Chinese pronouns are some of the most often occurring words in the Chinese language and every beginning Chinese learner should jump on these guys and get familiar with them right away.
There aren’t many of these pronouns in Chinese, so 5 minutes should be enough to get the basics.
You and I
Listen to the Chinese pronouns for you and I, and repeat what you hear:
你 (nǐ): you
您 (nín): you (formal)
我 (wǒ ): I / me
The tone marks over the vowels indicate how the voice rises or dips and comes up again while pronouncing the Chinese characters.
Light on Grammar
The blessing of Mandarin Chinese is that the grammar is very simple. While, in English, we have I and me meaning the same thing, but used in different grammatical positions, you don’t have to worry about that in Chinese. wǒ works wherever you want to talk about yourself. (And most of us tend to talk about ourselves quite a bit, if truth be told.)
He, She, and It
I’ve got more good news, which is that the following sound, pinyin tā will, believe it or not, cover he, she, and it all in one swoop. It’s a three-for-one deal.
And if you count him and her in with the bargain (because there are no separate Chinese words for those pronouns), then you’re actually getting a 5-for-1 deal. Not bad, indeed.
Listen to tā, which is spoken with a tone that hangs up high:
There is some fine print, though, which is that the characters are different. And here they are:
- 他 (tā): he/him
- 她 (tā): she/her
- 它 (tā): it
If you have an interest in learning to read or write Chinese characters, then you might look into some interesting info about those components on the left of the characters for he and she that distinguish the gender. You can find out about those and others by learning the basics of Chinese radicals.
Forming the Plural
If you want to make I into us, you add the sound ‘men’ at the end of any of the Chinese pronouns, and there you have it. Likewise, the ‘men’ can be added to he and you with the same sort of result.
Here are the plural forms of the pronouns in Mandarin:
我们 (wǒmen): we/us
你们 (nǐmen): you (plural)
他们 (tāmen): they/them
That ‘men’ trick can work for making a lot of words that refer to people into the plural form. So tuck that little piece of knowledge away for future use when you expand your Chinese vocabulary some more.
You may notice that there is no tone mark over the final ‘men’ part in the pinyin. That is because it is a neutral tone, meaning that you just say it lightly. Put the stress on the first character and just touch that men at the end lightly. You’ll sound great.
As you can see, the pinyin looks just like the English word 'men', but notice that it doesn't sound like it. If you could just scratch that middle letter 'e' from the picture and say 'mn' you'll be more on target.
If you want to get mastery over all of these tones which occur in Chinese pronouns, as well as in all Chinese words and phrases, then Audrey’s video teaching Chinese tones is where you can begin to build those skills.
The words given above are going to be all you need to cover everyday use of pronouns. But just to prepare for when you might be thrown a curve, I’m going to tell you about zán men.
咱们 (zán men): we (inclusive)
This word is the inclusive we. Let me explain: If I am talking to you and I say zán men, that means my 'we' definitely includes both of us. I wouldn’t use this word if I’m speaking to you, and my ‘we’ included me and somebody else, but not you.
But at the beginning Mandarin stage, I wouldn’t worry about this so much, as you could use wǒmen in either case, and most people tend to do just that. Zán men is something you’re more likely to hear in the North of China, and has a touch of formality to it (at least it seems that way to my own Southern-trained Chinese ears).
Chinese Pronouns in Conversation
You’ll be coming across these words constantly as you learn more Chinese, so they will become super-familiar to you before you know it.
And if you'd like to move on from here, you can step up and learn useful dialogs that use these Chinese pronouns.