I am having trouble determining whether using both characters in a dual-character verb is always necessary. I am unsure about intransitive vs transitive verbs and am trying to better understand the meaning of a direct object. I notice a ton of questions on this matter so I will refrain from repeating it.

However, my question is concerned with meaning. That is, is it better to err on the side of caution and simply use both characters in a dual-character verb? I find that it is more common for dual verbs (such as 成为,知道,开始,明白) to be compact i.e. removing one character from it changes the meaning entirely, e.g. 明白 vs 明. But with others, listed below, including both characters is not required (these are transitive verbs...?).

How is the meaning affected if the not-required character is actually included?







Some two-character verbs or verbal phrases are constructed as verb-object phrases (seperable verbs), e.g. 吃饭 (eat a meal) and 说话 (speak words). As they already have an object, you usually cannot have another object afterwards.

The first two sentences are therefore ungrammatical.

*我想吃饭炒面。=> 我想吃炒面。

*他们会说话德文。=> 他们会说德文。

饭 and 话 are not only unnecessary, but putting them there is simply wrong (you wouldn't say "I want to eat a meal fried noodles" right?).

In the case of 学习 and 阅读, these two-character verbs are pleonasms to fit words into the Chinese phonology. Individually, 学 and 习 mean roughly the same thing (learn, study) as are 阅 and 读 (read). Even when combined, they are still transitive verbal phrases that can accept objects.

However, in contemporary Chinese, one of the character is usually preferred (depending on the context and regional dialect) when there is an object and we want to simplify it. In the case of 学习 and 阅读, 学 and 读 are overwhelmingly preferred in standard Mainland Mandarin for ordinary contexts. Compare: "How to study and learn" and "I have read and perused the many books" are all fine constructions in English. As with English, their meanings when used separately have subtle differences (that I can't explain fully in this answer) and the choice of which heavily depends on phonological contexts and language register (e.g. 阅 is more literary than 读).

So, the third and fourth sentences are grammatical and they can be also simplified.

你在学习英文。 = 你在学英文。

你在阅读什么书? = 你在读什么书?

Using 习 here is possibly acceptable (especially for certain dialects) while using 阅 here is weird and borderline ungrammatical.

The simplified sentences have the same meanings and the subtle differences are insignificant and again dependent on the broader context.

  • 3
    Typo in the correction of "我想吃饭炒面"? You didn't seem to actually do anything to the incorrect sentence. – Sweeper Apr 17 '20 at 20:39

If you add somethings after single character verb, sometimes it can be strange and not acceptable . Use 吃炒麵 is ok. 吃飯炒麵 is not acceptable. 說話德文 is not acceptable.

While sometimes it is still acceptable and right. Use your example, 學習英文 is acceptable.(習 is accepted to add after 學) 閱讀 is acceptable(use 你在讀什麼書 is ok too, but not 你在閱什麼書. 閱 is accepted to add before 讀).

While sometimes, verb is not single character, so all character need to be used at the same time. It must be used together not separate them. For example, 躊躇, 躊 and 躇 need to be used together. So both of 躊 and 躇 cannot be used alone.


My textbook explains this grammar.

Action verbs 说,看,吃,写,画,唱,洗,睡,etc. are usually followed by a noun-phrase.

I speak English. 我说英文。

I eat noodles. 我吃面。

I read a book. 我看书。

If you are generalising then you don't have a noun-phrase.

I speak. 我说。

I eat. 我吃。

I read. 我看。

Those short noun-phrase-less sentences are correct in context but in general are awkward and Chinese prefers to include an ''obligatory noun-phrase''. i.e. a generic noun-phrase just to have something there.

I speak. 我说话。 Not necessarily speaking 话.

I eat. 我吃饭。 Not necessarily eating 饭.

I read. 我看书。 Not necessarily reading a 书.

If you want to emphasise that you are eating rice you would say:

我吃米饭 or maybe 我吃一碗饭,etc. Use a classifier/measure-word.

The same goes for reading a book.

我看一本书。I am reading a book.

我看书。I am reading. Maybe you are reading a 报纸 or a 杂志.

Most action verbs have one ''obligatory object'' assigned to them.

Here is a list for your reference:


Finally, if you have a noun-phrase DO NOT include the obligatory object.

Don't say 我吃饭面条,我说话英语,我看书报纸,etc.

Drop the obligatory object if you have a noun-phrase.


  • 1
    If you don't mind me asking, what textbook is this from? Appreciate the list of action-verbs – MuchAppreciated25 Apr 18 '20 at 23:15
  • 1
    @MuchAppreciated25 Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar , A Practical Guide , Second Edition , Claudia Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma , Routledge – Kantura Apr 19 '20 at 7:49

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