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Lesson Transcript

Matt: Hey everyone welcome back to CantoneseClass101. And congratulations to you for having the guts to click ‘play’ on a ‘grammar’ lesson!
Nicole: Yeah the word ‘grammar’ seems so foreboding.
Matt: Right, a lot of us have grammar anxiety, or post-traumatic grammar disorder.
Nicole: Yes, I know I do--from learning English!
Matt: Fortunately, at Cantoneseclass101 we have developed a therapy for this.
Nicole: Yes! A painless therapy!
Matt: Yes, we know current practice is to use grammar book shock therapy, which involves something to the effect of ordering 10 pounds worth of grammar textbooks you’ll never even open from Amazon.com.
Nicole: I’ve been there.
Matt: Sometimes I get nightmares and cold sweats… the grammar books sitting on the shelves laughing at me.
Nicole: Well what we do is take all that grammar and make it easy for you.
Matt: Yep. We’re going to prove it to you today with a grammar ‘head start’.
Nicole: And we have good news.
Matt: Yes?
Nicole: Well, you might have listened to the lesson in this series all about Cantonese characters.
Matt: That’s right, that is the lesson right before this one, in the series.
Nicole: Well, the good news is that compared to learning about Cantonese characters, Cantonese grammar is a lot simpler.
Matt: And it’s a lot simpler than grammar in many other languages.
Nicole: That’s true!
Matt: So if you hate conjugating verbs as much as I do, or can’t accept that words have genders, or can’t roll your ‘r’s’, then Cantonese is definitely the language for you.
Nicole: Exactly, we can promise a few things, one of them being no conjugation! Yay!
Matt: We’re about to tell you what you need to know right off the bat to give you a jump start on Cantonese.
Nicole: Yes and you will get the last laugh at the grammar books.
Matt: OK so first of all, don’t believe the rumor circulating that Cantonese has ‘no’ grammar. Let’s just call that an ‘urban legend’.
Nicole: Yeah nothing is that easy!
Matt: However, the gods of language were kind to Cantonese, knowing all it had to contend with (tones, characters, etc.) It’s definitely got grammar, but not the kind you have to dread.
Nicole: So, hey how about let’s start with the humble sentence.
Matt: Yeah a great place to start. Maybe one of the best things about Cantonese’s non-grammar-y grammar is that Cantonese verbs are not inflected… meaning that they don’t change form.
Nicole: That’s true, only one form of each verb exists.
Matt: It doesn’t matter who is talking, when they are talking about, or who they are talking to, the verb is the same. That makes it much easier for language students!
Nicole: That’s true, Matt, but as we said, this doesn’t mean that Cantonese is grammar-free.
Matt: No, rather, in Cantonese, there are other things that will tell us the things that verb conjugation normally tells us.
Nicole: Yes, in Cantonese word order is the most important thing.
Matt: It’s a pretty big deal, as word order is often your only clue to figuring out who is doing what.
Nicole: So let’s start with the most basic kind of sentence, to illustrate.
Matt: Yes, in a normal Cantonese declarative or simple sentence, the word order is the same as that we use in normal English declarative sentences, being:
subject - verb - object
Nicole: Yes, so for example: 我學廣東話。(ngo5 hok6 gwong2 dung1 waa2)
Matt: In English, precisely the same: “I study Cantonese.” ‘ngo5’ is I, ‘hok6’ is ‘study’ and ‘gwong2 dung1 waa2’ is the word for Cantonese.
Nicole: ngo5 hok6 gwong2 dung1 waa2.
Matt: “I study Cantonese.” I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, awesome!
Nicole: Yes, awesomely easy!
Matt: No matter who is talking, they can just swap out the subject and the verb, and sentence order remains the same.
Matt: Yes. In this case, it’s great to have a parallel foundation with English. It lets us have an easy place to start. I mean, think of all the things you will be able to say right away. So let’s have more fun, Nicole!
Nicole: Sure. How about:
我食飯。 (ngo5 sik6 faan6)
Matt: ‘I eat rice.’ Again, the same as English.
Nicole: ngo5 sik6 faan6.
Matt: ‘I eat rice.’
Nicole: Right! And how about, “ngo5 gaau3 gwong2 dung1 waa2”.
Matt: Or “I teach Cantonese.” Again, the same word order.
Nicole: ngo5 gaau3 gwong2 dung1 waa2
Matt: “I teach Cantonese.” Awesome! So you can see how easy it is to start speaking Cantonese. You can already make 3 sentences.
Nicole: I love it.
Matt: Yes, ok but now sorry we are going to get negative.
Nicole: What, how can we go from all that awesomeness to negative?
Matt: Negating verbs!
Nicole: Ah yes, making sentences negative. OK this is easy too.
Matt: Yes! Throw that grammar book out the window! There is another great thing about Cantonese: making sentences negative. How do we do it?
Nicole: Negation occurs before the verb and any prepositional phrase. And all we have to do is add our negation word there.
Matt: So, for the example we just had, to make it negative, you just add a negation word, in this case, 唔 ‘m4’, in front of the verb.
Nicole: Exactly, that would be 我唔學廣東話。(ngo5 m4 hok6 gwong2 dung1 waa2)
Matt: Literally translated as, “I – not – study – Cantonese.”
Nicole: OK but we are studying Cantonese.
Matt: That’s right, so another important part of language is expressing verb tense.
Nicole: Again, here is your head start, and it’s easy!
Matt: Now don’t get tense—we know that usually the thought of verb tenses is enough to warrant an immediate trip to the Cantonese masseuse to calm us down.
Nicole: Oh wait that sounds good enough.
Matt: Yes… it does, but after class. But for now, relax! Cantonese verbs don’t change ‘tense’.
Nicole: Yes, instead we just slip in a time word to indicate whether something will happen tomorrow, is happening now, or happened yesterday.
Matt: That’s right, strategically placed time words. Cantonese is a no-nonsense language; instead of messing around inflecting verbs, the Cantonese language relies heavily on the use of adverbs to communicate what English and many other languages do with different verb tenses.
Nicole: Let’s start with a sentence with the verb ‘to go’ for example. In Cantonese, ‘去’ (heoi3).
Matt: Rather than messing around with the verb itself, Cantonese will just add adverbs to let you know when an action was, or is going to take place. So how would ‘I go to the park’, in present tense, sound in Cantonese?
