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How to Express a ‘Finished’ Action in Chinese

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Get to grips with expressing actions and ‘finished’ actions in Chinese by following these sentence patterns and example sentences. We’ll look at suffixes you can use to complete an action and how to create negative action sentences.

Performing an Action

To describe how an action is performed or how it was performed in the past, use the following sentence pattern

action verb + (de) + adjectival verb

他说得快。 (tā shuō de kuài) He talks quickly.

她开得慢。 (tā kāi de màn) She drives slowly.

Negate an action sentence with (bù).

他吃得不快。 (tā chī de bù kuài) He doesn’t eat quickly.

If you want to ask about an action, then use the phrase, ‘…得怎么样?’ (de zěn me yàng)

你考得怎么样?(nǐ kǎo de zěn me yàng) How did you do in the test?

Describing Actions Using Adverbial Modifiers

Describing the performance of an action with an adverbial modifier.

孩子们高高兴兴地在公园里玩。 (hái zi men gāo gāo xìngxìng de zài gōng yuán lǐ wán) The children are playing happily in the park.

Common adverbial modifiers are

慢慢地 (màn màn de) slowly

快快地 (kuài kuài de) quickly

好好地 (hǎo hǎo de) well

偷偷地 (tōu tōu de) secretly

静静地 (jìng jìng de) peacefully

悄悄地 (qiǎo qiǎo de) quietly

兴奋地 (xīng fèn de) excitedly

Completion and ‘Finished’ Actions in Chinese

Action verb + resultative ending

Suffixes that indicate the conclusion of an action

(wán) to finish

(hǎo) successful conclusion

Suffixes that indicate the result of an action:

(jiàn) to see (看见 (kàn jiàn) to see, 听见 (tīng jiàn) to hear etc)

(dào) / (zháo) to attain a goal or to acquire

(cuò) to be mistaken

(bǎo) to be full

(dǒng) to understand

(huì) to know

(zhù) to stay

(kāi) to open

(gòu) enough

(guāng) to use up

清楚 (qīng chu) to be clear

干净 (gān jìng) to be clean

说完 (shuō wán) to finish talking

吃完 (chī wán) to finish eating

用完 (yòng wán) to use up

说好 (shuō hǎo) to reach agreement

听见 (tīng jiàn) to hear something

看见 (kàn jiàn) to see something

听到 (tīng dào) to hear something

看到 (kàn dào) to see something

闻到 (wén dào) to smell something

买到 (mǎi dào) to buy

找到 (zhǎo dào) to find

买着 (mǎi zháo) to buy

找着 (zhǎo zháo) to find

睡着 (shuì zháo) to fall asleep

做错 (zuò cuò) to do wrong

写错 (xiě cuò) to write incorrectly

买错 (mǎi cuò) to buy the wrong thing

用错 (yòng cuò) to use incorrectly

吃饱 (chī bǎo) to be full

看懂 (kàn dǒng) to read and understand

听懂 (tīng dǒng) to listen and understand

学会 (xué huì) to study and master something

记住 (jì zhu) to remember

打开 (dǎ kāi) to open

吃够 (chī gòu) to eat enough

问清楚 (wèn qīng chu) to ask something until clear

擦干净 (cā gān jìng) to wipe until clean

洗干净 (xǐ gān jìng) to wash until clean

You can add the particle (le) to all of the above action verbs to show that the action has been completed or desired result has been achieved.

To show that the results were not completed, use (méi). This character is a negative prefix for verbs and means ‘to have not’.

我没听懂。(wǒ méi tīng dǒng) I don’t understand.

You can use the (de) particle to indicate that it is possible to perform an action and also complete it. Generally, the following sentence pattern can be used:

Action verb + (de) + resultative suffix

我看得懂汉字。 (wǒ kàn de dǒng hàn zì.) I understand characters.

Adding the prefix (bù), meaning ‘not’, indicates that is it not possible to perform an action.

我找不到我钱包。(wǒ zhǎo bu dào wǒ qián bāo) I can’t find my purse.

When a result cannot be reached ‘no matter what’ then add 怎么 (zěn me).

我怎么找也找不到。(wǒ zěn me zhǎo yě zhǎo bu dào) No matter how I look I can’t find it.

To show ability or inability to perform an action use 得了 (dé liǎo) for ability and 不了 (bù liǎo) for inability.

Verb + 得了 (dé liǎo) / 不了 (bù liǎo) (able/unable)

得了 (dé liǎo)

你吃得了这么多面包吗?(nǐ chī dé liǎo zhè me duō miàn bāo ma) Can you eat that much bread?

不了 (bù liǎo)

今天的功课这么多, 我做不了。(jīn tiān de gōng kè zhè me duō, wǒ zuò bù liǎo) There is too much homework today, I can’t complete it.

(diào), can be used to indicate completion, but with negative connotations.

Some examples of using 掉 are:

甩掉 (shuǎi diào) to throw away / get rid of

扔掉 (rēng diào) to throw away

忘掉 (wàng diào) to forget

丢掉 (diū diào) to lose

脱掉 (tuō diào) to remove

Other Completed Actions

得及 (de jí) / 不及 (bù jí)

(jí) means to complete an action on time.

来得及 (lái de jí) to arrive on time

来不及 (lái bu jí) cannot arrive on time

得起 (de qǐ) / 不起 (bu qǐ) – afford to do

吃得起 (chī de qǐ) afford to eat

吃不起 (chī bù qǐ)cannot afford to eat

住得起 (zhù de qǐ) afford to live

住不起 (zhù bù qǐ) cannot afford to live

Negative Uses

看不起 (kàn bu qǐ) to look down on someone

对不起 (duì bu qǐ) to be sorry for

我没有做对不起你的事。(wǒ méi yǒu zuò duì bu qǐ nǐ de shì.)

I have not done anything to you that I feel sorry for.

对得起 (duì de qǐ) be worthy of / not let sb. down / treat sb. fairly

我所做的选择,对得起我自己的良心。(wǒ suǒ zuò de xuǎn zé, duì de qǐ wǒ zì jǐ de liáng xīn.) The choice I made is worthy of my own conscience.

(shàng) has a different meaning when used with a resultant verb

考得上 (kǎo de shàng) able to pass entrance exam

考不上 (kǎo bù shàng) unable to pass

不定 (bú dìng) indefinite

拿不定 (ná bu dìng) unsure

说不定 (shuō bu dìng) perhaps / maybe

拿不定主意 (ná bu dìng zhǔ yi) indecisive


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