A sturdy vocabulary forms the foundation for learning any language. Where better to start than with the words that describe our actions? After all, no sentence is complete without a verb.
Below, you’ll find the most commonly used Chinese verbs. Learning these by heart is a must for anyone looking to have a chat in Chinese.
But take heed, you will need more than rote memorization in order to start dropping these Chinese verbs into conversation naturally. You will also need to take note of the correct way to use them. We’ve included some example sentences to help you get the hang of it.
1. 是 shì To be
As you might expect, 是 is the most commonly used verb in Chinese. Use it any time you want to describe who you are or what something or someone is.
Wǒ shì xuéshēng.
I am a student.
Wǒ de lǎoshī shì yīgè zhōngguó rén.
My teacher is Chinese.
But be careful: Chinese does not always use 是 between a noun and an adjective. Usually, when 是 is included before an adjective, it is in order to add emphasis. When this happens, it is best to add the word 的 at the end of the phrase.
Wǒ shì xué zhōngwén de, bùguò wǒ yě xǐhuān xué rìyǔ.
I study Chinese, but I also like studying Japanese.
2. 在 zài To be at/in
Chinese uses 在 to describe location, much like “at” or “in.” Whenever someone asks where something is, both the question and answer should use 在.
Nǐ zài nǎlǐ?
Where are you?
Wǒ zài kāfēi tīng.
I’m at the café.
You can also use the words 上 shàng or 下 xià to describe a location on top of or underneath an object, respectively.
Shū zài zhuōzi shàng.
The book is on the table.
Wǒ de shǒujī zài yǐzi xià.
My phone is under the chair.
3. 去 qù To go
Headed somewhere? You’ll need to use 去 to describe your action of going to a location.
Wǒ xiǎng qù túshū guǎn zuò zuo yè.
I want to go to the library to do homework.
4. 来 lái To come
In a way, the word 来 is like the opposite of 去, describing movement toward the speaker rather than away.
Qǐng lái zhèlǐ chīfàn.
Please come here to eat.
5. 回 huí To return, go backAnother verb to describe travel or motion is 回. Often, this word is used in conjunction with 来 or 去 to describe returning coming or going back to a location.
Xiǎng huí jiā ma?
Do you want to return home?
Come back quickly!
They went back.
6. 到 dào To Arrive
As a verb, 到 describes the act of arriving, whether it’s a person arriving at a location, a train pulling into a station, or time reaching its limit.
Wǒmen dào chēzhàn le. Huǒchē yě dào le.
We have arrived at the station. The train got here too.
Shíjiān dào le.
Time is up.
7. 看 kàn To look, watch
Whatever your eyes are pointed at, chances are you can use 看 to describe the act of looking or watching. You can even use 看 to talk about reading silently to yourself.
Nǐ xiǎng kàn nǎge diànyǐng?
Which movie do you want to watch?
Wǒ kàn bàozhǐ de shíhòu bùnéng kàn diànshì.
I can’t watch TV while I’m reading the newspaper.
The word 看 can also be used to describe or ask about someone’s view on a matter, often used with 来.
Nǐ zěnme kàn zhège wèntí?
What do you think of the problem?
Zài wǒ kàn lái, bùshì hěn zhòngyào.
It’s not that big of a deal in my view.
8. 想 xiǎng Would like to; To think
The word 想 is most commonly used with another verb to describe wanting to do something.
Tā xiǎng chī píngguǒ.
He wants to eat an apple.
But 想 also means “to think”. You can use 在想 to describe what you are thinking about or 想到 to describe arriving at a thought.
Wǒ zài xiǎng zěnme qù
I’m thinking of how I’ll go there.
Tāmen xiǎngdào yīgè bànfǎ le.
They thought of a way.
9. 要 yào To want; need; going to; order
The verb 要 can be used much like 想 when it comes to talking about what people want or need. However, 想 is only used in conjunction with other verbs (that is, wanting to do something), while 要 is more flexible because it can also be used with nouns (that is, wanting things).
Wǒ yào yī tái diànnǎo.
I need a computer.
When used with verbs, 要 often means “going to.”
Yào xià yǔle.
It’s going to rain.
Finally, 要 can be used to talk about ordering, as in making an order at a restaurant.
Wǒ péngyǒu yàole yībēi guǒzhī
My friend ordered a glass of juice.
10. 给 gěi To Give
Time to give you a few tips on how to use 给. The most common use of 给 as a verb is to describe the act of giving something.
Qǐng gěi wǒ yībēi shuǐ hē.
