Chinese Adverbs: Moving Beyond the Subject-Verb-Object Structure

asian cook sprinkling salt

Adverbs are words or phrases that qualify an adjective, verb, or entire clause, telling you when something happens, how often it occurs, in what way, or to what degree.

Think of the adverb as that secret ingredient, that sprinkle of spice, the little word that provides additional information, helping your sentence along. So let’s take a look at the main types of Chinese adverbs.

Chinese adverbs of time

Chinese adverbs of time tell when something happens.

Any expression of time can function as an adverb, meaning that such words as 明天 míngtiān (“tomorrow”), 昨天 zuótiān (“yesterday”), and 后天 hòutiān (“the day after tomorrow”) are all technically adverbs of time.

But let’s focus on adverbs in the traditional sense- words that modify verbs.

Chinese adverbs of time

马上 – Mǎshàng

Chinese expression 马上 mǎshàng, if translated literally, means “on the horse.” In Ancient China, if a friend or messenger (or an invading Mongolian army) was already mounted and riding forth, their arrival was considered imminent.

Nowadays, the phrase 马上 is used more broadly and means “right away,” “immediately,” or “very soon.” So if you hear somebody saying 演出马上就要开始了 Yǎnchū mǎshàng jiùyào kāishǐ le, it means that the performance is about to begin.

已经 – Yǐjīng

已经 Yǐjīng is another Chinese adverb of time that is used exactly like the word “already” in English.

You can use 已经 both to express statements of fact, like 这种样子的包已经卖完了 Zhè zhǒng yàngzi de bāo yǐjīng mài wán le (“This type of bag is already sold out”), or to convey a degree of surprise: 我不敢相信他们已经分手了 Wǒ bùgǎn xiāngxìn tāmen yǐjīng fēnshǒule (“I can’t believe they already broke up”).

suprised chinese kid

还没 / 还没有 – Hái méi / Hái méiyǒu

The opposite expression to 已经 yǐjīng is 还没 hái méi, which is usually best translated as “yet,” “not yet,” or “haven’t yet.” For example:


XiǎoWǎn yǐjīng sānshí duō suì le, dàn hái méi jiéhūn

Xiao Wan is already in her thirties, but she isn’t married yet.

还 – Hái

The word 还 hái means “still.” You can use it to emphasize that an action is continuing:


Suīrán hěn wǎn le, dàn tā hái zài xuéxí

Even though it’s late, he’s still studying.

才 – Cái

Adding 才 cái before a verb emphasizes that something happened just a moment ago. If your friend only just arrived but looks like he’s getting ready to leave, you might say:


Nǐ zěnme cái lái jiù yào zǒu?

You just got here, and you’re going already?

Adverbs of TIME in Mandarin Chinese

Chinese adverbs of frequency

In contrast to adverbs of time, which describe when an event occurs, Chinese adverbs of frequency give details relating to how often something happens.

Chinese adverbs of frequency

从不 / 从来不 – Cóngbù / Cóngláibù

Both words 从不 cóngbù and 从来不 cóngláibù mean “never” in Chinese, as illustrated in these sentences:


Wǒ cóngláibù shuō jiǎhuà

I never tell lies.


Tā cóngbù fāhuǒ

He never loses his temper.

There is no difference between 从不 and 从来不; you can use the two phrases interchangeably.

很少 – Hěn shǎo

Moving slightly up the scale of the Chinese adverbs of frequency, we have 很少 hěn shǎo, meaning “rarely.” For example:


Wǒ hěn shǎo yǒu shíjiān kàn diànyǐng

I rarely have time to watch a movie.

friends in cinema eating popcorn

偶尔 – Oǔ’ěr

The phrase 偶尔 oǔ’ěr is a bit harder to translate into English, as it is used very generally in China, in sentences like 我们偶尔见面 Wǒmen ǒu’ěr jiànmiàn (“We see each other once in a while”).

You might find 偶尔 in the dictionary under “occasionally” or “sometimes,” but in daily life, the phrase may mean anything from once or twice a month to once every few years.

