Vocabulary is the raw building block of any language. It helps you thrive in all major aspects of acquiring a foreign language: reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
If you’re new to learning Chinese, this post will really help you start building some essential vocabulary. We will show you the 10 most common Chinese verbs that are guaranteed to make communication easier and help you express yourself clearly.
Chinese verbs: A grammatical overview
Before we talk about the top 10 common Chinese verbs, let’s look at two key grammar features regarding Chinese verbs:
- Unlike many other languages, including English, Chinese verbs don’t conjugate. That means Chinese verbs remain infinitive if they refer to the past, the present, or the future. So, instead of saying ‘He works’ in the present tense or ‘He worked’ in the past tense as we’d say in English, we’d just use ‘He work’ for all tenses in Chinese. On a side note, while the verb doesn’t change at all, Chinese grammar will use additional words to indicate whether an action is completed or not.
- The Chinese verb position in a sentence is as follows : Subject + Verb + Object. This is the most basic and common Chinese sentence structure where verbs will be placed between subjects and objects (e.g., I drink water). You can learn about different and more complex sentence structures in our articles: Top 10 Chinese sentence structures you should know.
10 Common Chinese Verbs that Every Newbie Learner Should Know
1. 吃 (chī): to eat
Example: 我在吃米饭. (Wǒ zài chī mǐfàn.) – I am eating rice.
Common phrases using 吃 (chī):
- 吃完 (Chī wán): to finish eating
- 好吃 (Hào chī): good to eat, delicious
- 吃饭 (Chīfàn): to have a meal
It is easy to remember this word because it has the mouth 口 (kǒu) radical. It reminds us of food and eating.
2. 喝 (hē): to drink
Example: 我喝茶. (Wǒ hē chá.) – I drink tea.
Common phrase using 喝 (hē):
- 吃喝 (Chīhē): to eat and drink
- 喝醉 (Hē zuì): to get drunk
This 喝 (hē) character also features the mouth 口 (kǒu) radical in the left. To memorize this character, look at the sun radical 日 (rì) on the top right-hand side, underneath it looks like
a man 人 (rén) resting in the shade and drinking because of the heat.
3. 去 (qù): to go
Example: 我去中国. (Wǒ qù zhōngguó.) – I go to China.
Common phrases using 去 (qù):
- 出去 (Chūqù): to go out
- 死去 (Sǐqù): to die
- 失去 (Shīqù): to lose
- 去年 (Qùnián): last year
4. 有 (yǒu): to have
Example: 我有一个苹果. (Wǒ yǒu yīgè píngguǒ) – I have an apple.
Common phrases using 有 (yǒu):
- 没有 (Méiyǒu): no, to not have
- 只有(Zhǐyǒu): only
- 还有 (Háiyǒu): and, also, in addition to
5. 要 (yào): to want
Example: 他要书. (Tā yào shū.) – He wants books.
Common phrase using 要 (yào):
- 重要 (Zhòngyào): important
- 要是 (Yàoshi): if
- 不要 (Bùyào): do not want, must not
6. 拿 (ná): to take
Example: 请拿咖啡. (Qǐng ná kāfēi.) – Please take the coffee.
Common phrases using 拿 (ná):
- 拿走 (Názǒu): to take away
- 捉拿 (Zhuōná): to arrest
- 拿起 (Ná qǐ): to pick up
7. 给 (gěi): to give
Example: 请把书给我. (Qǐng bǎ shū gěi wǒ) – Please give me the books.
Common phrases using 给 (gěi):
- 还给: to return, to give back
- 交给 (Jiāo gěi): to hand over
- 写给 (Xiě gěi): write to somebody
8. 爱 (ài): to love
Example: 我爱他. (wǒ ài tā.) – I love him.
Common phrases using 爱 (ài):
- 爱国 (Àiguó): patriotic
- 爱人 (Àirén): spouse
- 可爱 (Kě’ài): cute, adorable
This character 爱 (ài) is written in simplified Chinese. In traditional Chinese, it is written as 愛 instead. The main difference between the two characters is that the simplified version does not have the component, 心 (xīn), meaning “heart.” Many proponents of traditional characters have used this example to demonstrate how simplified versions can lose the original words’ meaning and depth.
- Traditional vs. Simplified Chinese: Which one should you choose?
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9. 是 (shì): to be
Example: 我是一个老师. (Wǒ shì yī gè lǎo shī.) – I am a teacher.
时间就是金钱. (Shíjiān jiùshì jīnqián.) – Time is money.
Common phrases using 是 (shì):
- 不是 (Bùshì): no
- 但是 (Dànshì): but, however
The ‘to be’ verb 是 (shì) is such an essential word, and every Chinese-language learner will be taught this during their very first Chinese lessons. Here are the general rules you should be aware of when using the verb 是 (shì):
- Used to express and describe people
- Used to connect nouns: noun+ shì+ noun
- NOT used to connect adjectives
- NOT used to describe the state of the present continuous tense (e.g., I am reading Pandanese blogs.)
In Chinese, the character 是 (shì) can also sometimes mean ‘yes’ or ‘correct’.
10. 问 (wèn): to ask
Example: 我能问你一件事吗? (Wǒ néng wèn nǐ yī jiàn shì ma?) – Can I ask you something?
Common phrases using 问 (wèn):
- 访问 (Fǎngwèn): to access
- 学问 (Xuéwèn): knowledge
- 问题 (Wèntí): problem, question
This character is made of two radicals: 门 (mén) means gate and 口 (kǒu) means mouth. A gate would remind us of a house, a building, or a place in general. When you’re lost, you should open your mouth and ask for directions to find the place. How does that mnemonic sound to you?
Now that you have just gone through the Top 10 most common verbs list, did you learn something new?
Some of the words on the list use mnemonics to help your brain link the new words to your existing knowledge. It has been scientifically proven to boost your recall ability, making new vocabulary stick longer in your brain.
So how can you apply mnemonics in your daily Chinese study? Pandanese will show you!
Pandanese – A smart learning tool for your Chinese
Pandanese is a web-based application exclusively designed to help Chinese-language learners memorize Chinese characters quicker and more effectively. Every radical, character, and vocabulary has a cool mnemonic story to keep them stay longer in your brain. Pandanese also uses another scientifically proven learning technique: the Spaced Repetition System (SRS), to optimize your reviews, ensuring you won’t neglect any single item.
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