Please give me a glass of water to drink.
Additionally, 给 is commonly used as an alternative to 让 to mean “to let” or “to make”.
Gěi wǒ kàn kàn.
Let me take a look.
Shàngkè gěi wǒ lèi sǐle.
Class has tired me out.
11. 过 guò To pass, cross, exceed, celebrate (a holiday)
Of all the commonly used verbs in Chinese, 过 is one of the most difficult to master because it has so many meanings. Below are just a few of the ways that you will hear it being used as a verb.
One common use is to mean “to pass” or “to cross”.
Dēng lǜle, kěyǐguò mǎlù.
The light is green, (we) can cross the road.
Xiǎoxīn bùyàoguò zhàn.
Be careful not to pass the station.
Whenever you celebrate a birthday or holiday, you can use 过 to describe it.
Míngtiān zěnmeguò shēngrì?
How will (you) celebrate (your) birthday tomorrow?
You can also use 过 to describe exceeding or surpassing.
Kǎofēn guòle 90 fēn.
(I) scored more than 90 points on the test.
12. 会 huì Can, will, would
The word 会 is one of those verbs that is usually used before another verb. Its most common use is to describe having the knowledge or capability to do something.
Tā huì shuō hǎoduō yǔyán.
He can speak many languages.
However, using 会 with another verb can also describe future events as well as hypotheticals.
Wǒ yīdìng huì qù.
I will certainly go.
Dà wèi bù huì zài zhèlǐ.
David will not be here.
13. 有 yǒu Have; there is/are
Chinese uses the word 有 to talk about having something in the sense of possession, but it is also used in the sense of having done something, or more often, having not done something.
Important: For most verbs, you can use the word 不 bù, before them to form a negative, for example, “我不去 wǒ bù qù (I’m not going)”. But for 有, you almost always need to use the negative form “没有 méiyǒu”.
Wǒ māmā yǒu nà běn shū.
My mom has that book.
Wǒ míngtiān méiyǒu shíjiān.
I don’t have time tomorrow.
Tā hái méiyǒu lái.
He still hasn’t come.
You can also use 有 to talk about the existence of something.
Fàngxīn, yǒu yīgè cāntīng.
Don’t worry, there is a restaurant.
14. 能 néng Can, be able to
Here is another verb that means to be able to do something. Like 会, the word 能 can be used in the sense of knowing how to do something, but it is more commonly used in the sense of having permission or the ability to do something.
Nǐ bìngle bùnéng hējiǔ.
You can't drink alcohol if you are sick.
Wǒ néng jìnqù ma?
May I enter?
Additionally, you can use 能 to talk about possibilities.
Tā néng bù lái ma?
Is it possible she won’t come?
15. 可以 kěyǐ Can, may
The verb 可以 is often compared to 会 and 能. Unlike 会, however, it is rarely used to describe knowing how to do something. Instead, like 能, you can use it to talk about permission or possibility. When describing denied permission, 不可以 is stronger than 不能 and denotes an order (or a rule which must be followed).
Zhège chē kěyǐ zuò sì gèrén.
Four people can fit in this car.
Hái méiyǒu xiàkè, nǐ bù kěyǐ zǒu.
Class is not over, you may not leave.
16. 吃 chī To Eat
Who doesn’t love to eat? Use the word 吃 when talking about meals, snacks, and other edible things.
Wǒmen yīqǐ chī wǔfàn ba.
Let’s have lunch together.
Chī píngguǒ, hǎo ma?
Have an apple, will you?
Jīntiān chī yàole ma?
Did you take your medicine today?
17. 喝 hē To Drink
Not everything that goes in your belly can use 吃, however. For liquids, use 喝 to describe drinking.
Important: Chinese uses 喝, not 吃, to talk about consuming soup and yogurt!
Měitiān hē bā bēi shuǐ.
Drink eight glasses of water per day.
Hē tāng ma?
Would you like some soup?
18. 走 zǒu To Walk, leave
Whether it’s walking around or walking out, you can use 走 to describe it. In fact, when talking about leaving or getting started on a trip, it doesn’t have to be on foot! Use 走 when pressing the gas on your car or peddling away on a bicycle.
Wǒ xiǎng zǒu yī zǒu.
I want to walk around a bit.
My little sister left.
Chē zǒu dé hěn màn.
The car is moving quite slowly.
19. 跑步 pǎobù To Run
Now let’s pick up the pace! When your legs are carrying you swiftly down the track, 跑步 is the verb to use.
