Reduplication of verbs
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
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.
- 你 看看。 Take a little look.
- 我 试 试。I'll give it a try.
- 说 说 你 的 想法。Talk a little bit about your ideas.
- 出去 玩 玩 吧！Go out and have fun!
- 我 想 出去 走 走。I want to go out and walk for a bit.
Reduplication with 一 (yī)
Another way to reduplicate verbs is to insert 一 (yī), in the following structure:
Verb + 一 + Verb
- 别 生气 了，笑 一 笑！Don't be mad, gimme a smile!
- 你 去 问 一 问 他们 厕所 在 哪里。Go and ask them where the bathroom is.
- 我 可以 用 一 用 你 的 电脑 吗？ Can I use your computer for a little bit?
- 你 现在 有时间 吗？我们 聊一聊 吧。Do you have a second? Let's chat for a bit.
- 你 想 尝 一 尝 我 做 的 菜 吗？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).
- 考虑 考虑 think it over
- 讨论 讨论 discuss it
- 商量 商量 talk it over
- 打听 打听 inquire about it
Sources and further reading
- HSK Standard Course 2 (pp. 61) →buy
- HSK Standard Course 3 (pp. 146) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 2 (新实用汉语课本2) (pp. 18) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (3rd ed) (pp. 85) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 2 (pp. 227-8) →buy
- Contemporary Chinese 1 (当代中文1) (pp. 125) →buy
- Practicing HSK Grammar (语法精讲精炼) (pp. 152-160) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 4 (新实用汉语课本4) (pp. 121-2) →buy