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Chinese Verbs
07/11/2008 23:33:50    Author : Yu    Browse : 962

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

Verb construction

The word order for Mandarin Chinese (in basic sentences) is "SVO" (subject-verb-object), much like English. Thus the sentence: "wo chi ji" (I eat chicken) has exact equivalents in the English sentence ("wo": I, "chi": eat, and "ji": 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 "chi" can equal all these forms. ("ta chi": he eats, "ni chi": 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: "zuotian wo chi ji" (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 "guo" or "le", 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 expressed by surrounding the verb and direct object with the words "shi"-"de". For example "wo shi zuotian chi ji de". 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 bu, which can be interpreted roughly as "not", before the verb to be negated. For example: "wo bu chi ji" 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 "you" (to have) is negated with the particle "mei". The past negative is made by use of "mei you" instead of bu. For example: "wo mei you chi ji" ( "I did not eat 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,  shui (sleep v.) and jiao (sleep n.) are used together as a pair to mean "sleep":
wo pingchang wanshang shidian jiu shui jiao.
(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"

This particle is placed at the very end of a basic affirmative sentence to turn it into a Yes/No question. For example:
"ni chi ji": "You eat chicken"
"ni chi ji ma?": "Do you eat chicken?"

The "verb-not-verb" construction

This construction is an alternative to the above. It consists of taking the verb, putting "bu" after it and then repeating the verb once more. For example:
"ni chi ji": "You eat chicken"
"ni chi bu chi ji?" (literally: You eat not eat chicken?) "Do you eat chicken?"
Note that for the verb-not-verb construction "you" (to have) must use "mei" instead of "bu".


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 gei, which can be used in both manners:
Preposition-like usage:
Wo gei ni da dianhua.
(I"ll give you a telephone call.)
Qing gei wo yi bei kele.
(Please give me a glass of cola.)
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