
Tā hěn gāo.
He is tall.
What 很 (hěn) Really Means
If you're like most learners, when you first learn this pattern, you're thinking, "How can 很 (hěn) mean "very" one minute, but then nothing but a "link" the next? How do I know if anything means anything in this language?" That's a reasonable response. But in the case of these "Noun + Stative Verb” sentences, you just have to think of this usage of 很 (hěn) as an exception. It's just part of the structure.
If you actually want to add the meaning of "very" into the sentence, you could use another adverb instead of 很 (hěn). One good choice is 非常 (fēicháng).
Tā fēicháng gāo.
He is very tall.
[adapted from AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA 3.0]
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