Level 1 Lesson 30.1 – When, Where and How Did You Buy It

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The 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese
The "Shi...De" Sentence Structure in Mandarin

In this video lesson we'll learn when and how to use the 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese - The "Shi...De" Sentence Structure in Mandarin.

  • when and how use the 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese
  • the 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese to emphasize Time "When"
  • the 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese to emphasize Place "Where"
  • the 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese to emphasize Manner "How"
  • on the Internet in Chinese 网上 vs. 在网上



Grammar 1: When and How to Use the 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese · HSK 1

The "Shi...De" Sentence Structure in Mandarin is called “是……的”句 shì...de jù, The 是...的 Sentence Structure.

It’s a special Sentence Structure, and it is the most important sentence structure in Chinese HSK 1 grammar.

Basically, when both the speaker and the listener know that an event has already happened, and some further detail needs to be talked about. We use the 是...的 Sentence Structure to focus on the extra information we want to know. And whatever between 是…的 is the FOCUS information of the sentence.

For Chinese sentences that have a Verb Predicate (and an Object that's optional), the typical main structure of the sentence runs like this,

Subject + Verb (+ Object)

But for sentences with the 是...的 Sentence Structure, it runs like this,

Subject + 是 [FOCUS INFO] Verb + (Object)

It can be used in Questions as well as in Declarative Sentences. For example,

(1) A Positive Declarative Sentence

  • tā shì zuótiān kāidechē
    he -shi- yesterday drive-de- car

(2) A  Negative Declarative Sentence

  • wǒ búshì shàngwǎng mǎide diànshì
    I not -shi- go on the Internet buy-de- TV

(3) A General Yes-or-no Question

  • nǐ shì zài huǒchē zhàn zuòde chūzūchē ma
    you -shi- at train station take-de- taxi -ma

(4) A Special Question

  • nǐ shì zài nǎge wǎngzhàn xuéde Zhōngwén
    you -shi- on which "ge" website learn-de- Chinese


The FOCUS INFORMATION here can be mainly categorized in to three different types,

  1. Focusing on Time - "when"
  2. Focusing on Place - "where"
  3. Focusing on Manner - "how"

We'll discuss them one by one.


Grammar 2: The "Shi...De" Sentence Structure in Mandarin to Emphasize Time "When" · HSK 1

We can put a Time Word between 是...的 to emphasize Time "When", following this structure,

Subject + 是 [Time Word] Verb + 的 (+ Object)

For example,

Q: nǐ shì shénme shíhou kāishǐ xuéde Hànyǔ
      you -shi- when start to learn-de- Chinese
A: wǒ shì qùnián jiǔyuè kāishǐ xuéde Hànyǔ
      I -shi- last year September start to learn-de- Chinese


Q: Běijīng shì shàngge xīngqīwǔ xiàde xuě ma
      Beijing -shi- last Friday down -de- snow -ma
A: bùshì, Běijīng shì shàngzhōusì xiàde xuě
      no, Beijing -shi- last Thursday down -de- snow

Grammar 3: The 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese to Emphasize Place "Where" · HSK 1

We can put a "Place Word" between 是...的 to emphasize Place "Where". The "Place Word" here doesn't have to be a real "place", it can be something more abstract, for example a website, in a book... We can follow this structure,

Subject + 是 [Place Word] Verb + 的 (+ Object)

For example,

Q: nǐ shì zài nǎr kàndebìng
      you -shi- where diagnose-de- sickness
A: wǒ shì zài nàge yīyuàn kàndebìng
      I -shi- in that "ge" hospital diagnose-de- sickness


Q: nǐ shì zài yīyuàn chīdeyào ma
      you -shi- at hospital eat -de- medicine
A: wǒ shì zài yīyuàn chīdeyào
      I -shi- at hospital eat -de- medicine


Grammar 4: The "Shi...De" Sentence Structure in Mandarin to Emphasize Manner "How" · HSK 1

We can put a phrase that explains "manner or method" between 是...的 to emphasize Manner "how", following this structure,

Subject + 是 [Manner] Verb + 的 (+ Object)

For example,

Q: nǐ shì zěnme zhīdào de
      you -shi- how know -de-
A: wǒ shì shàngwǎng zhīdào de
      I -shi- go on the Internet know-de-


