Chinese Language Blog

两只老虎: The Chinese Frère Jacques Posted by on Aug 1, 2016 in Culture

The Chinese version of the well known nursery rhyme Frère Jacques (in English “Brother John”) is fun and catchy. Instead of a sleeping Jacques, the Chinese version features two running tigers. Therefore, unlike the English and the French tunes, the Chinese version’s tempo is a bit faster. Beside the context and the tempo, it is quite similar to the western equivalents. It is composed of only four grammatical sentences, but it’s more than enough to give us a peek into the Chinese language. In every line hides a basic Chinese grammar rule.

Before we delve into the grammar let’s enjoy the song:



一只没有耳朵, 一只没有尾巴


Liǎng zhī lǎohǔ, liǎng zhī lǎohǔ,
pǎo dé kuài, pǎo dé kuài,
yī zhǐ méiyǒu ěrduǒ, yī zhǐ méiyǒu wěibā
zhēn qíguài! Zhēn qíguài!

Two tigers, two tigers

Run so fast, run so fast

One has no ears, one has no tail

Very weird! Very weird!


Fun, isn’t it? Now let`s take a closer look:

两只老虎 – Unlike English and most European languages, Chinese does not distinguish between singular and plural. Chinese nouns are simply abstract in number, using only the context to determine whether something is singular or plural. In order to specify a certain number of something, the Chinese language uses measure words. So if one has to count nouns, one has to combine the number itself with a measure word, followed by the noun. In Chinese, the measure word is called量子 (liàngzǐ). 量子 is a diverse group of specific classifiers to specific nouns. 只 (zhī) it’s only one of them, and it used to measure certain animals (e.g. tiger, rabbit, hen), certain containers (e.g. suitcase, box), small boats and one of certain paired things (e.g. sock, shoe).

For example:


Tā yǒu sān zhī xiāngzi

He has three boxes


Shù shàng yǒu liǎng zhī xǐquè

There are two magpies on the tree


跑得快Complements are a very common structure in Chinese. They follow the verb or adjective in order to provide additional meaning to the phrase. The Chinese language employs different types of complements to indicate several things, such as possibility, capability, result, manner, direction, degree etc. 得 is particle that connects between the two components: the verb (In this case 跑) and the complement (In this case 快).

For example:


Wǒ ná dé dòng

I can carry it

(capability complement)


Xiě dé fēicháng hǎo

Very well written

(degree complement)


一只没有耳朵 一只没有尾巴 – 没有 is a negative phrase, simply means: not, not have. Spoken Chinese uses it quite often.

For example:


Wū li méiyǒu rén

There isn’t anyone in the room


Zhè bù diànyǐng méiyǒu nà bù diànyǐng yǒuqù

This movie is not as interesting as that one


真奇怪!– 真 is a common adverb in Chinese, means really, truly, indeed.

For example:


Shíjiānguò dé zhēn kuài!

How time flies!


Wǒ zhēn bù zhīdào

I really don’t know


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  1. KP:

    i want to learn difficult conjuctions and prepositions. do you have links ?

  2. Bruce R Josephs:

    When did the Chinese version first appear?

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