Chapter 12: Chinese modal verbs
Chinese Grammar Updated: Sun, Oct 21, 2012 00:02 AM By HugChina
Modal verbs occur before a verb and express the meanings of possibility, ability, permission, obligation, and prohibition. Chinese modal verbs include: 会, 能, 可以, 必须, 必得, 应当
1. Expressing possibility:会huì明天会下雨。 It may rain tomorrow.我希望我们将来会有机会再见。 I hope that in the future we will have the chance to meet again.Notice that this meaning of 会 huì also implies future time.
2. Expressing ability
2.1 会huì会 huì expresses innate ability or ability based on learning and knowledge. The negative is不会 bù huì.她会说中文。She can speak Chinese.我不会写那个字。I can’t write that character.
2.2 能néng能 néng expresses physical ability or the unobstructed ability to perform some action. 不能bù néng is used when performance is obstructed.你能不能把桌子搬到那边去？ Can you move this table over there? (lit: Can you take this table and move it over there?)他的嗓子疼，不能说话。His throat is sore. He can’t speak.现在在修路，不能过。 The road is being repaired now. You can’t cross it.
2.3 可以kéyǐ可以 kéyǐ is sometimes used to express knowledge-based or physical ability. The negative is 不可以 bù kéyǐ.你可以不可以写你的名字？ Can you write your name?她已经八十岁了，可是还可以骑自行车。She is already eighty years old but can still ride a bicycle.
3. Expressing permission: 可以 kéyǐThe primary use of 可以kéyǐ is to express permission to perform an action. The negative is 不可以bù kéyǐ妈妈说我可以跟你去看电影。Mom said I can go with you to see a movie.你才十六岁，不可以喝酒。You are only 16 years old. You cannot drink alcohol.
4. Expressing obligationsObligations may be strong (must) or weak (should). In Mandarin, as in English, negation often changes the force of the words used to express obligation. This section presents a brief overview of the use of modal verbs to express obligations.
4.1 Strong obligation: must, have toThe Mandarin words used to indicate strong obligation (must) in Mandarin are 必须 bìxū, 必得 bìděi, and 得děi. 必得bìdei and 必须 bìxūare more formal than 得 děi. 必须bìxū is used in legal pronouncements and in other formal spoken and written contexts.必须 bìxū：婚前必须做健康检查。Before you get married you must have a physical exam. 必得bìděi：医生说我每天必得吃药。The doctor says I must take medicine every day.得 děi：住院前得先付钱。Before being admitted to the hospital you must ﬁrst pay a fee.
4.2 ‘Weak obligations’ – Socal and moral obligation: should, ought toThe modal verbs used to express weak obligations (should ) associated with social or moral responsibilities include 应该 yìnggāi,该 gpi, 应当 yìngdāng, and 当 dōng.应当yìngdāng is more formal than 应该 yìnggāi and can be used in formal texts including legal documents.该 is used in informal speech. 应该 is used in formal texts including legal documents. 应该 yìnggāi： 学生应该认真地学习。Students should study conscientiously. 该 gāi：你该早一点睡觉。You should go to sleep a little earlier.应当 yìngdāng：孩子应当尊敬父母。Children should respect their parents.
4.3 Using modal verbs to express negative obligations: need not, do not have to不必bù bì expresses negative obligations using the syllable 必bì that occurs in the strong obligation modal verbs 必得 bìděi and必须bìxū.你去看朋友的时候不必送礼物。When you visit friends it is not necessary to bring a gift.
5. Expressing prohibitionsThe following phrases involving modal verbs are used to express prohibitions. 不可以 bù kéyǐ ‘not allowed to’考试的时候不可以说话。 During the test you cannot speak.不能 bù néng ‘cannot’这些书都是内部刊物，你不能借。 Those books are all restricted publications. You can’t borrow them.这件事情，我不能告诉你。(As for) this matter, I can’t tell you about it.不许 bù xǔ ‘must not, not allowed’, 不许 bù xǔ is used in formal speech and writing.图书馆里不许抽烟。You are not allowed to smoke or eat (things) in the library.
6. Grammatical properties of modal verbs
6.1 Negation of modal verbsModal verbs are always negated with 不 bù and never with 没 méi.He can’t speak Chinese. : Say this: 他不会说中文。 Not this:他没会说中文。 You shouldn’t smoke.: Say this: 你不应该抽烟。 Not this:你没应该抽烟。Modal verbs indicating weak obligation, 会huì, 可以 kéyǐ,能néng, 应该 yìnggāi, and 应当yìngdāng, have the properties of stative verbs.
6.2 Questions with modal verbsModal verbs can occur as the short, one word answers to yes–no questions.
|Can you speak Chinese?你会不会说中文？/ 你会说中文吗？||会Huì. (I) can.|
|Can I borrow your car?我可（以）不可以借你的车？/ 我可以借你的车吗？||可以Kéym. (You) can.|
|Can you help me?你能不能帮助我？/ 你能帮助我吗？||能Néng. (I) can.|
|Should we hand in our homework?我们该不该交作业？/ 我们该交作业吗？||该Gpi. (We) should.|