Q: nǐ shì yòng zhètái kāfēijī zuòde kāfēi ma
      you -shi- use this "tai" coffee maker make -de- coffee
A: búshì, wǒ shì yòng nàtái kāfēijī zuòde kāfēi
      no, I -shi- use that "tai" coffee maker make -de- coffee


Grammar 5: The 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese to Emphasize Complicated Information · HSK 1

We can put more than one Focus Information between 是...的 as well, emphasizing Time, Place and Manner altogether. For example,

  • wǒ shì zuótiān zàijiā yòng diànnǎo kànde diànyǐng
    I -shi- yesterday at home using computer watch-de- movie
  • wǒ shì shàngzhōu yòngdiànnǎo zàiwǎngshàng xuéde Zhōngwén
    I -shi- last week using computer on the Internet space learn-de- Chinese


Grammar 6: The 是...的 Sentence Structure in Chinese with Personal Pronoun as the Object · HSK 1

If the Object in the sentence is a Personal Pronoun, it does not go after 的, it’s always before 的 and closely tied to its verb, with this structure,

Subject +  [Focus] Verb + Personal Pronoun +

For example,

  • nǐ shì shénme shíhou gàosu tāde
    you -shi- when tell him-de-
  • wǒ shì zài Shànghǎi rènshi tāde
    I -shi- in Shanghai know her-de-
Collapse Comments
david.rappoPremium Student October 3, 2022 at 2:30 pm


In the sentence in section Grammar 3:


should the measure word 所 or 家 for 医院 be used instead of 个?


ChineseFor.UsAcademic Team October 10, 2022 at 2:31 pm

Sorry for the confusion.
We can use both 家 and 个 for 医院, but 个 is a lot more casual.

chibilovespurplePremium Student November 16, 2020 at 9:47 am

Thanks for a great and detailed lesson. However, it is not very easy to pay attention over a time span of 20 minutes…

JohnGPremium Student April 27, 2019 at 8:43 am

I’ve re-read the text several times but I’m struggling to understand why I would use 是…的 . I know you say that it’s for emphasis, but how is it for emphasis?

For example:

他是昨天开的车 = he yesterday drive car
他昨天开车 = he yesterday drive car

They both seem to translate to the same meaning. So what is actually emphasised? How would I translate this into English?

Google translate gets the 他是昨天开的车 phrase very wrong, but gets 他昨天开车 correct. Is this something only used in speech?

T.I.PPremium Student December 23, 2019 at 4:46 am

From what I understood:

他昨天开车 = He drove a car yesterday. This is a simple way to say it.
他是昨天开的车 = It was yesterday when he drove the car. The emphasis is placed on the fact the activity happened yesterday which, in English, could fade in the former option.

I have something similar in my language so, for me, this is much easier to apply.

ashgreen16Premium Student October 10, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Thank you Lili for another great lesson! One question – in the cases of the complex sentences where you use more than one “focus information”, is there a specific order we need to follow? I noticed you seemed to usually use “when”, “where”, and then “how” but wasn’t sure how important order was. 谢谢你!

Yes you’re right, when there’s a lot of information the sentence word order goes like this:
Time Word + Place + Prepositional Phrase
Please refer to Grammar 4 of Level 1 Lesson 21.1

ApplePremium Student April 16, 2022 at 3:29 am

Grammar 5 has this example: 我是上周用电脑在网上学的中文。
Shouldn’t that be 我是上周在网上用电脑学的中文 ?
Like in the example above that?

ChineseFor.UsAcademic Team April 16, 2022 at 12:47 pm

我是上周用电脑在网上学的中文。is more appropriate. Because in Chinese the info that “happens first” tends to go before the info that “happens later”. The action that a person “uses computer” happens before they “get on the Internet”.

ireonPremium Student June 15, 2018 at 4:48 pm

I need explanation as to why 星期五下的雪吗?- last Friday snow is different from
上周四下的雪。- last Thursday snow?
i find it confusing. can we just use 星期五 and 星期四?

ireonPremium Student June 15, 2018 at 5:56 pm

thanks for the reminder of previous lessons, seems i’ve forgotten so quickly. looks like we can use either way and revision enforces learning.

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