Do you think Chinese is hard?
Well, buckle your seat belt…
Because you’re about to zip faster than you thought possible through one entire Chinese topic.
You’re about to find out what exactly makes Mandarin one of the easiest languages out there.
If you’ve already taken your first baby steps in the Chinese language, you’re well on your way to learning some verbs—with our help, of course.
In this post, we’re going to show you some of the most common verbs, determined by their spoken frequency. Also, we’re going to teach you how they work.
You can’t really make a sentence without using some verbs, right? But don’t frown, because guess what?
Chinese verbs are very simple to use and we’re going to help you learn in a jiffy how to do just that.
How to Use Chinese Verbs
What’s a Verb?
A verb is the main word in any statement or question, because you can’t actually have a sentence if there’s no verb in it. That’s Grammar 101 for any language. Of course, there are some exceptions, but we’re looking at the bigger picture right now.
The verb represents something that occurs, or that someone does: an action, an activity, a state of being, a motion or even a condition.
Verbs are essential. You need a verb for eating, drinking, walking, reading—even breathing and living!
Chinese Verb Conjugations
In Chinese, verbs don’t have conjugations.
The basic form of any verb is the infinitive, and that’s what we might say is used in any sentence in Chinese. Every Chinese verb can be considered an infinitive because it doesn’t have any conjugation, and it certainly doesn’t change according to the person or number of people performing the given action.
The form of verbs never changes, regardless of whether a present, past or future tense is used. That’s good news, because it means you won’t have to learn different forms for a participle or a past tense by heart.
Of course, there are some rules about how to express the fact that an action already took place or will happen in the future. But we won’t dive into those here—we’re going to keep things super simple in this introduction.
Where to Place Chinese Verbs Within Sentences
To be able to express statements of action, you should also keep in mind the basic structure for any sentence in Chinese:
Subject + Verb + Object
A very important aspect of this structure is the fact that the Object is the target of the Subject’s action, expressed by the Verb. Check it out!
妈妈吃牛肉。(mā mā chī niú ròu.) — Mother is eating beef.
Makes sense, right?
But if we switch the Subject’s position with the Object’s, we’ll get a sentence that looks like this:
牛肉吃妈妈。(niú ròu chī mā mā.) — Beef is eating Mother.
That’s not quite right, obviously.
So the noun that comes after the Verb will be the target of its action.
It’s actually very easy and logical.
Whoosh! 20 Must-know Chinese Verbs for Learners in a Hurry
If you’ve taken any Chinese classes, you’ve already learned that one character represents one morpheme (with some exceptions) or one syllable.
Keeping this in mind, we can categorize verbs as simple or compound. So, this means that verbs in Chinese can consist of either one or more characters.
We’ll start off as easy as possible, with simple verbs that have only one character.
And if you have any trouble with any of these verbs, FluentU can help you really learn them well in context!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You'll find a wide range of contemporary videos that cover all different interests and levels, as you can see here:
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up.
All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.
FluentU's quizzes turn every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you're learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your learning. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. In other words, you get a 100% personalized experience.
Try FluentU in your browser or, better yet, download the FluentU iOS or Android app today!
10 Simple Verbs
Simple verbs are made up of only one character and can be easily used in a sentence.
爱 (ài) — to love
我爱你！(wǒ ài nǐ!) — I love you!
看 (kàn) — to see/watch/look
我看电影。(wǒ kàn diàn yǐng.) — I am watching a movie.
去 (qù) — to go
我去北京。(wǒ qù běi jīng.) — I am going to Beijing.
来 (lái) — to come
来这儿吧！(lái zhè er ba!) — Come here!
有 (yǒu ) — to have
我有一个好朋友。(wǒ yǒu yī gè hǎo péng yǒu.) — I have one good friend.
要 (yào) — to want
我要这个裙子。(wǒ yào zhè ge qún zi.) — I want this skirt.
