Chinese verbs

Chinese verbs

There are two different forms of verbs in the Chinese language: the stative, indicating state, and the dynamic, indicating action. The sentence changes with the different forms of verbs.


Verb construction

The word order for a basic declarative sentence in Standard Chinese is subject–verb–object (SVO), much like English. Thus, the sentence "我吃鸡" (wǒ chī jī, "I eat chicken") has exact equivalents in the English sentence (我,: "I"; 吃,chī: "eat"; and 鸡,: "chicken").

The present

Chinese verbs do not conjugate like the verbs of most Indo-European languages such as English or Spanish. In English, for example, the verb "to eat" has many forms compared to its Chinese equivalent: "to eat" (infinitive), "eat, eats" (present), "ate", (simple past), "eaten" (past participle), "eating" (present participle), etc. Chinese only has one basic form, used for every person and tense; thus "chī" (吃) can equal all these forms. ("tā chī" 他吃: he eats, "nǐ chī" 你吃: you eat, etc.) In other words, Chinese does not express these differences through inflectional suffixes.

The past

The simplest way of expressing past tense is to use adverbs such as "yesterday." For example: "zuótiān wǒ chī jī" (昨天我吃鸡, literally: yesterday I eat chicken) is equal to saying "Yesterday I ate chicken". Another way of expressing past tense is to use the aspect particles "guò" (过) or "le" (了) , which cannot stand by themselves but can express completed actions when placed after verbs. The distinction between these and other particles can be difficult for learners to grasp. Past tense in Chinese can also be emphasized by surrounding the verb and direct object with the words "shì"-"de" (是-的). Here the time is sufficient to express the past tense but the pattern emphasizes for purpose. For example "wǒ shì zuótiān chī jī de" (我是昨天吃鸡的). This phrasing emphasizes the time in which the action took place more than the action itself.

Negation of Chinese verbs

Negation of Chinese verbs is accomplished by inserting bù (不), which can be interpreted roughly as "not", before the verb to be negated. For example: "wǒ bù chī jī" (我不吃鸡, literally: I not eat chicken) is equal to saying "I don't eat chicken". Serial verbs and verbal complements complicate matters.

There is one exception to this rule, however. The verb "yǒu" (有 to have) is negated with the particle "méi" (没). The past negative is made by use of "méi yǒu" 没有 instead of "bù" 不. For example: "wǒ méi yǒu jī" (我没有鸡) "I do not have chicken".

Verb–object combinations

The relatively restrictive phonotactics of Mandarin Chinese means that there are many homophones for some syllables. It may be to compensate for this that many commonly used verbs work in verb–object combinations. For example, 睡 (shuì) (sleep v.) and 觉 (jiào) (sleep n.) are used together as a pair to mean "sleep":

(wǒ píngcháng wǎnshang shí diǎn jìu shuìjiào.)
I normally at-night 10-o'clock PARTICLE sleep.
I usually go to bed as early as 10 o'clock at night.


While some languages like English invert the verb and subject, Chinese uses two different constructions.

The particle "ma" (written)

This particle "ma" (吗) is placed at the very end of a basic affirmative sentence to turn it into a Yes/No question. For example:

"wǒ chī jī" (我吃鸡): "I eat chicken"

"wǒ chī jī ma?" (我吃鸡吗?): "Do I eat chicken?"

The "verb-not-verb" construction

A question can also be formed by stating the affirmative and the negative consecutively; that is, taking the verb, putting "bù" (不) after it and then repeating the verb once more:

"nǐ qù" (你去) "You are going."
"nǐ qù bú qù" (你去不去?)(literally: you go not go?) "Are you going?"


A special class of verbs called coverbs take the place of prepositions or postpositions in other languages. Sometimes, these coverbs can stand alone as a verb in its own right. One example is 给 (gěi), which can be used in both manners:

Preposition-like usage:

(Wǒ gěi nǐ dǎ diànhuà.)
(I'll give you a telephone call.)


(Qǐng gěi wǒ yī bēi kělè.)
(Please give me a glass of cola.)

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