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Verb

Also known as: 动词 (dòngcí).

Verbs are the "action" words which make up the predicates of most sentences, but may also simply indicate relationships, changes, or mental activity rather than physical actions. Verbs may take objects, and can also be reduplicated in Chinese. They can be negated, as well as modified by particles.

Characteristics

There are five main characteristics of verbs in Chinese. After we go over them, we will discuss some other aspects of Chinese verbs as well.

  1. The main function of verbs is to be in the predicate of a sentence.
  2. The majority of Chinese verbs are transitive, which means they take an object.
  3. Verbs can be negated by the adverb "不". However, other than the psychological verbs, they cannot be modified by "很."
  4. Most Chinese verbs can be reduplicated, changing their meaning slightly.
  5. Most verbs can be modified with aspect particles 了, 着, 过.

Notes

Negation

Generally, verbs are negated by the adverbs 不 when talking about habitual actions or future actions. However, when referencing the past, 没 is used. Another way of saying this is if you normally don't do something, or if you won't do something, you would use "不," but if you want to say you didn't do something, then you would use "没."

There are always exceptions though, and the exception here is the verb "有". We'll talk more about it below, but the important thing here is that it is always negated by "没" and not by "不."

Reduplication

In Chinese, verb reduplication is a common phenomenon. Reduplication indicates one or more of the following:

  • A short, quick action
  • An attempt
  • Something being light and relaxed

When reduplicating single character verbs such as 看, 一 can optionally be inserted between them e.g. 看一看. On the other hand, when you are reduplicating two character verbs, (e.g. 整理整理), 一 can't be inserted between them. The reduplicated part of the verb is always pronounced with a neutral tone. If the aspect particle 了 is used, it must be inserted between the reduplicated verbs, not afterwards, so it would be "看了看" not "看看了."

Special verb 是

Since "是" is special, it has a few rules that only apply to it. First off, "是" cannot be modified with aspect particles 了, 着, 过, nor can it be reduplicated. This means that it will always just be "是" by itself, unless it is negated. When "是" is negated, it always uses "不" even in the past.

Special verb 有

The verb "有" has many functions, including possession (both of qualities and of objects), expressing existence, comparing things (你有他高 / 没有他高), and listing things. "有" can also take abstract nouns and turn them into adjectives (like it does with "有意思").

With all of these functions, "有" has some special rules as well. Firstly, "有" can only take the aspect particles 了 and 过. It never takes the particle "着." Furthermore, it cannot be reduplicated, so it will always just stay as "有." Finally, "有" is only ever negated with "没," complementary to "是." A common mistake is to say "不有," but we're going to try to avoid that as much as possible!

Special verb 在

Like "是," "在" can not be modified with any aspect particles, nor can it be reduplicated. It will appear on its own. Unlike "是" however, "在" can use both "不" and "没" to be negated.

If "在" takes an object, that object is usually a place. If the object is a personal noun or pronoun, the words 那儿 or 这儿 must be added. (e.g. 在我这儿.)

Objects

Some verbs are transitive, which means they take an object. Others are intransitive, which means they can stand just by themselves. However, there are also some verbs that can take two objects, some like 毕业 which don't take an object, and some like 希望 that take another verb as an object.

Further notes

  • Unlike many European languages, the form of Chinese verbs does not change; there is no conjugation or agreement.
  • Questions can be formed by putting the verb and a negative verb side by side e.g. 要不要. These are called affirmative-negative questions because they have both the positive and negative response within them.
  • Some nouns and adjectives can be turned into verbs with -化 (similar to -ize in English).
  • Many Chinese verbs can also function as nouns (but not all). 的 can make verbs into attributives, e.g. 丢的东西. 地 can make verbs into adverbs, e.g. 注意地.

Types of verbs

Grammar Patterns for Verbs

A1 Verbs

Grammar Point (English) Pattern Examples
Expressing "be going to" with "yao" Subj. + 要 + Verb (+ 了) 去 吃饭,你 去 吗?
Expressing a learned skill with "hui" 会 + Verb 会 说 中文 。
Expressing ability or possibility with "neng" 能 + Verb 中文 这么 难,你 学 好 吗?
Expressing existence in a place with "zai" 在 + Place 老师 在 上海
Expressing existence with "you" Place + 有 + Obj. 我们 学校 很 多 学生。
Expressing permission with "keyi" 可以 + Verb 这里 可以 吸烟 吗?
Expressing possession with "you" Subj. + 有 + Obj. 钱。
How to do something with "zenme" 怎么 + Verb ? 怎么 走?
Negation of past actions with "meiyou" 没有 + Verb 没有 去 酒吧。
Negative commands with "buyao" 不要 + Verb 不要 说 英文!
Using the verb "jiao" 叫 + Name 什么 名字 ?
Using the verb "qu" 去 + Place 学校。
Using the verb "xing" 姓 + Surname 什么 ?
Wanting to do something with "yao" 要 + Verb 吃饭 。