做 (zuò) — to do
我做我的作业。(Wǒ zuò wǒ de zuòyè.) — I am doing my homework.
写 (xiě) — to write
我写汉字。(wǒ xiě hàn zì.) — I am writing Chinese characters.
穿 (chuān) — to wear
我穿我妹妹的衣服。(wǒ chuān wǒ mèi mei de yī fú.) — I wear my sister’s clothes.
听 (tīng) — to hear/listen
爸爸听广播。(bà ba tīng guǎng bò.) — Dad is listening to the radio.
10 Compound Verbs
Compound verbs have more than one character. These character groups can form a single word in some situations, but can also be separable in others.
How can compound verbs be separable? Well, sometimes the characters within the compound verb all mean the same thing. In these cases, you can use only one of the characters to express the exact same thing as you would if you used both characters in a sentence. These types of words in Chinese are called disyllabic.
A large number of monosyllabic words have alternative disyllabic forms with the same meaning.
This type of verb has many characteristics that you’ll learn along the way. And, of course, we’ll also share some easy tips and tricks for fully owning compound Chinese verbs.
游泳 (yóu yǒng) — to swim
我不会游泳。(wǒ bù huì yóu yǒng.) — I can’t swim.
学习 (xué xí) — to study/learn
我不学习西班牙语，我学习法语。(wǒ bù xué xí xī bān yá yǔ, wǒ xué xí fǎ yǔ.) — I am not studying Spanish, I am studying French.
Just so you can get a clearer idea of how compound verbs work, 游泳 or 学习 can be separated because you can use only the first character of the word and it still has the same meaning.
You can either say:
我学汉语。(wǒ xué hàn yǔ.) — I am learning Chinese.
我学习汉语。(wǒ xué xí hàn yǔ.)
Both sentences have the exact same meaning. Nothing is different, except the fact that you can choose to use one character or both.
Keep in mind that this is a specific characteristic applied only when both characters mean the same thing.
What do you think—do Mandarin speakers often use both characters? Maybe it’s a trend? Maybe it’s fancy?
Just kidding! There’s no actual reason for using either one or two characters from a compound verb like these, but you might want to use both just so you can make yourself understood. This is advice mostly for beginners, as it’s best for getting to grips with Chinese.
害怕 (hài pà) — to be afraid
我害怕狗。(wǒ hài pà gǒu.) — I am afraid of dogs.
跳舞 (tiào wǔ) — to dance
这个周末我要跳舞。(zhè ge zhōu mò wǒ yào tiào wǔ.) — This weekend I want to dance.
准备 (zhǔn bèi) — to prepare/get ready
明天我们一起去北京。你准备好了吗？(míng tiān wǒ men yī qǐ qù běi jīng. nǐ zhǔn bèi hǎo le ma?) — Tomorrow we are going together to Beijing. Are you ready?
喜欢 (xǐ huān) — to like
我喜欢你的朋友。(wǒ xǐ huān nǐ de péng yǒu.) — I like your friend.
散步 (sàn bù) — to take a walk
我的外婆每天去散步。(wǒ de wài pó měi tiān qù sàn bù.) — My grandmother takes a walk every day.
洗澡 (xǐ zǎo) — to take a shower/bath
我已经洗澡了。(wǒ yǐ jīng xǐ zǎo le.) — I’ve already had a bath.
走路 (zǒu lù) — to walk (go on foot)
你们是坐车去还是走路去？(nǐ men shì zuò chē qù hái shì zǒu lù qù?) — Are you going by car or on foot?
跑步 (pǎo bù) — to run
我很累。不要跑步。(wǒ hěn lèi. bù yào pǎo bù.) — I am very tired. I don’t want to run.
Now, having learned these few verbs in Chinese, you’re ready to start making some sentences!
So, how about you go out there and put the skills you’ve just learned to the test?
And don’t be scared to make mistakes. We’re all human, and mistakes are good, because you always learn from them!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.