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Chinese Verbs

Relative to many other languages, Chinese verbs are straight forward, though they are unique to the language and cannot be approached in the same way as verbs from other languages.

This language has two verb forms that influence the meaning and context of the sentence in which they are found. The first is the stative form which indicates the state, while the other, the dynamic, indicates action.

Like those used in other languages, Chinese verbs are manipulated using different constructions in order to convey greater meaning and context. A declarative sentence in Standard Chinese is very similar to one written in English. The structure is subject-verb-object and can often be translated exactly into other similar languages.

Present Tense

Conjugah2ion of Chinese verbs is very different from that of most languages within the Indo-European linguistic family, such as Spanish or English. Unlike these languages that apply several forms to verbs depending on the number of subjects or tense, verbs in Chinese are not modified to express tense of person. This means that the sentence for “I eat” has the same verb as “I ate” and “She eats” or “She ate”. There are no suffixes to differentiate these different conditions.

Past Tense

Because the verbs within the language are not modified to express person or tense, the easiest way to indicate a time frame is contextually. Such words as “yesterday” or “last year” provide the context that expresses that particular action occurred in the past.


In order to negate a verb in Chinese the word bu is inserted into the sentence. Essentially this adds “not” before the verb, such as “I not eat”. The only exception to this is the verb “to have” which is negated by adding “mei” instead of “bu”, which turns the sentence into “I do not have”.

Verb-Object Combination Usage

The Chinese language is fairly limited in terms of phonotactics, which results in multiple homophones. Partially to compensate for the confusion that these like sounds create, many verbs are used in conjunction of objects to clarify context.

In the Context of Questions

When using Chinese verbs in the context of questions there are two forms:

• The first is the “written” construction which utilizes the particle “ma” at the end of an affirmative sentence to modify it into a Yes or No question.

• The second is the “verb not verb” construction which states the affirmative of an action followed by the negative of the same action, with “bu” in between. This essentially changes the statement “You are eating” into “Are you eating?”.