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Chinese Grammar: 是...的 construction

You’ve learned to ask for information and to give information; now it’s time to learn how to ask about something in the detail when you really want to know when in time, where, or how something in particular occurred. The Chinese have a specific construction for that, which is very commonly used: ....

Place emphasis on a specific information

The structure ... is used to place emphasis on a particular part or situation in a sentence.

It is often used to obtain explanations or to give information on:

  • time
  • manner
  • place.

The structure ... is essentially used to talk about past events.

Basic Structure

+ information to be emphasized +

Place right before the information you want to place emphasis on, and at the end of the sentence. Whatever comes after is emphasized.

Structure in a sentence

Subject + + information to be emphasized + Verb +

The structure ... can be used to place emphasis on whichever element of the sentence or detail you want.

This pattern is close to the structure:

It was...that...”
“the situation is that...”, in English.

In English, we also tend to place emphasis on something by simply changing our tone of voice. In Chinese, you use a structure like …….


爷爷 六十 年前毕业
Grandfather graduated 60 years ago. (It was 60 years ago that Grandfather graduated).

中国学习 汉语
It was in China that he learned Chinese.

这个 照片 朋友
This picture was taken by my friend.

It was yesterday that he arrived.

It was by plane that I came.


isn’t always placed immediately at the end of the sentence. It can also be placed in front of the object to clarify on which information the emphasis is being placed.

Let's take the sentence "He learned Chinese in China" again. What happens if we move to the end of the sentence? It looks like this:

中国 学习 汉语
He learned Chinese in China.

But in this sentence, it’s not very clear which element is being emphasized. Is it the fact he's learned Chinese or that it was in China? Let's look at the initial sentence again:

中国学习 汉语
It was in China that he learned Chinese

Since we're looking to emphasize the information "in China", putting right behind the information "he studied in China" makes the emphasis a lot clearer, as you can see.

... in questions and in negative sentences


Used in a question, this pattern is often used to ask for precise information. Placing emphasis on an element in a question is simple: just frame the part of the question you want to draw attention to with this structure.


How did you come here?

How did you do it?

Who did it?

哪儿学习 汉语
Where did he learn Chinese?

什么时候 ?
When did he arrive?

前天 ?
Did he arrive the day before yesterday?

Negative form of ...

Negating is just as easy: add right before ! The structure is then “不是……”.

不是前天 ,昨天
It wasn’t the day before yesterday that he arrived, it was yesterday.

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