Nicole: 我去公園。 (ngo5 heoi3 gung1 jyun2)
Matt: Literally “I go park.”
Nicole: 我去公園。 (ngo5 heoi3 gung1 jyun2)
Matt: “I go park.” Again we see the simple subject – verb – object order of the sentence. So, we get the essence of what is going on here, right? I… go… park.
Nicole: 我去公園。 (ngo5 heoi3 gung1 jyun2)
Matt: subject – verb – object
Nicole: Yes.
Matt: So now, let’s make it future tense. So maybe I will go to the park tomorrow.
Nicole: The word for tomorrow is 聽日 (ing1 jat6). So, “I go to the park tomorrow” will be 聽日我去公園 (ting1 jat6 ngo5 heoi3 gung1 jyun2)
Matt: “Tomorrow I go park.”
Nicole: 聽日我去公園 (ting1 jat6 ngo5 heoi3 gung1 jyun2)
Matt: “Tomorrow I go park.”
And if I want to tell you I am going now?
Nicole: Then you just add ‘now’. The word in Cantonese for now is 而家 (ji4 gaa1), so you say: 而家我去公园。 (ji4 gaa1 ngo5 heoi3 gung1 jyun2)
Matt: “Now I go park.”
Nicole: 而家我去公园。 (ji4 gaa1 ngo5 heoi3 gung1 jyun2)
Matt: “Now I go park.”
And what if I went yesterday?
Nicole: The word for yesterday is 尋日, so you would say: 尋日我去公園 (cam4 jat6 ngo5 heoi3 zo2 gung1 jyun2)
Matt: “Yesterday I go park”.
Nicole: 尋日我去公園 (cam4 jat6 ngo5 heoi3 zo2 gung1 jyun2)
Matt: “Yesterday I go park”.
So we just sub out the time word, and that lets us know what tense this sentence is in.
Nicole: Exactly.
Matt: Ah… I’m feeling less ‘tense’ already.
Nicole: Now of course life gets more complicated than this, and there are other ways of expressing tense in Cantonese, such as expressing past experience and things.
Matt; These will come later, but we promise they’re not much harder than this! You will master them in no time.
Nicole: Definitely.
Matt: OK Now, here’s another one: measure words. People will give you all kinds of doom and gloom about measure words, but, after all that easiness we just learned, you can’t hold measure words against the Cantonese.
Nicole: Even English has measure words!
Matt: That’s right, in English, we also sometimes count in units, as well… we just don’t notice.
Nicole: For example?
Matt: A pair of socks; two loaves of bread; three cases of beer.
Nicole: In Cantonese, however, these measure or "counting" words must be used when objects are enumerated.
Matt: Yes, whether it’s just one person or 130 million people.
Nicole: Yes, and the measure word will come between the number and the noun being counted.
Matt: For example?
Nicole: 一本書 (jat1 bun2 syu1)
Matt: “one book” or “a book”
Nicole: 四個朋友 (sei3 go3 pang4 jau5)
Matt: four friends
Nicole: 嗰一張紙 (go2 zoeng1 zi2) or 嗰一張紙 (go2 jat1 zoeng1 zi2)
Matt: “that piece of paper”, or “that one piece of paper”.
So as we heard here, the format is number + measure word + object.
Nicole: Yes, one side note: when the number is ‘1’, however, it’s OK to omit the number in that case.
Matt: Yes, but you cannot omit the measure word. If you just say “one book”
Nicole: 一書 (jat1 syu1)
Matt: Or “4 friends” ...
Nicole: 四朋友 (sei3 pang4 jau5)
Matt: it’s not correct.
Nicole: Right, it’s wrong. The challenge with the measure words is that there are a lot of them, and certain ones go with certain nouns.
Matt: And sometimes they follow a pattern; as in the case for a lot of the objects that take the measure word we learned here, 張 (zoeng1). It is frequently paired with flat objects.
Nicole: In time, you will get used to the more commonly heard measure words.
Matt: Plus here’s a little bonus: there is one measure word used waaay more than the others.
Nicole: I know! It’s 個 (go3).
Matt: You can use it to enumerate people, that would be a very legitimate use of it. However, it can also be your little ‘measure word crutch’ you can use until you know the more specific measure words for things.
Nicole: Yeah 個 (go3) is kind of the ‘fall back” measure word.
Matt: It’s better to use it than nothing at all, so when you’re at a loss for a measure word, this word will often do the trick.
OK how about something else that’s universal to every language…Pronouns!
Nicole: Yes things like: I, you, he, this, etc.
Matt: Right, pronouns are that small class of words found in many languages that are used as replacements or substitutes for nouns and noun phrases, and that have very a general reference. Things like: I, you, he, and this.
Nicole: Cantonese has 1st, 2nd and 3rd person pronouns, too.
Matt: And like English they have singular forms (I, you, he, she, and it) and plural forms (we, you, and they). The same pronouns are used for subject, object, and possession.
Nicole: Yes, So the word for 我 (ngo) doesn’t change, but it can mean either “I “or “me” depending on its position in the sentence or context.
Matt: So to make a pronoun plural…
Nicole: just add the suffix 哋 (dei) to the pronoun.
Matt: Now here is something interesting: the word for ‘he’ or ‘she’ sounds exactly the same.
Nicole: Yes, isn’t it awesome? Gender isn’t reflected in the spoken language.
Matt: It comes in very handy when you have something to hide. Like when you don’t want someone to know your lunch date was actually a ‘man friend’, or something.
Nicole: Right. The Cantonese are good at being ambiguous. However, the written form of the word has a slight difference that tells you if the person is male or female.
Matt: OK so hit us with some pronouns in Cantonese:
Nicole (with Matt translating):
我 (ngo5) “I”
我哋 (ngo5 dei6) “we, us”
你 (nei5) “you”
你哋 (nei5 dei6) “you (plural)”
佢 (keoi5) “he/she/it”
佢哋 (keoi5 dei6) “they”
Nicole: I have one last little ‘head start’ tip for everyone. It’s about making things plural.
Matt: You saved the best for last, didn’t you?
Nicole: Yes, I did. Because in the vast majority of situations, nouns in Cantonese don’t change when they are plural.
Matt: See, you gotta love Cantonese grammar.
Nicole: I think Cantonese people know how to keep things simple.
Matt: Yeah, except for like, those 34 stroke characters…
Nicole: Oh yeah, those.
Matt: Looks like somebody spilled the bottle of ink, and then blew their nose… and it was windy, there was dust flying all over.
Nicole: Okay.
Matt: But! We promised painless and I think we delivered! This is your head start on Cantonese grammar. Keep up with CantoneseClass101 for more lessons that will teach you Cantonese in the way you want to learn.
Nicole: Without pain!


