I know of many verbs that can be expressed as a single character or two characters (i.e. 说 & 说话). The issue is that I don't know when it is appropriate to use one of over the other. Is it dependent on the subsequent word? For example, "我吃米" and "我吃饭面包"? Or is it the other way around? Neither? Personal preference perhaps!? I've read that there is a natural tendency in Chinese to minimize the number of characters in compound words. That being the case, should I avoid using the two characters versions entirely?

  • Indeed, 吃饭 means to have meal, not to eat.
    – 魏小淇
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:49
  • Don’t eat 米 - it’s not cooked!
    – Mou某
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 5:05

1 Answer 1


I'll try answering this (but be aware I'm just a learner).

The given examples are transitive vs. intransitive verbs:

  1. 说 vs. 说话. Here, is a transitive verb (i.e., it takes an object) whereas 说话 is an intransitive verb (i.e., it doesn't take an object):

    He says hello

    Why do you speak that way?

    We can alternatively think of (noun) as what is being said (说).

  2. 吃 vs. 吃饭. Again, is a transitive verb whereas 吃饭 is an intransitive verb, so 我吃饭面包 is incorrect, but 我面包 is correct.

    Again, we can alternatively think of as the object being eating (吃).

(I also note that both 说 and 吃 can be used as intransitive verbs, e.g., 你别说了 and 他什么都没吃.)

学 vs. 学习

Another example is and 学习 which are both transitive verbs. So both of these are grammatical:


In this case, which do we choose? See this question: What's the difference between 学 and 学习? It's somewhat a matter of preference, circumstance, etc.

  • Where should I look to see whether a verb is transitive or intransitive? The online dictionary I have been resorting to doesn't have such information Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 15:01
  • 1
    I don’t really have a good answer to that. I just look up example sentences at YouDao or Jukuu and see how they’re used. I generally just look at a bunch of examples and familiarize myself with how Chinese people use words.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 0:34

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