Pǎobù lái de, hěn lèi.
I ran here so I am tired.
20. 进 jìn To Enter, go/come in
Coming in? Use 进 to talk about entrance. You will also see 进 used often in conjunction with 去 and 来.
Please come in.
Wǒmen néng jìnqù ma?
May we enter?
The wind has come in.
21. 出 chū To Exit, go/come out
The word 出 is largely used in the same way as 进, except that it is used to describe going out rather than in.
Quick, get out!
However, 出 has another important use, which is to describe sudden arrival or happening.
Chūle yīgè wèntí.
A problem has arisen.
22. 知道 zhīdào To Know
Knowledge (about verbs) is power! The verb 知道 can be used to describe awareness, knowing facts, and knowing how to do something.
Lǎoshī zhīdào nǐ méiyǒu zuò zuòyè.
The teacher knows you didn’t do your homework.
Wǒ zhīdào zěnme zǒu.
I know the way to go.
Hǎo de, wǒ zhīdàole.
Alright, I got it.
23. 认识 rènshi To Know, recognize
When talking about knowing people, Chinese uses the verb 认识 instead of 知道.
Tā rènshí wǒ de lǎoshī.
She knows my teacher.
Additionally, 认识 can mean “to recognize.”
Wǒ bù rènshí nàgè zì.
I don’t recognize that character.
24. 了解 liǎojiě To Understand, comprehend
Use 了解 to talk about understanding and comprehension, especially when it comes to complex situations.
Zhè xuéshēng hěn liǎojiě kèchéng de nèiróng.
This student understands the course content.
Nǐ liǎojiě bàba de qíngkuàng ma?
Do you understand dad’s situation?
25. 明白 míngbái To Understand, realize
Here is another word that means to understand, but 明白 is used quite differently from 了解. Instead of deep comprehension, 明白 is often used to describe understanding of meaning or sudden realizations.
Wǒ míngbái tóngxué de yìsi.
I understand what my classmate is trying to say.
Wǒ túrán míngbái le.
Suddenly I understood.
26. 用 yòng To Use
Here’s a useful word for you. As a verb, 用 describes using something.
Nǐ huì yòng kuàizi ma?
Do you know how to use chopsticks?
Qǐng yòng zhōngwén lái shuō.
Please say it in Chinese.
However, strangely enough, 用 often means “need” when used in the negative.
Wǒ bùyòng xuéxí.
I don’t need to study.
27. 做 zuò To Do
In a way, 做 is verb for all verbs, referring generally to the actions we take.
Tā hái méiyǒu zuò zuòyè.
She hasn’t done her homework yet.
Zán me jīntiān zuò shénme ne?
What are we doing today？
Lái, wǒ gěi nǐ zuò fàn.
I’ll cook for you.
28. 听 tīng To Listen, hear
Listen up! Whenever sound enters your ears, you can use 听 to describe it.
Tīng lǎoshī shuōhuà.
Listen to what the teacher says.
Duìbùqǐ, méiyǒu tīng dào.
Sorry, I didn’t hear.
29. 说 shuō To Speak, say
When learning a new language, it’s important to know how to speak about speech itself!
Xiǎng shuō shénme?
What do you want to say?
Zhè zěnme shuō?
How can I say this?
When used as “say,” the word 说 by itself is enough, but when used as “speak,” you will often hear the word 说话 shuōhuà.
Gēn wǒ shuōhuà.
Speak with me.
30. 告诉 gàosù To Tell
A key part of speech is to tell others important information. For this, you can use the verb 告诉.
Qǐng gàosù dàjiā nǐ zěnme zuò de.
Please tell everyone how you did it.
31. 写 xiě To Write
Here is another important verb for any language learner that will help you talk (and write!) about putting pen to paper.
Zhège zì zěnme xiě?
How do I write this character?
32. 坐 zuò To Sit
Go ahead and take a seat for this verb. You can use 坐 to describe sitting on a chair, sofa, or even on the ground.
Wǒmen shàngkèle, qǐng zuò xià.
Class has started, please sit down.
33. 起来 qǐlái To Stand up, rise
It’s not healthy to sit too long! At some point, you have to stand back up. Use 起来 to describe this action.
Hěn lèi, bùxiǎng qǐlái.
I’m so tired, I don’t want to get up.
34. 买 mǎi To Buy
As much as we’d like to save money, we all have to make purchases now and then. Whenever you exchange money for goods, 买 is the verb to use.
Wǒ mǎile yī běn shū kàn kàn.
