Yesterday evening, AA and EM came over to my place for our usual dinner, followed by French-Chinese exchange lesson.
[Aside: We had gado-gado, ketupat, rendang, steamed mock-prawns with Indonesian sweet soya sauce for dinner. AA and EM drank ginseng tea (from ground Canadian ginseng) while I drank oolong tea. For those in B.C. Canada who want a taste of South-East Asian or East Asian foods, check out the my other blog post "Recipe: Vegetable curry" where I mentioned about sourcing ethnic ingredients.]
Towards the end of the session, EM tried to form a new sentence based on her existing vocabulary. Referring to AA (EM's boyfriend/partner), EM said,
他是帅。 [Literary: He is handsome.]
While I understood what EM was trying to express, it occurred to me that the sentence sounded weird. So I explain to EM that we don't usually make sentences with the "subject verb-to-be adjective" form in Mandarin. Usually, we use the "subject verb-to-be adjective noun" form instead. Thus, the above would be,
他是帅哥。 [Literary: He is (a) handsome "elder brother" (i.e. guy).]
An alternate form that is commonly used would be the "subject 'very' adjective". For example,
他很帅。 [Literary: He (is) very handsome.]
EM asked what if the person isn't "very" of that adjective, but just "some degree" of it. I told her that in which case we would use the "subject verb-to-be adjective noun" form. Then I thought about it further and added that there are some situations where we use the "subject verb-to-be adjective" form, but usually as a clause, i.e. part of a sentence. For example,
他是帅，可是他没礼貌。 [Literary: He is handsome, but he no (does not have) manners.]
[Note: The sentence is just to illustrate the language construction. AA is an awesome guy, who is also handsome.]
Since my Chinese isn't exactly great, I told EM that it is what I understand of day-to-day usage of Mandarin. I do not know why it is so, or if there are other situations where the "subject verb-to-be adjective" form is commonly used.
Anyway, I shared my thought that it makes language exchange interesting. There are ways of expression (and indirectly patterns of thought) that are intrinsically built into a language. Stuff that one may not be consciously aware of until someone else challenges/breaks the pattern.