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We have already looked at some Chinese greetings and farewells as well as some phrases for beginners. Now it’s time to focus on learning some simple verbs and starting to construct basic sentences. You may notice that sometimes the Chinese character has more than one meaning, but for the purpose of this post, we have chosen the most frequently used or most relevant verb for a beginner of Chinese. If you haven’t already, it’s a good time to take a look at some of the Chinese characters and try to remember what they look like.
You can create a mnemonic or story to help you remember their meaning, pronunciation and even tone. If you think of a good mnemonic, share it with your fellow Chinese learners on the character page within our Online Dictionary. The story you create to remember a character can be very simple, like the one I use to remember the character 要 or more complex like the one below.
You can see this example by visiting the page for the character 量.
Don’t forget to click on the red linked Chinese characters to listen to the pronunciation, watch how to write the character and view the characters radicals, pinyin and example sentences. You can also toggle between simplified and traditional characters!
Below is a list of 20 Chinese verbs with example sentences for you to learn. In Chinese, most simple sentences, like the ones below, follow this sentence pattern:
Subject + verb phrase + object
You can learn about different sentence patterns in our article about Chinese Sentence Structures.
1. to want 要 (yào)
I want an apple. 我要一个苹果。(wǒ yào yī gè píng guǒ.)
2. to eat 吃 (chī)
I am eating noodles. 我在吃面。 (wǒ zài chī miàn.)
3. To drink 喝 (hē)
The 喝 (hē) character features the mouth 口 (kǒu) radical to the left. On the top right-hand side is the sun 日 (rì), underneath there is a man 人 (rén) leaning against an object and sitting in the shade. This suggests that a person might drink something when taking a rest from working in the sun.
I drink tea. 我喝茶。(wǒ hē chá.)
4. To take 拿 (ná)
The 拿 (ná) character depicts a hand 手 (shǒu) on the bottom of the character, whilst on the top is the character for unity 合 (hé). If you take something into your hand then you have unity and togetherness.
Please take the book 请拿上这本书。(qǐng ná shàng zhè běn shū.)
5. To give 给 (gěi)
Please give me… 请给我…(qǐng gěi wǒ…)
6. To open 打开/开 (dǎ kāi / kāi)
It’s easier to look at the traditional character (開) of 开 (kāi) to understand why it looks the way it does. Once surrounded by a door 門 (mén), the 开 represented two hands removing a bolt or bar from the door in order to open it.
Open the door 开门 (kāi mén)
7. To have 有 (yǒu)
Originally, the top part of the 有 (yǒu) character resembled a hand 手 (shǒu) and the bottom radical looked more like meat 肉 (ròu). Now, man has forgotten about meat and strives to possess or have the moon 月 (yuè), which now makes up the bottom of the character.
I have a younger brother. 我有一个弟弟。(wǒ yǒu yī gè dì di.)
8. To know 知道 (zhī dao)
I know. 我知道。(wǒ zhī dao)
9. To like 喜欢 (xǐ huan)
The 喜 (xǐ) character represents happiness which is often expressed with music and singing. The top half of the character depicts a drum on its stand and a hand striking it.
I like her. 我喜欢她。 (wǒ xǐ huan tā)
10. To love 爱 (ài)
The simplified character of 爱 (ài) is made up of three parts: ‘breathe’ , ‘hand’ and ‘co-operation’. It suggests that love is more about friendship which is represented by the hand 手 (shǒu) than by the heart 心 (xīn) which is seen in the traditional character of love 愛 (ài) .
I love him 我爱他。(wǒ ài tā)
In Chinese the character 是 (shì), not only means ‘to be’, but can also sometimes be used to say ‘yes’ or ‘correct’. 是 (shì) shows the sun 日 (rì) over the character for ‘exact’, 正 (zhèng). The meaning is that the sun is precisely on the meridian line and therefore a standard of correctness.
I am a teacher. 我是一个老师。(wǒ shì yī gè lǎo shī.)
12. To Do/Make 做 (zuò)
I make dinner every day. 每天我都做晚饭。(měi tiān wǒ dōu zuò wǎn fàn.)
13. To Sit 坐 (zuò)
I usually sit there when I go to the library. 当我去图书馆我习惯坐那里。 (dāng wǒ qù tú shū guǎn wǒ xí guàn zuò nà li.)
14. To See 看 (kàn)
I like to watch movies. 我喜欢看电影。(wǒ xǐ huan kàn diàn yǐng.)
15. To Go 去 (qù)
I go to Beijing often. 我经常去北京。(wǒ jīng cháng qù běi jīng.)
16. To Use 用 (yòng)
I use my mobile phone too much. 我用手机的频率太高了。(wǒ yòng shǒu jī de pín lǜ tài gāo le)
17. To Find 找 (zhǎo)
I can find the book. 我可以找到那本书。(wǒ kě yǐ zhǎo dào nà běn shū.)
18. To tell 告诉 (gào su)
Tell me his phone number 告诉我他的电话号码。(gào su wǒ tā de diàn huà hào mǎ.)
19. To Ask 问 (wèn)
The 问 (wèn) character shows a door 门 (mén) surrounding a mouth 口 (kǒu). As many introductions would occur in the entrance to a house in Chinese culture, it would be a place where neighbours would ask or inquire about the family inside.
Please ask your friend. 请问你的朋友。(qǐng wèn nǐ de péng you.)
The character 想 (xiǎng) is composed of three parts: the tree 木 (mù), the eye 目 (mù) and the heart 心 (xīn). An interpretation of the character is that the eye is behind the tree looking out for or inspecting for possible danger. The heart in Chinese culture often represents both heart and mind, and suggests the examination of the heart or to think or ponder.
I think it’s strange. 我觉得很奇怪。 (wǒ jué de hěn qí guài.)
If you have any questions or comments about our article on Chinese verbs, please leave them below.