I bought a book to read.
35. 卖 mài To Sell
You will notice that the character 卖 looks quite similar to 买, and sounds similar too, as the only difference is in the tone. That’s no coincidence! Whenever there is a buyer, there is a seller, too.
Zhè jiā diàn mài shénme?
What does this store sell?
36. 问 wèn To Ask
As you look over this list, you may have a few questions about how to use these verbs. Use the verb 问 when talking about asking.
Wèn yīxià, cèsuǒ zài nǎlǐ?
May I ask, where is the bathroom?
Wǒ yǒu hěnduō wèntí xiǎng wèn.
I have many questions I want to ask.
37. 回答 huídá To Answer
Hopefully you have someone who can answer all your questions about Chinese verbs. (If not, we’re happy to help!) Use 回答 describe the response to a question.
Ránhòu tā zěnme huídá?
Then how did she answer?
Lǎoshī huídá hěn qīngchǔ.
The teacher answered clearly.
38. 开 kāi To Open, turn on
Whether you are opening a door or turning on a light, 开 is the verb to use for both such occasions.
Please open the door.
Wǒ xiǎng kāi diànnǎo.
I’d like to turn on the computer.
39. 关 guān To Close, turn off
As the opposite of 开, the verb 关 is also usable with both doors and electronics.
The door is closed.
Bāng wǒ guān yīxià dēng.
Turn off the light for me.
40. 喜欢 xǐhuān To Like
Use the verb 喜欢 to talk about what gives you joy. This word can be used before nouns and other verbs.
Wǒ xǐhuān kāfēi.
I like coffee.
Nǐ xǐhuān kāichē ma?
Do you like driving?
41. 学 xué To Study, learn
Here’s a verb to describe what you’re doing right now – learning Chinese. You will also see this verb written as 学习 xuéxí.
Xué zhōngwén nán ma?
Is it hard to study Chinese?
Wǒ xiǎng xué yóuyǒng.
I want to learn to swim.
42. 教 jiāo To Teach
Though it’s possible to learn by oneself, it’s always helpful to have someone to teach you. To describe the action of teaching, use 教.
Lǎoshī yě huì jiào wénxué.
The teacher can also teach literature.
43. 住 zhù To Live (somewhere), stay
When discussing where people reside, use the verb 住, usually along with 在. This verb can also be used for temporary stays, such as at a hotel.
Tā zhù zài běijīng.
He lives in Beijing.
Wǒmen zhù lǚguǎn ba.
Let’s stay in a hotel.
44. 帮助bāng zhù To Help
Everyone can use a hand now and then. The verb 帮 or 帮助 describes helping others as well as things and actions that are helpful. While 帮 is always a verb, 帮助 can also be a noun.
Tā xǐhuān bāngzhù biérén.
He likes to help others.
45. 等 děng To Wait
Patience is key to learning any language. The verb 等 can be used to talk about waiting, or, most often, to ask someone to wait.
Qǐng děng yīxià.
Please wait a moment.
Wǒmen děngle hǎojiǔ.
We have been waiting a long time.
46. 欢迎 huānyíng To Welcome, to be welcome
The verb 欢迎 often starts a sentence, indicating that the speaker is welcoming guests. If another verb follows after 欢迎, then the speaker is usually welcoming guests to do or participate in something.
Běijīng huānyíng nǐ.
Welcome to Beijing.
Lǎoshī huānyíngle tā de xuéshēng.
The teacher welcomed his student.
47. 介绍 jièshào To Introduce
The verb 介绍 is important to know when meeting new people, as you might be asked to introduce yourself.
Qǐng jièshào zìjǐ.
Please introduce yourself.
48. 觉得 juéde To Feel, think
Here’s a verb that’s useful for talking about your own opinions, thoughts, or outlook.
Wǒ juédé hǎokàn.
I think it looks good.
Nǐ juédé ne?
What do you think?
But 觉得 can also be used to talk about feelings.
Tā juédé hěn lèi.
He feels very tired.
49. 开始 kāishǐ To Start, begin
Everything has a beginning. Use 开始 to talk about starting tasks or processes.
The movie has started.
Jīntiān cóng dì èr kè kāishǐ.
We’ll start from the second lesson today.
50. 结束 jiéshù To Finish, end
Of course, everything, too, must come to an end. Use 结束 to talk about wrapping things up.
Wǒmen jiéshùle, kěyǐ xiàkè.
We’ve finished, class is over.
Post contributed by Joey Knotts