Why are Chinese surnames almost always monosyllabic

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Lesson 2:

"What's your name in Chinese?"

Nǐ yǒu zhōngwén míngzi ma? 

Location: In the office

Lena started learning Chinese some time ago in order to be able to communicate directly with the Chinese she meets in everyday life in Germany. She also hopes to gain an insight into China's culture and way of thinking bit by bit through the language. Fittingly, a new colleague from China is now starting the company where Lena is currently doing an internship. So Lena takes the chance and promptly introduces herself to the young colleague in Chinese. She is visibly surprised and also a little impressed ...

What you will learn in this lesson:


● Introduce yourself in Chinese

● Asking someone for their name

● Say his name in Chinese

● Expertly reject unjustified praise


● possessive pronouns and the question pronoun "whose"

● The decision question with ma

● the question particles ne

● “to be” sentences with shì and hěn

● Fluent classes of words in Chinese

Cultural highlight:

● Chinese names - Why some Chinese call themselves Petra in Germany


Lesson Dialog 2:

Nǐ hǎo, wǒ jiào Lena. No?

Hello my name is Lena. You - NE?

"Hi, my name is Lena. And you?"

Nǐ hǎo, wǒ shì Xiǎo Liú. Nǐde zhōngwén hěn hǎo!

Hello, I - am - Xiao Liu. Your - Chinese - very - good!

“Hello, my name is Xiao Liu. Your Chinese is very good! "

Nǎli nǎli!

Where from - where from!

"Oh, where from!

Nǐ yǒu zhōngwén míngzi ma?

You - have - Chinese - names - MA?

"Do you have a Chinese name?"

Yu! Wǒde zhōngwén míngzi jiào Mèng Léinà.

Have! My - Chinese - name - is - Meng Leina.

"I have! My Chinese name is Meng Leina. "

Nǐde zhōngwén míngzì hěn hǎotīng!

Your - Chinese - name - very - melodious!

"Your Chinese name sounds very nice!"



here: be called, name, also: call

And you? And what about you?

sein (copula verb before noun / nominal predicate)

small, young (xiǎo is used to informally address younger people or people of the same age and is placed before the surname, e.g. Xiao Liú 小刘 literally "small / young Liu", the counterpart is Lǎo Liú 老刘 "old Liu")

Liu (common Chinese surname)

Chinese; Chinese (literally "middle language", so Chinese is the "language of the middle")

very (also: copula in the sense of "to be")

Tinting particle at the end of a sentence, which is often used in colloquial language, but usually has no special meaning

Oh, where from! Too much praise! (lit. "whence - whence")

melodious, sounding good, sounding good (literally "listening well")

The grammar highlights of this lesson:

1. Mine, yours, his

- The Chinese possessive pronouns

In the first lesson we already got to know the personal pronouns in Chinese. From this it is now very easy to derive possessive pronouns. All you have to do is use the syllable de Append 的 to the respective personal pronoun.

The Chinese possessive pronouns at a glance:

他 的 , 她 的 , 它 的 *

tāde *

his / s, her / e, his / s **

你们 的

name de

your / your / yours

他们 的 , 她们 的 ** , 它们 的

tāmen de **

you / s *

* The personal pronoun 它 is used in Chinese to denote things and animals.

** The feminine formtāmen 她们 is only used when a statement is made about a group of women only. For mixed groups in which at least one male representative can be found, the male plural form tāmen 他们 is used!


你 的 米饭

nǐde mǐfàn

your rice

她 的 中文

tāde zhōngwén

her chinese

我们 的 德文

wǒmen de déwén

our German

你们 的 钱

name de qián

your money

他们 的 爱

tāmen de ài

their love

If you want to ask about affiliation, you can do so with the question pronoun shéi de 谁 的 “whose”.


谁 的 钱?

Shéi de qián?

Whose - money?

"Whose money is this?"

