Verbs in language are used to help us to express ourselves clearly. Let’s explore some common Chinese verbs to jumpstart our learning. Almost all foreign languages use verbs, and Mandarin Chinese is no exception. When learning Chinese, some essential verbs can help you to make all kinds of sentences in Mandarin.

Whether you have just started to learn Chinese, plan to travel to China for the first time or plan to read some Confucius. We hope to make using verbs in Mandarin Chinese easy.

In this article, we will look at some common and useful verbs to give you a head start in your Chinese language learning. We will mainly focus on verbs that the native English speaker can use to improve their language skills and gain confidence in speaking Chinese in simple conversations and fluently.

Verbs can help to express your opinion
Verbal communication helps us to express our feelings. Photo Source: Unsplash

How Do Chinese Verbs Work?

Contrary to other languages Mandarin does not conjugate the verb in at all. Verbs remain in all kinds of communication when written and spoken in their infinitive form. While this is good news for those learning Mandarin Chinese because it means you only have to learn one verb tense: infinitive; which despite how you use It, will not change. While this is a key grammar rule, It is important to note however that word order is important in spoken Chinese as well as reading and writing.

Conjugating the verb with different Chinese verb tenses is something that you can often see in European Languages like Spanish and Italian where the verb changes depending on who is speaking, who you are speaking to or what you are speaking about. You may be shaking your head in horror, but we even do it every day even when we speak in English, for example, I do /you do/ he does / I did etc.

How blissful would it be to be able to use the infinitive form of the verb ( 'to do') and be understood?  Well! Your wish is granted, with Chinese Mandarin as your second language, it is as easy as that. If you want to speak Chinese, especially as a beginner you may be thinking. "So how do you express time and subject without conjugating the verb?"

Learn Chinese in London.

Mandarin includes post-verb Modal and temporal structures, which gives us the chance to add context to the words and phrases that we are trying to communicate. These Modal and temporal structures allow us to provide information on:

  1. The weather.
  2. An aspect of something.
  3. The order of something.
  4. The specific process.

You can also expand on these by adding Post Verb suffixes to make sentences richer and more detailed. You can use Post Verb suffixes to express the location, the whole process, and possibility.

An Example Of This Is A Phrase Like:

  1. Chinese PinYin - Nǐ jiào shénme?.
  2. Literal translation - How-to-be-first-name.
  3. English meaning - What is your first name?.

Essential Verb 'To Be' In Daily Chinese

The verb 'to be' (shì ) is definitely one of the more essential verbs in Mandarin. It is imperative to understand this verb to be able to understand how to read Chinese texts. For this verb as well as all others, you must know when it is ok to use this verb and when it is not. Be aware that direct translation from English may not always provide you with the correct way to say the same thing in Chinese.

Rules For The Verb 'To Be' ( Shì ):

  1. Is used to express who you are
  2. It is used to connect nouns (g. Noun+ shì+ noun)
  3. It is not used to connect adjectives
  4. It does not describe a state of being (e.g. you can not use it to say he is big)
  5. You do not use it to express where you are (e.g. I am at the cinema)

Examples Of How To Use (Shì ):

  1. Wǒ shì xuésheng - I am a student.
  2. Nǐ shì John ma? - Are you John?
  3. Tāmen shì yǒuqián rén. - They are rich people.
  4. Nǐ māma shìlǎoshī ma? - Is your mother a teacher?

There are many ways that we use 'to be' in English that do not translate directly to the Chinese 'shì'. This means that in this case the one verb 'to be' as English speakers understand it, is actually a group of verbs in Chinese. It is important to know how to use the verb and not to make this translation mistake when speaking to native Chinese speakers. Here are the examples:

  1. Yǒuyǒng - To be Useful
  2. Yǒuxiào - To be Valid
  3. Yǒumíng - To be famous
  4. yǒu yìsi - to be Interesting
  5. yǒuqián - To be rich

Other verbs although not directly connected to the verb 'to be'. Are commonly used with the verb as they are qualitative and express a more detailed state in some way.

  1. dáà- To be big
  2. xiǎo- To be small
  3. hǎokàn- To be beautiful
  4. guì- To be expensive
To be - is an essential verb in Chinese and English
One of the more essential Chinese verbs is - To be. Photo Source: Unsplash

Essential Action Verb List In Mandarin Chinese.

Action verbs such as have, give, eat, walk, etc. are very useful and essential to learning. One of the learning tips that should also be noted is that in Mandarin, action verbs are used with a particle which gives more precise information. Knowing this when creating your sentences will help you to improve your grammar when you try to speak Chinese.

The Main Action Verbs Are:

  1. kàn - To Look
  2. zǒu  - To go
  3. nǎ- To take
  4. pǎo- To run
  5. zuò- To sit
  6. xuéxí - To Learn or study
  7. tíngzhǐ - To Stop
  8. maí- To buy or sell
  9. xiě - To write
  10. Yôu - To have

An Example Of The Particles Used With Action Verbs Are:

  • The particle le, to express a past action,
  • The particle guo, to express a lived action,
  • The particle zhe, to express an action that lasts in time.

