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Reduplication of verbs

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One of the fun things about Chinese is that when speaking, you can repeat a verb to express "a little bit" or "briefly." This is called reduplication. It creates a casual tone, and a sense that whatever the action is, it's not going to take long.

Reduplication with the AA Pattern

Structure

In Chinese, verbs can be reduplicated to indicate that they happen briefly or "a little bit."

Subj. + Verb + Verb

Chinese grammar books frequently refer to the reduplication of a single-character word as a "AA" pattern. Note that for this pattern, the second verb's tone changes to the neutral tone.

Examples

  • 看看kànkan. Take a little look.
  • 试 试shìshi.I'll give it a try.
  • 说 说 你 的 想法。Shuōshuo nǐ de xiǎngfǎ.Talk a little bit about your ideas.
  • 出去 玩 玩 吧!Chūqù wánwan ba! Go out and have fun!
  • 我 想 出去 走 走Wǒ xiǎng chūqù zǒuzou.I want to go out and walk for a bit.

Reduplication with 一 (yī)

Structure

Another way to reduplicate verbs is to insert 一 (yī), in the following structure:

Verb + 一 + Verb

Examples

  • 别 生气 了,笑 一 笑Bié shēngqì le, xiào yī xiào! Don't be mad, gimme a smile!
  • 你 去 问 一 问 他们 厕所 在 哪里。Nǐ qù wèn yī wèn tāmen cèsuǒ zài nǎlǐ.Go and ask them where the bathroom is.
  • 我 可以 用 一 用 你 的 电脑 吗?Wǒ kěyǐ yòng yī yòng nǐ de diànnǎo ma? Can I use your computer for a little bit?
  • 你 现在 有时间 吗?我们 聊一聊 吧。Nǐ xiànzài yǒu shíjiān ma? Wǒmen liáo yī liáo ba.Do you have a second? Let's chat for a bit.
  • 你 想 尝 一 尝 我 做 的 菜 吗?Nǐ xiǎng cháng yī cháng wǒ zuò de cài ma? Do you want to taste the food that I cooked?

Using this kind of structure lightens the mood and seriousness of the question. It also adds variety to sentence structure. Because these phrases are used colloquially, there is not set rule to which verbs this can be applied to. There are some verbs that are often reduplicated and some verbs that sound weird when reduplicated. With practice and exposure, you will learn which ones are often used.

ABAB Reduplication with Two-Syllable Verbs

In the examples above, all verbs are only one syllable. Those verbs get reduplicated a lot, so those examples are quite useful. Occasionally, though, two-syllable verbs get reduplicated as well. When this happens, it's important to use the "ABAB" pattern for verbs (meaning the entire word is repeated), and not the "AABB" pattern you use for adjectives (where each character is repeated individually).

Examples

  • 考虑 考虑 kǎolǜ kǎolǜthink it over
  • 讨论 讨论 tǎolùn tǎolùndiscuss it
  • 商量 商量 shāngliang shāngliangtalk it over
  • 打听 打听 dǎting dǎtinginquire about it

See also

Sources and further reading

Books