Please to leave a comment.
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CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Tuesday at 06:30 PM
Pinned Comment
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What is the strangest thing about Cantonese grammar to you?

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Sunday at 06:02 AM
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Hi Erika B,

You can download the Review track by clicking on the Download All Audio and Video Files button (fourth button below the title). Please note, however, that not all lessons have a review track. These are primarily found in lessons with a strong focus on teaching new vocabulary, so that might be the reason you are not seeing it everywhere.

Hope this helps. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any further question!

Kind regards,


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Erika B
Sunday at 12:06 PM
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I am looking for the review track that was referenced in the audio track for extra practice- where can I find this?

Tuesday at 02:56 PM
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Hi Ron,

We're glad to hear that! :grin:

Feel free to ask if you have any questions, we are here to help! :wink:


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Monday at 12:59 PM
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Thanks Olivia for all you and the team/staff do! I'm going through these a lot faster than I thought I'd be :)

Monday at 12:50 PM
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Hi Ron,

Thank you for your comment! We love Nicole and Matt too! They are excellent teachers! :thumbsup:

Keep up the good work!


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Friday at 10:32 PM
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Nicole & Matt, just want to thank you for recording these lessons with such enthusiasm! :thumbsup: It's often so hard to learn a language when speakers in audio tracks/tapes either sound like a robot or like they don't want to be there. When they're bored, how can you expect listeners not to feel the same?

Thank you again, this is the most un-monotonous language learning course I've ever listened to!

Wednesday at 07:54 PM
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Hi Danilo Buendia,

Yes, 位 is also appropriate for the friends statement: 四位朋友

Usually we use 位 to be more polite, so you can hear that when referring to guests, clients, elderly, or any honorary person. :wink:


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Danilo Buendia
Wednesday at 08:56 AM
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For the friends statement, 位 is also appropriate?

"四位朋友" is usable? When is the proper time to use 位?

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Wednesday at 11:44 AM
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Hi Danilo Buendia,

Thank you for posting!

Let us know if you have questions or suggestions.



Team CantoneseClass101.com

Danilo Buendia
Saturday at 10:56 AM
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THIS IS THE GREATEST LESSON EVER! I like how it breaks the language structure into logiccal grouping. Very great!:thumbsup: