Chinese grammar rule #3:Chinese is topic-prominent
This is a rule that English-speakers often find hard to get used to. Chinese is topic prominent. This means that it puts the thing the sentence is about first. English is subject prominent, which means that it puts the doer of an action (the subject) in a sentence first.
If you haven’t studied grammar before, you might not be familiar with these terms. The subject in a sentence is the thing that performs the action of the verb. The subject of the following sentences is colored red:
He likes cheese.
You are awesome.
New York is exciting.
We eat rice.
English and other European languages usually prefer to put the subject first, as you can see in the sentences above. But Chinese and other East Asian languages often prefer to put the topic of the sentence first.
The topic of a sentence isn’t as clear as the subject. The topic is not a grammatical role, but the thing that the sentence is about. It’s the main point of the sentence. It’s also called the theme of the sentence for this reason.
I've finished my work .
In this sentence the subject is “I”, but that’s not really what the sentence is about. The sentence is not about the speaker, it’s about the work. So the topic of this sentence is “the work”.
Because Chinese is topic-prominent, it’s often possible and very natural to put the topic first in a sentence rather than the subject. It is also possible in English, but it sounds much less natural, as you can see in the following examples:
Hóngjiǔ wǒ bù tài xǐhuan.
Red wine, I don't really like.
Fàguó wǒ méi qùguò.
France, I haven't been to.
Yī zhī bǐ yǒu ma?
A pen - got one?
The sentences above are perfectly permissible according to Chinese grammar rules, but quite odd in English. Note that you could also form the Chinese sentences with the subject first and they would be just as grammatical.
Also notice that the last sentence doesn’t include the subject (you) at all. This is possible because Chinese grammar is primarily interested in the topic (a pen) and not the subject.