Some sentences that I have seen contain the pattern "verb + 了 + verb". An example of this is:

"他們碰了碰杯子。" [1]

Since in all examples that I have seen the verb before and after 了 is the same, I believe that this pattern is a combination of verb reduplication and 了1 (comes after verbs and expresses completion).

A very literal translation of the above sentence would therefore be:

"They have briefly hit the glasses."

So far, I have been unable to verify or falsify the above hypothesis. Am I on the right track or does the "verb + 了 + verb" pattern express something else?

[1] https://www.chineseboost.com/grammar/peng-pengjian-pengshang/

  • media.eblcu.cn/cls/demo/401053/course/1/1/sid002.htm:如果表示过去,在中间加上“了”for more discussion and confirmation search web using e。g。动词重叠->
    – user6065
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 14:44
  • You're correct. Colloquial verb reduplication means 'briefly' and 了 indicates completion.
    – NS.X.
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 19:12
  • "实用现代汉语语法"|第二编|词类|第四章|动词|第四节|动词的重叠|三、动词重叠的表达功能(二)用于已然的动作时,重叠的动词之间往往加"了",所表示的动作持续的时间一定很短,一般用于两种情况:1。有一些人体动作可以表示大家公认的特定的意思,如摇头表示否定或惋惜,点头表示肯定,称赞或打招呼,拍肩膀表示关系亲密,皱眉表示不满意,耸肩表示无可奈何,挠头表示没有办法,努嘴、用手指有指示作用,眨眼睛表示困惑不解,伸舌头表示不好意思,等等,即通常所谓的体态语、身势语。这些动作一般持续的时间都相当短,动词重叠形式是表达这种动作的最常见的方式。例如:(1)小宁伸了伸舌头不觉摸了一下脑袋,又嘻嘻笑了起来。(2)祥子摇摇头:"不要紧。"(3)他见了我只点点头,没说话。2。用于一个持续时间不会很长的动作。例如:(4)欧阳海看了看停在旁边的火车,又看了看从火车上下来的人,微笑了一下,就闭上了眼睛。(5)徐书记又给他讲了讲酒厂的前途,摆了摆条件。(6)善良的铁人羞怯地笑笑,眨巴眨巴眼睛,红了脸。(7)祥子更上了火,他故意把车停住了,掸了掸身上的雪。这样用的动词重叠形式,所表示的动作也有比较随意的意味。比如例(5),如果改成"徐书记又给他讲了酒厂的前途,并摆了有利条件和不利条件。"语气就严肃正式得多。表示已然动作时,如果动作须经过一个过程才能完成的,就不能用动词重叠形式。比如下面的句子是不对的。
    – user6065
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 21:04
  • (5)听了我的话,他点了点头,没说话。(6)老师敲了敲桌子,叫大家注意听。
    – user6065
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 22:10
  • another source,"外国人实用汉语语法"第二节|动词(十)关于动词重叠。Reduplication of verbs 4.注意事项;Points that merit special attention:(3)如果要表示动作已完成,需用动态助词"了","了"要放在重叠动词中间。例如:If the aspectual particle 了 is used to emphasize the completion of an action, 了 must be placed between the two parts of the reduplicated verb. For example: 他坐了坐。大家休息了休息。我看了看。我们商量了商量。
    – user6065
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 23:15

3 Answers 3


Quote from the "Verb" page of the Chinese Grammar Wiki:


In Chinese, verb reduplication is a common phenomenon. Reduplication indicates one or more of the following:

  • A short, quick action
  • An attempt
  • Something being light and relaxed

When reduplicating single character verbs such as 看, 一 can optionally be inserted between them e.g. 看一看. On the other hand, when you are reduplicating two character verbs, (e.g. 整理整理), 一 can't be inserted between them. The reduplicated part of the verb is always pronounced with a neutral tone. If the aspect particle 了 is used, it must be inserted between the reduplicated verbs, not afterwards, so it would be "看了看" not "看看了."

Which shows that the structure is a reduplication of single character verb with aspectual le


Users https://chinese.stackexchange.com/users/798/ns-x and https://chinese.stackexchange.com/users/6065/user6065 have both confirmed that the pattern is, indeed, verb reduplication combined with 了1, the combination indicating that the action is both brief and completed.

Thanks both for your answers! Although this is very basic to most of you readers, it means a lot to me to have the confirmation.


You can’t really “prove” a hypothesis regarding the daily use of language. What you can do is identify a general rule of thumb, then understand it is a principle that most people abide by in daily life, but also recognise that a certain expression may change its meaning over time.

Most of the time, verb + 了 + verb is a relatively vivid description of an action, so as to emphasise the swiftness and “lightness” of the action. This is generally the rule of thumb, but if one day, some author decides to come up with some revolutionary way to use the aforementioned construction, then one would probably just adapt to the new usage.

  • It’s just like how 和谐, or by extension 河蟹, magically became popular “verbs” used by netizens, simply because these two nouns were used enough times by netizens, and everyone decided to accept this new, informal definition.
    – Axel Tong
    Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 9:21

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