有(的)时候 – Yǒu (de) shíhòu

The phrase 有的时候 yǒudeshíhòu means “sometimes,” and it is as vague as it is in English. For example:


Yǒudeshíhòu, wǒmen xuéxiào huì zài zhōuliù zǎoshang kāishè éwài de yǔyán kè

Sometimes, our school opens for extra language lessons on Saturday mornings.

It’s perfectly fine to drop the 的 de, in which case you pronounce 候 hòu with a neutral tone (“hou”).

chinese student in classroom raising hand

经常 / 常常 – Jīngcháng / Chángcháng

The words 经常 jīngcháng and 常常 chángcháng both mean “often” in Chinese, and you can use them interchangeably. It’s OK to say either 我常常想起来她说过的话 Wǒ chángcháng xiǎngqilái tā shuōguo de huà or 我经常想起来她说过的话 Wǒ jīngcháng xiǎngqilái tā shuōguo de huà. Both sentences translate into English as “I often think of what she said.”

通常 / 平常 – Tōngcháng / Píngcháng

There are many different Chinese adverbs you can use to describe frequency between “often” and “always,” but 通常 tōngcháng (“normally”) and 平常 píngcháng (“generally”) are two of the easiest to remember.

You can use these adverbs to describe a regular occurrence. For example, 我平常四点半放学 Wǒ píngcháng sì diǎn bàn fàngxué and 我通常四点半放学 Wǒ tōngcháng sì diǎn bàn fàngxué both mean, “I usually finish school at half-past four.”

student carrying notebooks

总是 / 老是 – Zǒngshì / Lǎoshi

The adverbs 总是 zǒngshì, and 老是 lǎoshi mean “always” in Chinese.

The word 总是 is a more neutral phrase:


Xiàngrìkuí zǒngshì cháoxiàng tàiyáng

Sunflowers always turn towards the sun.

In contrast, the word 老是 usually carries a negative connotation:


Wǒ gēgē shàngxué lǎoshi chídào

My brother is always late for school.

FREQUENCY in Chinese - How to Express How Often

Chinese adverbs of manner

Adverbs of manner are used to explain how you do an action. You can form many Chinese adverbs from the original adjectives by adding the particle 地 de after the adjective.

Chinese adverbs of manner

开心地 / 幸福地 – Kāixīn de / Xìngfú de

Adding 地 de to the word 开心 kāixīn, we get 开心地 kāixīn de, meaning “happily.”


Tā kànzhe nánrénmen wéizhe zhuōzi kāixīn de chīfàn

She watched the men eating happily around the table.

You can use 幸福 xìngfú to convey a more profound, more long-lasting happiness, for example:


Cóngcǐ tāmen xìngfú dì shēnghuózhe

They lived happily ever after.

伤心地 – Shāngxīn de

The word 伤心 shāngxīn means “sad” in Chinese. Adding the character 地 de transforms the adjective into an adverb, meaning “sadly.”

Imagine the heroine of a romantic novel or play whose lover is killed on the field of battle:

读完他的最后一封信 她伤心地哭了

Dú wán tāde zuìhòu yī fēng xìn tā shāngxīn de kū le

After reading his final letter she wept sadly.

耐心地 – Nàixīn de

The adverb 耐心地 nàixīn de translates to “patientlyin English. Perhaps, until our heroine received her lover’s final letter, she waited for him:


Tā nàixīn de děngdài zhàngfū cóng shànghǎi guīlái.

She waited patiently for her husband to return from Shanghai.

woman holding love letter

生气地 – Shēngqì de

Did you ever make your teacher angry at school? If you pushed them too far, they probably shouted angrily at you: 生气地大喊了 shēngqì de dà hǎn le.

Monosyllabic adjectives are usually duplicated before adding the 地 de particle.

慢慢地 – Mànmàn de

If you come rushing home, chattering excitedly about an incident that happened at work, your wife or husband might request that you lower your voice and speak slowly: 放低声音慢慢地说 Fàng dī shēngyīn mànmàn de shuō.