我 的 钱 。/ 我 的。

Wǒ de qián. / Wǒ de.

My money. / Mine.

"My money. / Mine."

2. The question particles ma

- a versatile grammar hero!

In this lesson we will learn about a nondescript yet extremely useful Chinese grammar hero, namely the question particles ma 吗.

This grammatical functional word is able to from a simple statement (e.g. "You have a Chinese name.") in the twinkling of an eye a question to conjure up ("Do you have a Chinese name?").

To do this, the question particle simply has to be appended to the end of a statement.

In German it would look like this:

“You have a Chinese name MA?

“Do you have a Chinese name?

Examples in Chinese:

Example 1:

你 有 中文 名字。

Nǐ yǒu zhōngwén míngzi.

You - have - Chinese - names.

“You have a Chinese name.(Declarative sentence)

你 有 中文 名字 吗?

Nǐ yǒu zhōngwén míngzi ma?

You - have - Chinese - names - MA?

“Do you have a Chinese name?“ (Question mark)

Example 2:

你 爱 我。

Nǐ ài wǒ.

You love Me.

"You love Me." (Declarative sentence)

你 爱 我 吗?

Nǐ ài wǒ ma?

You - love - me - MA?

"Do you love me?" (Question mark)

Example 3:


Nǐ hǎo.

You well.

"Hello." (Statement)

你 好吗?

Nǐ hǎo ma?

You - good - MA?

"How are you?" / "Are you okay?" (Question mark)

Ma questions can be answered easily the repetition of the verb or through the negative verb.

In Chinese, the negative is made by putting the word in front 不 "no, not" formed. The only exception is the verb yǒu 有 “have”. Here is the negative méiyǒu 没有 "not have".


Question 1:

你 爱 我 吗?

Nǐ ài wǒ ma?

You - love - me - MA?

"Do you love me?"





"Yes./ Yes, I love you."

不 爱。


Not love.

No. / No, I don't love you. "

Question 2:

你 有 中文 名字 吗?

Nǐ yǒu zhōngwén míngzi ma?

You - have - Chinese - names - MA?

“Do you have a Chinese name?




To have.

"Yes. /Yes I have."



Not have.

"No.No I did not."

3. What about ...?

- The question particles, no

In addition to the question particle ma There are a few more functional words in Chinese that can be placed at the end of a sentence. One of them is the little word no 呢, which can be used to form numerous useful questions.

In German, "ne" can be translated either with "And ...?" Or "And what is with ...?" Or with "And where is ...?" Or "Where is ...?", Depending on the context.

Depending on what precedes "ne", so numerous "And what about ...?" Questions can be formed.


你 呢?


You - NE?

"And you? / What about you? And where are you?" (e.g. on a photo)

他 呢?

Tā ne?

He - NE?

"And him? / And what about him? / And where is he?"

小刘 呢?

Xiǎo Liú ne?

Xiao Liu - NE?

"And Xiao Liu? / What about Xiao Liu? / And where is Xiao Liu?"

明天 呢?

Míngtiān ne?

Tomorrow - NE?

"And tomorrow? / What about tomorrow?"

米饭 呢?

Mǐfàn ne?

Rice - NE?

"And the rice? / What about the rice? / And where is the rice?"

你 的 手机 呢?

Nǐde shǒujī ne?

Your - cell phone - NE?

"And your cell phone? / What about your cell phone? / Where's your cell phone?"

4. What is your name?

- Someone in Chinese
ask for his name

At the beginning of every meeting and conversation there is usually the question of the name of the other person. In Chinese there are various ways of asking for the name of the person you are speaking to.

A distinction can be made between formal and more informal situations. In this lesson, we will first learn formulations that can be used to informally inquire about a person's name:

Version 1:

First give your own name and then ask the "And you?" Question:

我 叫 Lena。 你 呢?

Wǒ jiào Lena. No?

My name is Lena. You - NE?

