Learn Chinese from scratch!
第二课 - Lesson 2

How are you? / The interrogative particle “ma”



Nǐ hǎo ma?




Wǒ hěn hǎo, nǐ ne?




Wǒ yě hěn hǎo.



New words

  1. (auxiliary word) ma an interrogative particle
  2. (pronoun) I, me
  3. (adv.) hěn very
  4. (auxiliary word) ne a modal particle
  5. (adv.) also, too

Let’s break them down into parts:

= (mouth) + (horse)
What does "horse" mǎ do here? It gives the sound ma, and the "mouth" gives the meaning to the character. You may memorize it as a horse’s mouth. The horse kind of asks, ‘What the hell am I doing in this character?’
= (hand) + (spear)
The hand with the spear is me. I am such a belligerent savage. Beware of me. Just pay attention that the second stroke is one for the both characters, i.e. to write them separately is wrong. If you try to write the character fast and correctly, you’ll see logical movements as if you were Harry Potter waving your magical wand...
= (to step/walk slowly / left foot step) + (tough; straight)
To make the first step is very tough nowadays, especially left foot step. (you may write a better description in the comments). 艮 gěn here gives the sound hěn, the meanings are: tough, blunt, straight(forward), stopping, simple etc.
= + (corpse) + (dagger; spoon)   (nun)
Let’s leave this character without comments because nothing good comes to my mind... :)
- no constituent characters.


  1. 你好吗?” — “How are you?”

    你好吗?” is also a common greeting, and one of the commonly used answers is “我很好”.

  2. 你呢?” — “And (how are) you?”

  3. 也很好。” — “(I’m) very well, too.”

    也很好” is an elliptical sentence in which the subject “” is omitted. In colloquial speech in Chinese, subjects of this kind are often omitted if the context leaves no room for misunderstanding. “我很好” in the text can also be further shortened to “很好”.

Pronunciation drills and conversation practice

Initial m
Finals е uo ie en
  1. The four tones





    } nǐ hǎo ma



    — nǐ ne





    — yě hěn hǎo





    The syllables that do not exist in modern Chinese are written in brackets.

  2. Sound discrimination

    hé — hén
    bèn — pèn
    gē — kē
    kǎn — kěn

    biē — piē
    lè — liè
    guò — kuò
    mō — māo

  3. Tone changes

    Half 3rd tone



    A 3rd tone changing into a 2nd tone









Fill in the gaps in the dialogues with an appropriate reply.

Exchanging greetings

  1. A: Nǐ hǎo ma?
    В: , ?
    A: Wǒ yě hěn hǎo.

  2. A: Nǐ hǎo ma?


How to pronounce these finals

Simple final e [γ]

e [γ] is a back, unrounded vowel, formed with the tongue in a mid-high position. It is produced by pronouncing first, then changing from lip rounding to lip spreading, but with the tongue-position remaining the same.

Compound final ie [iε]

The “e” in “ie” is a simple final “ê” [ε] which is seldom used alone (with the mouth half-open, the corners of the mouth spread wide, the tip of the tongue against the back of the lower teeth). “ie” is produced by pronouncing “i” first, then promptly sliding in the direction of “ê”,which is pronounced louder and longer than “i”.

Compound final uo [uo]

It is produced by pronouncing "u” first, then promptly sliding in the direction of “o", which is pronounced louder and longer than “u”.

Neutral tone

In the Chinese common speech, there are a number of syllables which are unstressed and take a feeble tone. This is known as the neutral tone which is shown by the absence of a tone-graph, as in “Nǐ ne?” and “Hǎo ma?”.

Half 3rd tone

A 3rd tone, when followed by a 1st, 2nd or 4th tone or most neutral tones, usually becomes a half 3rd tone, that is, the tone that only falls but does not rise. The 3rd tone is seldom used in full unless it occurs as an independent tone or when followed by a long pause. In most cases it is changed into a half 3rd tone, but with its tone-graph unchanged.

Rules of phonetic spelling

At the beginning of a syllable, “i” is written as “y”, e.g.“ie → ye”. “i” is written as “yi" when it forms a syllable all by itself, e.g. “yī”.

At the beginning of a syllable, “u” is written as “w” e.g., “uo → wo”. “u” is written as “wu” when it forms a syllable all by itself, e.g. “wǔ”.


The word order in a Chinese sentence

The Chinese language is characterized by its total lack of inflectional endings employed by other languages to express person, tense, gender, number and case. Word order, or the arrangement of words, in a sentence, is thus an extremely important means in expressing the various grammatical relationships.

A Chinese sentence usually begins with the subject followed by the predicate. E.g.




“I’m okay / fine / good.” (lit.: I am very well)


“(I’m) fine too.” (lit.: (I am) also very well)

In the three sentences above, “” and “” are the subjects while “” is the main element of the predicates. The adverbs “” and “” function as adverbial adjuncts to qualify the predicative adjective “”. In Chinese, an adverb must precede what it qualifies (usually a verb or an adjective).

Questions with the interrogative particle “

When the interrogative particle “吗” (ma) is added at the end of a declarative sentence, it becomes a general question. The word order of such a question is exactly the same as that of the answer to it. E.g.


Table of stroke-order of Chinese characters

1. Stroke order ma 吗 6
  Stroke order ma 嗎 13
2. Stroke order wǒ 我 7
3. Stroke order hěn 很 9
4. Stroke order ne 呢 8
5. Stroke order yě 也 3

Phonetic dictation

Listen to the following one-syllable words. Write them in transcription pinyin. Lay tone marks:



Знаешь ли ты?

Do you know?

Chinese characters

Chinese, which is formed of characters, is among the world’s oldest written languages. Generally speaking, each character stands for a meaningful syllable. The total number of Chinese characters is estimated at more than 50,000 of which only 5,000 — 8,000 are in common use. Of these merely 3,000 are used for everyday purposes.

The Chinese characters in use today developed from the pictographs cut on oracle bones dating from over 3,000 years ago and the pictographs found on ancient bronze vessels dating a little later. In the course of their history of development, Chinese characters evolved from pictographs into characters formed of strokes, with their structures very much simpler. Most of the present-day Chinese characters are known as pictophonetic characters, each formed of two elements, with one indicating the meaning and the other the sound.

Chinese characters have made great contributions to the long history of the Chinese nation and Chinese culture, and Chinese calligraphy is a highly developed art. But Chinese characters have serious drawbacks. It is very difficult to learn, to read and to write and still more difficult to memorize. Reforms should be carried out to make the characters easier.

Shang (2000 B.C.) → Zhou (1000 B.C.) → Han (3000 B.C. — 3000 A.D.) → Qin (4000 A.D.) → Modern writing

Evolution of Chinese characters