偷偷地 – Tōutōu de

Chinese adverb 偷偷地 tōutōu de means secretly” or “stealthily.” Unfortunately, it’s still common in China for teenage schoolboys to smoke. Since smoking is not allowed at school, they have to 偷偷地抽烟 tōutōu de chōuyān (“smoke secretly”).

man smoking

悄悄地 – Qiāoqiāo de

The word 悄悄地 qiāoqiāo de is one of the few Chinese adverbs not formed from an adjective. It translates to “quietly” and implies an element of stealth or secrecy. Imagine Zorro moving like a thief in the night as he quietly closes the door and leaves the room: 悄悄地关上门,离开房间 qiāoqiāo de guānshàng mén, líkāi fángjiān.

As in the following examples, some disyllabic adjectives are also duplicated for emphasis in an “AABB” pattern before adding the 地 de particle.

舒舒服服地 – Shūshūfúfú de

The word 舒舒服服地 shūshūfúfú de sounds a little cutesy in Chinese, and it means “comfortably.” You can use it to describe how your pet dog is curled up under the table, sleeping comfortably: 蜷缩在桌子底下,舒舒服服地睡觉 quánsuō zài zhuōzi dǐxia, shūshūfúfú de shuìjiào.

认认真真地 – Rènrènzhēnzhēn de

The adjective 认真 rènzhēn means “serious,” but in its adverbial form, it more often translates into English as “carefully” or “diligently,” as in this sentence:


Lǎoshī rènrènzhēnzhēn de zhǔnbèi kèchéng

The teacher prepares the lessons diligently.

chinese teacher and pupil

高高兴兴地 – Gāogāoxìngxìng de

As an adjective, 高兴 gāoxìng means “happy” or “glad.” However, when you use it to modify a verb, it more naturally translates as “cheerfully.” For example:


Xiǎo Hóng gāogāoxìngxìng de dēngshàng fēi wǎng shànghǎi de fēijī

Xiao Hong cheerfully boarded the plane to Shanghai.

Not all Mandarin adverbs and adjectives can be doubled up in this way. There are no hard-and-fast rules for Chinese adverbs, and the various categories can confuse beginners. But try not to get discouraged; the longer you learn Chinese, the more familiar you’ll become with these patterns.

Chinese adverbs of mood or attitude

Besides Chinese adverbs of manner, time, and frequency, other adverbs convey the attitude or sentiments of the person speaking. These are “sentence adverbs” in English, as they do not modify verbs. Instead, they modify the tone of the entire sentence or clause.

In the Chinese language, sentence adverbs that convey the speaker’s attitude are called 语气副词 yǔqì fùcí, meaning “tone adverbs.” Take a look at the following examples to get a sense of using these adverbs when speaking Mandarin.

Chinese adverbs of mood or attitude

明明 – Míngmíng

By using the adverb 明明 míngmíng, the speaker implies that a particular situation or fact is plain to see or easy to understand. The direct translation of 明明 is “obviously,” and here is an example of using it in a sentence:

你明明不会做 为什么还要装样子

Nǐ míngmíng bùhuì zuò wèishénme hái yào zhuāngyàngzi?

You obviously don’t know how to do it, so why bother pretending?

到底 – Dàodǐ

One of those Chinese adverbs that are very difficult to translate into English is 到底 dàodǐ which means “to get to the bottom.”

Though you can use 到底 dàodǐ to mean “after all” or “in the end,” this adverb is often a sign of the speaker’s frustration or annoyance:


Nǐ nàyàng gàn dàodǐ shì wèishénme?

What the hell did you do that for?

angry boss scolding employee

最好 – Zuìhǎo

You are likely already familiar with how to use the phrase 最好 zuìhǎo as an adjective from the very beginning of your Mandarin studies. But did you know this phrase can also function as an adverb? In that case, it means “you’d better do something.”

You can use 最好 zuìhǎo to express your opinion or to give advice, as in 你最好坐车吧 Nǐ zuì hǎo zuòchē ba (“You’d better go by bus/train”).

