Chapter 11: Chinese Stative verbs


Chinese Grammar  Updated: Sat, Oct 20, 2012 19:48 PM   By HugChina


Stative verbs describe situations that do not involve action. Examples of Chinese stative verbs include 喜欢, 爱, 像, 想, 要, 怕, 尊敬, 感谢, 懂, 信, 想念, etc.

Stative verbs describe situations that do not involve action. Examples of stative verbs include 喜欢 xǐhuan ‘to like,’ 爱 ài ‘to love,’ 像xiàng ‘to resemble,’ 想xiǎng ‘to want,’ 要 yào ‘to want,’需要xūyào ‘to need,’ 怕pà ‘to fear,’ 尊敬zūnjìng ‘to respect,’ 感谢gǎnxiè ‘to appreciate,’懂 dǒng ‘to understand,’信xìn ‘to believe,’ and想念xiǎngniàn ‘to miss.’ Certain stative verbs have special meanings and properties and will be discussed separately below. They include the equational verbs 是shì ‘to be’ and 姓xìng ‘to be family named,’ and the verb 有 yǒu ‘to have,’ ‘to exist.’

Stative verbs are similar to adjectival verbs in their form of negation, their occurrence with intensifiers, and their use in comparison structures.

1. Negation of stative verbs

Most stative verbs may only be negated by 不 bù. The stative verb 有yǒu ‘to have’ may only be negated by 没 méi.

不 bù negates most stative verbs:

他不像他爸爸 He doesn’t resemble his dad.

他不怕狗 He is not afraid of dogs.

我不要钱 I don’t want money.

没méi only negates 有 yǒu

他没有车 He doesn’t have a car.

2. Modification by intensifiers

Stative verbs, like adjectival verbs, can be preceded and modified by intensifiers. The intensifiers are emphasized in each of the following sentences.

我们很尊敬他 We all respect him a lot.

我很想念你 I miss you a lot.

我真怕这种人 I’m really afraid of this kind of person.

他特别需要你的支持 He especially needs your support.

For a complete list of intensifiers, see section 10.3

3. Indicating completion, past time, and change of state

The verb suffixes 了le or 过 guo cannot be used to indicate the completion or past time of a stative verb. To indicate that a state existed in the past, use a time expression or adverb that refers to the past.

我小的时候怕狗 When I was small I was afraid of dogs.

我以前很喜欢吃口香糖 I used to like to chew gum. (lit. ‘Before, I liked to chew gum.’)

When a stative verb is followed by 了le, it indicates change of state.

我懂了! I understand (now)!

Some verbs can function as a stative verb and as an action verb.

有yǒu as a stative verb: 他很有钱 She has a lot of money. She is rich.

有yǒu as an action verb:她有了一笔钱 She has acquired a sum of money.

4. The equational verb _ 是shì ‘to be’

是shì ‘to be’ joins two noun phrases and indicates an equational relationship between them.

她是大学生 She is a college student.

王老师是英国人 Professor Wang is English (an English person).

The negation of 是 shì is 不是 bù shì.

她不是大学生 She is not a college student.

王老师不是英国人 Professor Wang is not English (an English person).

是shì is used less often than the English verb ‘to be.’ In particular, in Mandarin, 是shì is ordinarily not used with adjectival verbs or stative verbs. In most circumstances,

My younger brother is very tall. Say this:我的弟弟很高; Not this:我的弟弟是很高

He is very intelligent. Say this:他很聪明 Not this:他是很聪明

是 shì is only used with adjectival verbs or stative verbs for special emphasis, especially contrastive emphasis.

你是很高了! You really are tall!

那本书是很贵。That book is expensive, despite what you claim.

他是很聪明。He really is intelligent (despite what you may think).

是 shì can be used for contrastive emphasis with action verbs.

我是明天走,不是今天走 I am leaving tomorrow. I am not leaving today.

是 shì is not used to indicate location or existence.

When the object of 是 shì includes a number (for example, when it refers to money, age, time, etc.) 是 shì can be omitted in affirmative form.

那本书(是)五块钱。 That book is $5.00

我妹妹(是)十八岁。My younger sister is 18 years old.

现在(是)八点钟。 It is now 8 o’clock.

However, when the object is negated, 是 shì cannot be omitted.

That book is not $5.00.

Say this:那本书不是五块钱。 Not this:那本书不五块钱。

My younger sister is not 18 years old.

Say this:我妹妹不是十八岁。 Not this:我妹妹不十八岁。

It is not 8 o’clock now.

Say this:现在不是八点钟。 Not this:现在不八点钟。

是shì is used to focus on some detail of a situation, for example the time, place, or participants in a situation, or the material that something is made from.

他是昨天来的。It was yesterday that he came. (He came yesterday.)

我是在大学学中文。It is at the university where I study Chinese. (I study Chinese at university.)

我的耳环是(用)金子做的。My earrings are made of gold.

5. The equational verb 姓 xìng ‘to be family named’

tell someone your family name or to indicate the family name of another person, use 姓 xìng.

我姓罗。My family name is Luo.

她姓马。Her family name is Ma.

The negation of 姓xìng is 不姓 bù xìng.

我不姓李,我姓罗。My family name isn’t Li. My family name is Luo.

To ask someone’s family name, say:

你姓什么? What is your family name?

The very polite way to ask someone’s family name is:

你贵姓? (What is) your honorable family name?

6. The verb of possession and existence: 有 yǒu ‘to have,’ ‘to exist’

有 yǒu has two meanings: ‘to have’ and ‘to exist.’

6.1 有yǒu used to express possession

有yǒu means ‘to have’ when the subject is something that can have possessions. This includes people, animals, or any other noun that can be described as ‘having’ things:

我有一个弟弟。 I have a younger brother.

那个书店有很多旧书。 That bookstore has many old books.

中国有很多名胜古迹。 China has many scenic spots and historical sites.

6.2 有yǒu used to express existence

有yǒu indicates existence when the subject is a location. The most common English translation of this meaning is ‘there is’ or ‘there are.’

房子后头有一个小湖. Behind the house there is a small lake.

那儿有很多人排队. There are a lot of people there waiting in line.

6.3 Possession vs. existence

The meanings of possession and existence are closely related, and often a Chinese sentence with 有 yǒu can be interpreted as conveying either possession or existence. The difference in interpretation typically depends upon whether the subject is understood to be a possessor or a location.

美国大学有很多留学生。American universities have many exchange students. There are many exchange students in American universities.

这个图书馆有很多中文书。 This library has a lot of Chinese books. There are a lot of Chinese books in this library.

6.4 Negation of 有yǒu

The negation of 有 yǒu is always 没有méi yǒu.

我没有弟弟。I do not have a younger brother.

房子后头没有湖。There is no lake behind the house.

这个图书馆没有很多中文书。This library does not have a lot of Chinese books. There aren’t a lot of Chinese books in this library.

7. The location verb 在 zài ‘to be located at’

To indicate location, use 在zài.

他在家。 He is at home.

图书馆在公园的北边。The library is north of the park.

Notice that English uses the verb ‘to be’ and the preposition ‘at’ to express this meaning.

The negation for 在zài is 不在bù zài.

他不在家。 He is not at home.

图书馆不在公园的北边。The library is not to the north of the park.

在 zài also functions as a preposition. As a preposition, it indicates the location where an action occurs. Depending upon the sentence, it may be translated into English as ‘at,’ or ‘in,’ or ‘on.’

他在家吃饭。He eats at home.

孩子们在公园里玩。The children play in the park.

comments powered by Disqus