Also known as: 动词 (dòngcí).

When you were young, these were the "action" words, which is correct, in a way, but it doesn't cover everything that verbs can do. Particularly in Chinese, verbs are versatile!


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.



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".


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.)


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

Sources and further reading