Sometimes the tone can be a little condescending. For example, if someone tells you, 你最好今天把它搞完 Nǐ zuì hǎo jīntiān bǎ tā gǎo wán, it’s as though the speaker is wagging their finger at you, telling you “It would be best if you finished it today” (or else).

简直 – Jiǎnzhí

Adding the adverb 简直 jiǎnzhí to a sentence places more emphasis on what is said. It would be the equivalent of “simply” or “absolutely” in English. Here is an example of the adverb 简直 in the sentence:


Wǒ jiǎnzhí bùnéng xiǎngxiàng yǒu zhèzhǒng shì.

I simply can’t imagine such a thing.

shocked young woman in front of computer

难怪 – Nánguài

The adverb 难怪 nánguài, which translates to “no wonder,” expresses the speaker’s sentiment that the situation is not surprising.

If you’ve been walking for hours, no wonder you’re tired: 难怪你累了 nánguài nǐ lèi le. And of course, if you eat so much, it’s no wonder you’re gaining weight: 你吃得这么多 难怪你长胖了 Nǐ chīde zhème duō nánguài nǐ zhǎng pàng le.

Chinese adverbs of degree

Adverbs of degree indicate the intensity of an action or condition. Known as 程度副词 chéngdù fùcí in Mandarin Chinese, adverbs of degree can modify verbs, adjectives, or even other adverbs.

In Mandarin, like in English, the degree depends on the speaker’s tone as much as on their choice of words.

Chinese adverbs of degree

有点 / 一点 – Yǒudiǎn / Yīdiǎn

Both words 有点 yǒudiǎn and yīdiǎn mean “a little” or “a little bit,” but there are essential differences in how you use them as adverbs.

When you place 有点 before an adjective, even though you can use 有点 for describing a situation, it often carries a connotation of complaining. For example:


Wǒ báitiān dùzi yǒudiǎn téng

My stomach was hurting a bit during the day.

In contrast, when you place 一点 after adjectives, you can use it to make comparisons or requests, such as:


Lǎobǎn, zhège bāo kěyǐ piányí diǎn ma?

Boss, can you make this bag a little cheaper?

In this case, you shorten 一点 yīdiǎn to simply 点 diǎn.

比较 – Bǐjiào

You can use the phrase 比较 bǐjiào as a verb to compare two or more nouns. It also functions as an adverb meaning “relatively,” “rather,” or “fairly.” Here are some examples in the sentences:


Tā xué wàiyǔ bǐjiào kuài

She learns foreign languages relatively quickly.


Wǒ jīntiān gǎnjué bǐjiào lèi

I feel rather tired today.

挺 – Tǐng

The adverb 庭 tǐng is used in everyday Mandarin speech and means “quite” or “pretty.” You can find it in such sentences as:


Luō lǎoshī de kè shì tǐng hǎowán de

Mr. Luo’s lessons are pretty fun.

children at school doing chemistry experiments

很 – Hěn

When connecting a noun and adjective, 很 hěn can mean either “is very” or simply “is.” For example, 我的嘴很干 Wǒde zuǐ hěn gàn could mean either “My mouth is dry” or “My mouth is very dry). The degree is neutral and will depend on the speaker’s tone:

If you use 很 hěn before a verb related to emotions, like 爱 ài (“to love”), it always intensifies the verb, so while 我爱你 Wǒ ài nǐ means “I love you,” 我很爱你 Wǒ hěn ài nǐ means “I love you very much.”

非常 – Fēicháng

The literal meaning of 非常 fēicháng is “not-ordinary,” but it translates more naturally into English as “very” or “really.” For example:


Zhōngguócài fēicháng hǎochī

Chinese food is really delicious.

特别 – Tèbié

As an adjective, 特别 tèbié means “special” or “unusual.” You can also use 特别 as an adverb. For example, if you say 中国菜特别好吃 Zhōngguó cài tèbié hǎochī, it means “Chinese food is especially good.”

asian couple eating chinese street food

太… 了– Tài… le

Chinese character 太 tài means “too-“ and is used to intensify an adjective, to say something like 今天太热了,什么都不想做 Jīntiān tài rè le, shénme dōu bùxiǎng zuò (“It’s too hot to do anything today”).

You can also use the 太… 了 structure in a more positive sense, such as 她今天看起来太漂亮了 Tā jīntiān kànqǐlái tài piàoliang le. The literal translation of this sentence would be, “She looks too pretty today.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that the woman is too beautiful. In this case, 太 tài translates into English as “so” or “really,” implying that the woman is really pretty.

极了– Jíle

The character 极 means “the utmost point,” or “extreme,” for example, 北极 běijí (“the North Pole”), the northernmost point on the earth.

When used as an adverb, 极了 jíle (“extremely”) always comes after the adjective.

Just like 太, the word 极了 also intensifies the adjectives. Here are two examples:


Wǒ zuìjìn máng jíle

I’ve been extremely busy recently.


Zhèsuǒ xuéxiào de hànyǔ kè nán jíle

The Mandarin language lessons at this school are extremely difficult.

Very? Extremely? Not At All? - Chinese Adverbs of DEGREE

Chinese adverbs of range

Whenever you think about how an adverb works, remember there’s always a simpler sentence that exists without it. Adverbs are not required to make a sentence grammatically correct, but they sure can change the meaning.

Adverbs of range suggest the scope of action and the circumstances under which it applies. So, while “I care about my son” is a complete sentence, adding the word “only” to it changes the scope of the verb “to care,” implying that you only care about your son and no one or nothing else.

Chinese adverbs of range

只 / 只是 – Zhǐ / Zhǐshì

Adding the character 只 zhǐ before a verb limits the scope (scope of what?) to one particular noun or one specific situation, much like the word “only” or “just” in English. For example:


Wǒ shēntǐ méi shénme dà wèntí, zhǐshì yǒudiǎn lèi

I’ve got no major health problems, just tired.

Using 只 in this sentence emphasizes that you don’t have any health issues apart from tiredness.

仅仅 – Jǐnjǐn

Many adverbs in Chinese carry the meaning of “only” or “just.”

仅仅 jǐnjǐn is another common adverb, meaning “only” in the sense of “not that much,” as in this sentence:


Zhèbù diànyǐng shícháng jǐnjǐn 75 fēnzhōng

The movie was only 75 minutes long.

woman watching tv

完全 – Wánquán

The word 完全 wánquán is one of the most useful Chinese adverbs of range that translates to “completely” or “absolutely.” You can use it to broaden the scope of the subject you are talking about or emphasize what you are saying.

If someone tells you 你完全做错了 Nǐ wánquán zuòcuò le, it means either that you did everything wrong (not just one thing) or you did something totally wrong (not just a little wrong).

都 – Dōu

dōu is one of those words that can be tricky for English speakers to conceptualize. In instances like this, 他每天都在学习中文 Tā měitiān dōu zài xuéxí zhōngwén (“He is learning Chinese every day”), 都 dōu seems unnecessary or redundant.

Here, the words 都 dōu and 每 měi both mean “every.” While unnecessary in English, adding 都 here emphasizes that he is learning Chinese every day or that learning Chinese is all he does.

The adverb 都 is also used to specify the range more literally. If someone asks you 对你来说,周一到周五都方便,是吧? Duì nǐ lái shuō, zhōuyī dào zhōuwǔ dōu fāngbiàn, shì ba? (“As for you, any day from Monday to Friday is convenient, right?”), 都 indicates that any day in the range from Monday to Friday is convenient.

Chinese ADVERBS - How to Say Only, All, Precisely & More in Mandarin Chinese

What about Chinese adverbs of negation?

If you search for Chinese adverbs online, you may find another whole class of adverbs, known as 否定副词 fǒudìng fùcí, or “negative adverbs.”

Whether you can truly think of these words as adverbs or not remains a subject of debate, but technically almost any word you use to say no in Chinese may be considered a negative adverb.

And that’s a wrap! Hopefully, you’ve learned how to construct sentences with a little more flavor using Chinese adverbs. Now that you’ve grasped the basics, it’s time to practice using them in real life!