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I have just started learning Chinese and I know that 姓 can be both a verb and a noun. I wondered whether there are a lot of other Chinese verbs that can also be used as nouns. For example, is a sentence like 我要吃 a grammatically correct sentence in Chinese? Or better (since in this example 吃 cannot be interpreted as a verb): 这个 吃很好.

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In classic Chinese, the part of speech of a character often changes. Even a number can be used a verb.

士也罔极,二三其德

Here 二三(lit. two and three) means "vary, change".

In modern Chinese, since many words consists of two or moer characters, this phenomenon is much less common than that in classic Chinese. Some other examples:

画 (v) to draw; (n) picture

锁 (v) to lock; (n) lock

爱 (v) to love; (n) love

梦 (v) to dream; (n) dream

For your question, 我要吃 is correct. However, here it's a verb indeed, and in most cases, you need the object, as @dan already pointed out. In some contexts, the object may be omitted, and hence 我要吃 sounds perfect.

A:我有巧克力,你要吃吗? I have some chocolate, would you like some?

B:我要吃 I want to eat (it), or more idiomatically, yeah, please

For some verbs, you can use the structure "Verb+的" to nominalize it.

吃的= something edible

穿的 = cloth, something to wear

  • ""since many words consists of two or moer characters, this phenomenon is much less common than that in classic Chinese" why is that the reason? – M. Van Sep 25 '17 at 13:43
  • could we even say that in classical chinese the difference between noun and verb is just where it is in the sentence, and that a single word most of the time is not, on its own, a verb or a noun?(maybe I just really want this to be true, and it isn't so but in any case I wonder about it) I ask this because I actually have the feeling that by calling some chinese characters 'nouns' or 'verbs' we are sort of trying to impose systems in classical latin grammar that are not well equipped for chinese. – M. Van Sep 25 '17 at 13:47
  • I mean to say: maybe for (classical) chinese it isn't possible to, like in most european languages, put at every word in the dictionary whether it is a verb or a noun solely based on what it sounds like (english is a bad example for this, since eat could be a noun and a verb, however 'eats' is always a verb. In latin or spanish this is more extremely so) – M. Van Sep 25 '17 at 13:50
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    @M.Van In classic Chinese, in most cases, one character is one word, and the part of speech is often determined by the context. However, in modern Chinese, a word often consists of more characters. Now that you have many many words, why not assign a certain part of speech to them? I'm not sure of the logic behind it, but the fact is that, these ‘compound" words often have a certain part of speech. – Huang Sep 25 '17 at 14:19
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There are lots of words that can be both verb and noun. As you said, 姓 is one of them. I don't have a full list for all of them.

As for 吃, most of time it's a verb.

In 我要吃, 吃 is a verb. To be more clear, you can put a target for it, like 我要吃;我要吃水果; etc.

这个吃很好 is unnatural. It should be 这个很好吃. 很好 is an adverb modifying the verb 吃.

One case in which 吃 is used as a noun is 口吃,meaning stutter.

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