Chinese Grammar Wiki – First Impressions

I’m very happy to announce the grand opening (last week) of something I’ve been anticipating for hǎo jiǔ 好久:

(zhōngwén yǔfǎ wéijī 中文语法维基)

It’s basically an online grammar textbook that will grow with time (although it’s already pretty extensive) and should eventually have answers to every grammar question we ever have. It’s headed up by John Pasden (who is also Academic Director and co-host of ChinesePod).


In 2010, John and I (and my sister) sat on the roof of the ChinesePod building in Shanghai eating pizza, talking about the gaps in the materials for foreigners learning Chinese. My main beef was (and still is) the problems with all the dictionaries (as I mentioned here). John’s was grammar. He said he was working on something and I told him I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have filling the grammar gap. And now he’s unveiled it!

Originally just for clients of John’s AllSet Learning consultancy, the wiki is now available to all us laowai-s who need grammar explanations (especially those of us who zìxué 自学 our way through the language).

How to Use the Grammar Wiki

If you’ve used Wikipedia, the Chinese Grammar Wiki will look very familiar to you. I’m not going to explain about all the wiki stuff (like editing) because I don’t have a clue about it myself. I’m going to talk about reading and learning from the wiki as if it were a textbook.

Step 1: Get yourself some pinyin.

There is no pinyin in the wiki! But don’t worry worry less: there are solutions. The solutions involve installing a plugin or little program for your mouse to popup with pinyin when you hover it over the hanzi. They’re actually not that bad. I’ve got some suggestions here.

I asked John why there’s no pinyin in the wiki and here’s what he said:

“It’s not that I don’t think it’s necessary; I would agree that pinyin and translations for everything is the way to go.  But…I’ve learned from extensive experience that adding pinyin and translations to everything is a TON OF WORK, and I was worried that adding that extra work would delay us too much, and the wiki might never launch.  That’s unacceptable!”

I see his point. When I was writing Chinese 24/7 (and faceless too), it was kind of a nightmare to type pinyin (with tones) and hanzi for everything.

Step 2: Pick a starting point.

I’ve come up with two “paths” you can take to browse through the wiki at the moment (the search function isn’t quite running as well as I’d like yet).

  • Path 1: Table of Contents by Level. This isn’t quite as easy as I’d like it to be yet, but it’s pretty good. Go to the Grammar Points By Level page and pick a level you’d like to look at. It’s actually a separate table of contents for each level (I’d love to have the option of seeing everything in one, HUGE screen-full). If you go by level, you’ll have a more systematic progression through the articles (rather than wondering “how important is this to me at my level?”).
  • Path 2: Index by Part of Speech. Go to the Parts of speech overview and read to your hearts content what it’s all about. Or you can just skip right to Parts of Speech category page. Once you get there, you just click you way through to articles that are about any of the sub categories. For example, to see all the articles filed under “Measure Words” you would click on the Measure words link and then choose an article from the next list you get. The only thing to keep in mind for this process is that some articles may be labeled as being in 2 or more categories (so you might start to see some repeats as you go).

Step 3: Read some articles.

I’ve only started scratching the surface with this wiki, but I plan to read every article eventually. I’ve already found out some great information that I never knew. And that’s the whole point. This is a way to fill in the “curious gaps” in my Chinese grammar knowledge. I’m excited to watch the wiki expand and grow. Thanks John and your team for all the hard work!

12 Replies to “Chinese Grammar Wiki – First Impressions”

  1. Just took a brief look (I’m at work, so I don’t have the time to linger right now), and this looks terrific! Just a read-through of the word-order entries got me pretty worked up.

    Many, many thanks.

  2. I want to thank you so very much. Learning Mandarin is so much fun but at the same time so hard (at least for me). What a great help.

  3. It is nice to see people offer their time and intelligence to make Chinese language learning more easier for others. Maybe someday, there will come pinyin wiki, idiom wiki or literature wiki and song wiki ? I hope:)

  4. I’ve commented on Hugh’s blog when I first saw the news.

    The Chinese Grammar Wiki is definitely a break through for many online Chinese learners. You guys are making historical contribution to decoding the ancient Chinese to the world. Each one of these wonderful blogs are also building the bridge foundation that’ll eventually connect the east and the west after thousands of years.

    All I want to say is I’m proud of you guys!

  5. It looks great! It will be a very nice resource for my Chinese students.

    One note on pinyin. Did you know you can add pinyin without doing it individually by using the ruby function in Microsoft Word?

  6. You can also convert entire blocks of Chinese text to pinyin using Google Translate.

    Just beware: Google Translate occasionally generates incorrect tones marks, so be sure to proofread (or have someone else proofread) your finished pinyin if it’s mission-critical content.

  7. Maybe we can do this for characters too.

    I’ve databased all the characters and broken them down into their parts, and spatial layouts, and it would be cool to see how others do this same thing.

    We may look at characters and see different character breakouts and layout breakouts…

    Anyone wanna work on this with me?

  8. It’s a great website and it can definitely help a lot of people learning Chinese.

    Much appreciation! I will 100% recommend to my subscribers for this website,what an amazing tool!

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