"My name is Lena. And you?"

Variant 2:

Asking directly for the name of the person you are talking to using the question word shénme 什么, which means "what" or "which one" means. (We will introduce you to this question word and its use in detail in Lesson 5.)

你 叫 什么 名字?

Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?

You - is - what / what - name?

"What's your name? / What's your name?"

Variation 3:

Since the Chinese pronunciation is very different from the pronunciation of many Western languages ​​and the pronunciation of Chinese names is often unfamiliar to Western tongues, many Chinese give themselves foreign names. Conversely, it is also extremely common that as a foreigner in China you get a Chinese name. (You can find out more about Chinese names in the “Cultural Highlight” of this lesson below).

Another useful question when getting to know each other is therefore:

"Do you have a Chinese / German name?"

你 有 中文 名字 吗?

Nǐ yǒu zhōngwén míngzi ma?

You - have - Chinese - names - MA?

"Do you have a Chinese name?"

你 有 德文 名字 吗?

Nǐ yǒu déwén míngzi ma?

You - have - German - names - MA?

"Do you have a German name?"

How to introduce yourself in formal contexts, we'll tell you in lesson 13!

5. To be or not to be

- Chinese sentences with shì and hěn

a) "to be"- is-sentences

Often we want to make statements in a language about how something “is”. In German, such statements can always be made with the verb “sein”, regardless of which part of speech follows the verb “sein”.

(For the grammar enthusiasts among our learners: Verbs that can directly connect a subject and a predicate are called grammatical, by the way, copula verbs.)

Example in German:

There is also a verb for “to be” in Chinese, namely shì 是. However, it is only used in sentences in which "sein" is followed by a noun (or another nominal expression):



Xiǎo Liú.

Xiao Liu.

Xiao Liu. "




Copula verb "to be"


Xiǎo Liú.

Xiao Liu.

Xiao Liu.

nominal predicate

The difference to German that you should remember:

Follows a Adjective or adjectival predicate to the verb “to be”, can in Chinese Not shì "to be" stand. Instead, an adverb is usually put in place of shì.

Usually the adverb is used here hěn 很 used, which actually means "very", but here in many cases it is simply translated into German in the sense of "to be".

Whether it means “very” or simply “to be” in a specific individual case depends on the context. Sometimes hěn is simply left out completely and the adjectival predicate follows the verb directly:


他 的 中文

Tāde Zhōngwén

Its chinese

“His Chinese


is / is very

is very)

Examples with other adverbs:

他 的 中文

Tāde Zhōngwén

Its chinese

“His Chinese



out of the ordinary

is extraordinary

他 的 中文

Tāde Zhōngwén

Its chinese

“His Chinese




is special

Danger! In contrast, it would be wrong:

他 的 中文

Tāde Zhōngwén

Its chinese

“His Chinese

As a rule of thumb you can remember: As a rule, shì does not come before adjectives. Instead, adjectives must be preceded by the adverb hěn.

b) "
not be "- negative is-sentences

shì-sentences are combined with the adverb 不 no:



bú shì

Not be

am not


Xiǎo Liú.

Xiao Liu.

Xiao Liu. "

Hěn sentences are also negated with bù, however got to in hěn clauses in the negative the adverb hěn is omitted:


他 的 中文

Tāde Zhōngwén

Its chinese

“His Chinese

On the other hand, it would be wrong:

* 他 的 中文 不 很好。

* Tāde Zhōngwén bù hěn hǎo.

6. Word classes - the boundaries flow!

If you have paid close attention, you will have noticed that the word "zhōngwén" 中文 appears in our lesson dialogue with two different meanings, namely as noun in the sense of "Chinese, the Chinese" and another time as adjective in the sense of "chinese / e / r":


你 的 中文

nǐde zhōngwén

your - Chinese

"your chinese"

中文 名字

zhōngwén míngzi

chinese - name

"chinese name"

Since Chinese, as we have already learned in Lesson 1, has no inflection, there are actually many words that do not have any visible form differences can be used both as a noun and as an adjective. The boundaries between individual word classes are comparatively fluid in Chinese!

For us as learners, this has the advantage that by learning fewer vocabulary a comparatively large number of nuances of meaning can be expressed without having to struggle with further grammar and further rules.

On the other hand, for us as foreign language learners, it is not always clear at first glance whether a word is to be translated as a noun or an adjective, for example.

More useful vocabulary from our example sentences:

More vocabulary:

How are you? / Are you all right?

Cell phone, mobile phone (lit. "hand machine")

Cultural highlight:

Chinese names

- Why some Chinese themselves

call it "Petra" in Germany

Chinese names

- Why some Chinese themselvescall it "Petra" in Germany

Pretty much all Chinese are called Wang, right? Of course not true, only around 95 million people in China have this surname, which corresponds to around 7.1 percent of the population.

The fact is, however, that there is only a limited repertoire of a few hundred possible surnames in Chinese, some of which are particularly common. In 2014, the Chinese statistical office published a ranking of themost common Chinese surnames. Accordingly, in addition to Wang, Li, Zhang, Liu and Chen are among the largest namesake groups (our list of the 20 most common surnames can be found here).

And what does a typical Chinese full name look like?

First of all, in Chinese there is theLast name before first name. For example, it is called Wang Yu, where Wang is the last name.

In e-mail correspondence with Western addressees, this can sometimes cause confusion, namely when it is not certain whether the Chinese name is in Chinese order (Wang Yu) or in "western" order (Yu Wang) under the email stands. The situation is made even more difficult by the fact that Chinese first names (even for native speakers) cannot always be clearly assigned to a gender.

But don't panic!

Nevertheless, there are some reliable indications: So are Chinese surnames are almost always monosyllabic, while first names often have two syllables. So if you receive an email from Han Xiaolin (or Xiaolin Han in German), your last name is definitely Han.

In addition, many Chinese feel sorry for them and therefore just write their last name in Capital letter (Xiaolin HAN) to prevent misunderstandings.

It is even more watertight to get a "foreign" first name right away. And so it happens that the Chinese in Germany sometimes introduce themselves as Peter or Petra. For the average German, this is also much less tongue-twisting than Xiaolin or Jinping.

The same also applies to our western names in China!

The Chinese also threaten to twirl a knot in the tongue and are also difficult to remember. That is why it is common practice in China to “Sinize” foreign names.

So if you want to establish long-term contact with China, it is advisable to to get your own Chinese name. The best way to do this is to look for a common Chinese surname, ideally reminiscent of the German surname, and a one to two syllable first name. Here you should choose a melodious combination of characters that arouses positive connotations. It is safest to simply seek advice from a Chinese friend or acquaintance before the name is put on the business card.

Exercise part: train your Chinese speaking muscles!

Learning a foreign language is ultimately not a science, but a science practical skill! Just like tying shoelaces or practicing a shot in tennis or a sequence of movements in swimming, speaking a new language is a skill that can only be learned and improved by using it actively trained, practiced again and again and so automated!

So: now it's your turn! At the end of each lesson, you have the opportunity to listen to all the lesson sentences again, one at a time, and most importantly to actively repeat and practice.

So, let's go!

Nǐ hǎo, wǒ jiào Lena. No?

Hello my name is Lena. You - NE?

"Hi, my name is Lena. And you?"

Nǐ hǎo, wǒ shì Xiǎo Liú.

Hello, I - am - Xiao Liu.

"Hello, my name is Xiao Liu."

Nǐde zhōngwén hěn hǎo!

Your - Chinese - very - good!

"Your Chinese is very good!"

Nǎli nǎli!

Where from - where from!

"Oh, where from!

Nǐ yǒu zhōngwén míngzi ma?

You - have - Chinese - names - MA?