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 + 得 (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 不 (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
完 (wán) to finish
好 (hǎo) successful conclusion
Suffixes that indicate the result of an action:
见 (jiàn) to see (看见 (kàn jiàn) to see, 听见 (tīng jiàn) to hear etc)
到 (dào) / 着 (zháo) to attain a goal or to acquire
错 (cuò) to be mistaken
饱 (bǎo) to be full
懂 (dǒng) to understand
会 (huì) to know
住 (zhù) to stay
开 (kāi) to open
够 (gòu) enough
光 (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 了 (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 没 (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 得 (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 + 得 (de) + resultative suffix
我看得懂汉字。 (wǒ kàn de dǒng hàn zì.) I understand characters.
Adding the prefix 不 (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.
掉 (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
及 (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
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.
上 (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