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Stative Verbs

Verbs or Adjectives


Mandarin Chinese has a class of verb called stative verbs, which are used to describe a state which is relatively unchanging. Examples of stative verbs include gāo (tall), gùi (expensive), and dà (large).

These stative verbs are often translated into English as adjectives, but they function as verbs in Mandarin sentences. Take the sentence:

Tā hěn gāo. 他很高。

This is translated into English as “He is tall,” but the literal translation is “He very tall.”

The literal translation does not have the English verb “is” (to be), which is shì (是) in Mandarin.

The verb shì (是) is not a stative verb, and is primarily used between two nouns to indicate identity e.g. Tā shì jiānádà rén (He is Canadian). It is incorrect to say “tā shì gāo” in Mandarin Chinese.

Joining Noun and Adjective

The function of stative verbs is to describe a noun. A joining word is needed between the noun and the description. Just as it is incorrect to say “tā shì gāo,” it is also incorrect to say “tā gāo.” In the sentence “tā hěn gāo,” “hěn” is a link between “tā” and “gāo.”

Even though “hěn” can be translated as “very,” this meaning is not necessary in the translation. ”Tā hěn gāo” can mean “He is very tall,” or “He is tall.” “Hěn” can be used when there is no other suitable connector between noun and stative verb.

Joining Words

Some common words that can be used between noun and descriptor are:

Pinyin English Characters
hěn very
tài too
zhēn truly
yī diǎn a little 一點


When making a negative sentence, the joining word is , which is translated as “not.”

”Tā bù gāo” means “He is not tall.”

See also: Mandarin Chinese Adjectives

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