Asking and Giving Prices

3.1 Asking and Giving Prices

This lesson is set in the RoC. In this lesson, you’ll learn to understand basic questions and answers used in buying things in a newsstand. Peter Cook is in a reading room in a library in Taipei and is looking for an English language newspaper. Listen as he asks another student if the reading room has any.

Zhèli yǒu Yīngwen bào ma?这里有英文报吗 Are there any English language newspapers here?
Yǒu. Jiù zài náli. 友。就在那里 Yes. They’re right over there.

Here is the word for newspaper.

bào newspaper

Here is the word for right here/right over there.

Jiù right here/right over there

In Chinese, the place word zhèli is followed directly by the verb yǒu. In English, the word there is added between the place word here and the verb are. Here, there are English language newspapers.

In both English and Chinese, the place word here is the topic of the sentence; the word that lets you know what the sentence is going to say something about. You’ll remember an earlier case where the filler word there was added to fill the subject position of an English sentence with no real subject e.g. There are five people in my family. Chinese doesn’t need to add a subject.

Listen again and review.

In asking a yes/no question, instead of using the yes/no question marker ma, you may offer your listener a choice between the affirmative and the negative. When the negative form is tagged on at the end, both syllables are usually in the neutral tone. The structure of this type of yes/no question, which we will call a choice-type yes/no question, can be brought out by a more literal English translation e.g. Are there any English language newspapers here or not?

Suppose the library hadn’t had any English newspapers. After leaving the library, Mr. Cook goes to a newsstand. Listen.

Wǒ xiǎng mǎi Yīngwen bào.我想买英文报 I would like to buy an English-language newspaper.
Hǎo. Jiù zài zhèli.好。就在这里 Fine. They’re right here.

You’ve had the word xiǎng before, meaning to think or to plan or to intend to.

Xiǎng to like to/to want to

Here is the word for to buy.

mǎi to buy

Notice the use of the word hǎo which has the basic meaning to be good. In situations like this, it’s used for expressions like fine, sure, certainly or alright.

Listen again and review.

Having spotted the English language newspaper he wants, Mr. Cook finds out the price from the clerk.

Zhège duōshao qián?这个多少钱 How much is this one?
Wǔkuài qián.五块钱 Five dollars.

Here is the word for how much.

duōshao多少 how much

Here is the word for money.

qián money

And here is the word for one dollar.

Yíkuài qián一块钱 one dollar

Notice that kuài is a counter for an amount of money namely one dollar. The amount wǔkuài qián therefore, is literally, five dollars money. The dollars in this exchange are of course Taiwan dollars.

Notice that the Chinese question about price has no word that corresponds to the word is in English. Word for word, the question zhège duōshao qián? is this one how much money?

Listen again and review.

A clerk is also likely to quote a price as so much per unit, using the appropriate counter to indicate the unit. Listen.

Zhège Zhōngwen bào duōshao qián?这个中文报多少钱 How much is the Chinese-language newspaper?
Sānkuài qián yífèn.三块一份 Three dollars a copy.
yífèn bào一分报 one copy of a newspaper

The bound word fèn copy is a counter for newspapers. The clerk is saying that the newspaper is three dollars per copy.

Listen again and review.

Now Mr. Cooks asks for something else.

Nǐmen zhèli mài Měiguo zázhì bú mài?你们这里卖美国杂志不卖 Do you sell American magazines here?
Mài. Wǒmen zhèli mài.卖。我们这里卖 Yes, we sell them here.

Here is the word for to sell.

Mài to sell

And here is the word for a magazine.

zázhì杂志 magazines

Notice that the verbs for to sell and to buy are the same except for tones. The word for to buy is in the low tone while the word for to sell is in the falling tone.

In the topic position in these sentences are the place phrases nǐmen zhèli and wǒmen zhèli which means something like Your place here and Our place here. We might catch what the Chinese sentences are really saying by translating them as for your place here, do you sell American magazines? As for our place here, we don’t.

Notice that the question in this exchange is a choice type question. With the negative choice mai tagged on at the end in the neutral tone.

Listen again and review.

The conversation continues.

Zhège duōshao qián?这个多少钱 How much is this one?
Sānshíkuài qián yíběn.三十块钱 Thirty dollars a copy.
Hǎo, wǒ mǎi yìběn.好,我买一本 Fine, I’ll buy one.
yìběn zázhì一本杂志 one copy of a magazine

The counter for magazines or books is běn. When it’s used with magazines, we translate it as copy. When it’s used with books, we translate it volume.

Listen again and review.

The conversation continues.

Nǐmen zhèli yǒu Měiguo shū méiyou?你们这里有美国书没有 Do you have any American books here?
Duìbuqǐ, Měiguo shū wǒmen bú mài.对不起,美国书我们不卖 I’m sorry, we don’t sell American books here.
shū book

You’ll remember it from the phrase niàn shū study books.

Duìbuqǐ对不起 I’m sorry

More literally, the expression duìbuqǐ means something like I can’t face you. In this sentence, the object Měiguo shū, comes first in the topic position followed by the subject, wǒmen. We can do the same thing in English as in the sentence American books, we don’t sell.

Listen again and review.

As we’ve said, the words for to buy and to sell are the same except for their tones. But which is which? One way to keep them straight is to learn them in a fixed order – the order we would normally follow in English: buy and sell. Notice that they are in the same order in which the tones were originally presented with low tone followed by falling tone.

To help sort these two words out, try translating the following random sentences about buying and selling.

The next exchange involves getting a total. Listen.

Bào, zázhì, yígòng duōshao qián?报,杂志,一共多少钱 How much are the newspaper and maga-zine altogether?
Bào wǔkuài, zázhì sānshíkuài报五块,杂志三十块 The newspaper is five dollars; the magazine is thirty dollars.
Yígòng sānshíwǔkuài qián.一共三十五块钱 Altogether, it’s thirty-five dollars.
Yígòng一共 Altogether

Notice that the adverb yígòng Altogether comes after the items it sums up and before the price. In this exchange, the money expressions have been abbreviated by omitting the word qián money. You will only be required to understand this kind of abbreviation, not to produce it.

Listen again and review.

Mr. Cook thinks of something else he wants. Listen and review afterwards.

Nǐmen zhèli mài dìtǔ. bú mài?你们这里卖地图。不卖 Do you sell maps here?
Mài. Zài náli.mai。在那里 We do. They’re over there.
dìtǔ地图 map
Nín xiǎng mǎi shénme dìtǔ?您想买什么地图 What kind of map would you like to buy?
Wǒ xiǎng mǎi yízhāng Tàiběi dìtǔ.我想买一张台北地图 I would like to buy a map of Taipei,
yízhāng dìtǔ一张地图 one map

By itself, the phrase shénme dìtǔ, can be translated simply as what map? In this exchange, it’s used to mean what kind of map. The word zhāng is the counter for maps and other flat objects. We don’t have to translate yízhāng here with anything more explicit than the indefinite article a. But you may think of it as meaning one sheet.

Listen again and review.

The conversation continues.

Zhèzhāng Tàiběi dìtǔ duōshao qián?这张台北地图多少钱 How much is this map of Taipei?
Shíèrkuài qián.十二块钱 Twelve dollars.

This map is zhèzhāng dìtǔ literally, this sheet map. Notice that in this phrase the counter zhāng has a specifier in front of it instead of a number.

Listen again and review.

Pronunciation Practice