Here Are Some Examples To Complete This Explanation:

  1. Wǒ pǎole liù gōnglǐ - I ran for six kilometres
  2. Nǐ qùle zhōngguó - You went to China.
  3. Wǒ chī qiǎokèlì - I eat chocolate
  4. Tā zuò xià - He sat

How To Express A Request, A Desire Or A Need, In The Chinese Language

One of the most important things in life is making yourself understood, in terms of what you want, need or desire. Without knowing how to express this, we would not be able to ask the waiter to hold the cream with our cake or to tell someone that you are a vegetarian.

Learning a language is not only about learning how to speak in general. But it is about learning how to speak to express ourselves and things that are important to us. Different languages can do this in different ways, but despite what language we are speaking we all hope to learn the language well enough to express what is important to us.

Even in a Chinese lesson, you will need to know how to ask your teacher to slow down. Knowing how to express your opinion, feelings, and review of situations is essential to all daily communication in English, Chinese or any other language and culture.

If you do not like something you can say

  • Wǒ bù xǐhuān - I do not like…

From this you can then create other sentences, for example:

  • Wǒ bù xǐhuān chī ròu - I do not like to eat meat
  • Wǒ bù xǐhuān zhè zhǒng yánsè - I don't like this colour
  • Wǒ bù è - I am not hungry

Here is a list of the main verbs of will or demand:

  1. Yào - To want
  2. Gěi - to give
  3. yáofán - To beg
  4. wèn- To ask
  5. Juédé - To feel
  6. Xuéxí - To learn
  7. Xiǎng – To desire

Here are some related examples:

  • Nǐ xué shénme? - What do you study?
  • Yī píng píjiǔ duōshǎo qián? - How much is a bottle of beer?
  • Wǒ xiǎng qù běijīng - I want to go to Beijing

Specific Chinese Verbs  For Enjoyment

The verb xiâng is not so easy to understand as it has many meanings, which change depending on how it is used in a sentence. See the examples below:

Xiâng Can Express And Mean:

  • To think about (someone, something).
  • To desire, to want, to want to.
  • To miss something.
  • To enjoy something.

A related example is:

Nǐ xiǎng qù nǎlǐ? - Where do you want to go?

Although this is a more complex verb once you are able to study examples of how it is regularly used you will be able to master the sentence structure for this verb. Although xiâng is typically pronounced with the third tone, it can change its tone in a sentence.

Verbs help you with sentence structure.
Dedicate yourself to mastering sentence structure and verbs. Photo Source: Unsplash

China Travel And Having A Conversation In Mandarin

As well as knowing how to express yourself when you want to talk about actions, situations or things. It can also be useful to know and memorize some standard phrases that you can use while traveling in China.

Here are a few great examples of words, verbs, and phrases to add to your traveling phrasebook.

  1. Dâdiànhuà - To phone someone.
  2. Huídá- To answer (the phone, people, questions).
  3. Chōuyān - To smoke.
  4. Dashu - To take water.
  5. Zhâo- To search (for your route, your friends, a specific place).
  6. Dêng- To wait ( for someone).
  7. Shuöhuà - To talk (with foreigners, friends, Chinese people).

Let's take a look at some of these verbs in action with some practical examples:

  • Tāmen zài yīqǐ liáotiān - They talk together.
  • Wǒ zài děng wǒ fùqīn - I am waiting for my father.
  • Nǐ gěi wǒ shuǐ - You give me water.
  • Wǒ dǎ diànhuà gěi māmā - I call mom.
  • Wǒ juédé hóngchá hěn hǎo hē - I think that black tea is very good (personal appreciation).
  • Wǒ zhǎoqián - I am looking for money (I am looking for work).
  • Nǐ mài shū ma? - Do you sell books?.
  • Wǒ měitiān dū chōuyān - I smoke every day.

To immerse yourself into fluent conversations in Chinese you have to dedicate yourself to mastering sentence structure, verbs, vocabulary and also pay attention to the tonal pronunciation of Mandarin. But you also must be able to master the most common Chinese verbs. Once you understand the structure of a sentence in Chinese, you can carry a Chinese English dictionary with you and create the perfect sentences as you go.

But while studying you can memorize a handful of the most important verbs. Which will support you to have conversations and help you on a get by day to day basis, should you be in living in China. It can also help you to excel in your Mandarin classes London should you be a Chinese language course student. Whatever your lifestyle if you are learning Chinese, dedicating a large chunk of your time to learning about Chinese verbs will empower you to increase your fluency and conversations skill no matter where you are. Ready to embark on the adventure?

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Ava is a dedicated world traveller, motivated to see, explore and experience the world and culture first hand. She has followed her dream of travel to over 80 countries worldwide and also excitedly pursues her other hobbies of yoga, painting, and photography.