A2 Verbs

Grammar Point (English) Pattern Examples
Actions in a row (Verb Phrase 1) + (Verb Phrase 2) 我们 咖啡店 咖啡 吧。
Auxiliary verb "yao" and its multiple meanings 要 + Noun / 要 + Verb 一 杯 水。
Basic comparisons with "meiyou" Noun 1 + 没(有) + Noun 2 + Adj. 没有 我 胖 。
Directional verbs "lai" and "qu" 来 / 去 + Place 上海 一 年 了。
Expressing "difficult" with "nan" 难 + Verb 做。 买。
Expressing "never" with "conglai" 从来 + 不 / 没(有) + Verb 从来 不 喝酒。我 从来 没有 美国。
Expressing "should" with "yinggai" 应该 / 该 + Verb 应该 工作。
Expressing "together" with "yiqi" 一起 + Verb 我们 一起 去 吧!要 不 要 一起 吃饭?
Expressing "will" with "hui" 会 + Verb 明天 你 来 吗?
Expressing "would like to" with "xiang" 想 + Verb 去。
Expressing duration with "le" Verb + 了 + Duration 他 在 北京 住 了 两 年
Expressing ongoing duration with double "le" Verb + 了 + Duration + 了 他 在 北京 住 了 两 年 了
Inability with "mei banfa" 没办法 + Verb 没 办法 帮 你。
Indicating location with "zai" before verbs Subj. + 在 + Place + Verb 上海 工作。
Reduplication of verbs Verb + Verb 看看
Special cases of "zai" following verbs Verb + 在 + Place 我 住 北京。放 这里。
Special verbs with "hen" 很 + Verb 喜欢 他。
Using "dao" to mean "to go to" 到 + Place 上海。
Using "hao" to mean "easy" 好 + Verb 做。 买。
Verbing briefly with "yixia" Verb + 一下 看 一下
Verbs that take double objects Subj. + Verb + Indirect Obj. + Direct Obj. 了 老师 一 个 问题。

B1 Verbs

Grammar Point (English) Pattern Examples
Appearance with "kanqilai" 看起来⋯⋯ 这 家 餐厅 看起来 不错 。
Causative verbs Subj. + Causative Verb + Person + Predicate 你 为什么 不 我 去 ?
Expressing "after" with "jingguo" 经过 + Event / Time ,⋯⋯ 经过 自己 的 努力 ,她 考上 了 北京 大学 。
Expressing "don't need to" with "buyong" Subj. + 不用 + Verb Phrase 不用 担心 。
Expressing "it depends" with "kan" 这 / 那 + 要看 / 得看 + Unclear Situation 得 看 你 的 时间 。
Expressing "it seems" with "haoxiang" 好像⋯⋯ 好像 是 英国 人 。
Expressing "mistakenly think that" with "yiwei" 以为⋯⋯ 以为 你 不 是 我的 朋友。
Expressing "through" with "tongguo" 通过 + Agent / Method ,⋯⋯ 我们 是 通过 他 的 朋友 找到 他 的 。
Expressing "to come from" with "laizi" Subj. + 来自 + Place 来自 美国。
Making judgments with "suan" Subj. + 算 + Adj. + 的 在 我们 公司 ,我 年轻 的 。
Using "lai" as a dummy verb (让 +) Subj. + 来 让 我 吧。
Verbs followed by "gei" Subj. + 把 + Obj. + Verb + 给 + Somebody 送给 我 一 束 花 。

B2 Verbs

Grammar Point (English) Pattern Examples
Challenging a verb with "shenme" Verb + 什么 + Obj. 没有 钱 看 什么 电影。
Combining verbs with "bing" Verb + 并 + Verb 我 同意 并且 支持 你 的 决定 。
Comparing specifically with "xiang" Noun 1 + 像 + Noun 2 + (那么⋯⋯) 你 怎么 我 妈 一样 啰嗦!
Comparisons with "biqi" 比起 + B (+ 来) ,A ~ 比起上海 ,我 老家 的 物价 便宜 多 了。
Comparisons with "buru" 不如⋯⋯ 我的 汉语 不如 他的。
Emphasizing the doer of an action with "you" 由 + Person + Verb 这个 项目 小李 来 完成 。
Expressing "hard to avoid" with "nanmian" 难免 + Verb 第 一 次 尝试 , 难免 失败 。
Expressing "to be worth" doing with "zhide" 值得 + Verb 这个 想法 不错 , 值得 考虑 。
Expressing future with "jiang" Subj. + 将 / 将要 / 将会 + Verb Phrase 比赛 结果 在 月底 公布 。
Facilitating an outcome with "yibian" 以便 + Verb 用 普通话 说 , 以便 我 能 听懂 。
Making "-ize" and "-ify" verbs with "hua" Noun / Adj. + 化 KFC 的 中国 本土 经营 做 得 非常 成功。
Passive verbs with "shou" 受 + Verb 他 为 人 善良 , 很 尊重 。
The use of Taiwanese Mandarin "hui" Subj. + 会 + Predicate + 吗 ? 冷 吗 ?
Using "nanguai" as a verb 难怪 + Person, Reason 难怪 他,他还是个孩子呢,什么都不懂。
Using "zhe" when "verbing away" Verb + 着 + Verb + 着 , 他们 到 家 了 。

C1 Verbs

Grammar Point (English) Pattern Examples
Expressing "I bet" using "liang" 谅 + Subject + Verb phrase 他 也 不敢!
Expressing "lies in" with "zaiyu" ⋯⋯ 在于 ⋯⋯ 我们 服务 的 特色 在于 个性化 。
Expressing something is "not worth doing" with "buxie" Subject + 不屑(于) + Verb 我 的 同事 是 一位 很 诚实 的 人 ,他 不屑 说谎。

Sources and further reading

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