Problem: Lately I started to get concerned if there are pure transitive or intransitive verbs in Chinese. At first look, there are many verbs that do not require an immediate object/宾语 like 睡觉 or 吃饭. These are mostly called separable verbs/离合动词, these verbs already contain an object within and can be easily checked by some quantifier insertion: 吃一个饭, 洗一个澡.... Do we call them intransitive?

What about such verbs as 参加, 游泳 or 去, 回, 走? A noun used after these verbs is considered to be an adverbial of place not an object. It looks like in Chinese such linguisitc property as transitivity / intransitivity heavily relies on verb semantics in constrast to other languages.

Question: Are there transitive / intransitive verbs in Chinese?

1 Answer 1


I don't think "What do you think" is really a suitable question here... So I'll address the question in the title instead ("Are there transitive/及物动词 or intransitive/不及物动词 verbs in Chinese?"):

Sure there are. And I really doubt they are "mostly" separable verbs.

For instance: 他走了 "he left", or 花開了 "the flower blossomed". There are a large number of such verbs that seems quite clearly intransitive. There are also many that goes both ways like in English. The character for example is by itself also a verb (in contrast to your example of 吃飯), and it can be both intransitive: 我吃了 "I ate", as well as transitive: 我吃派了 "I ate pie".

You claim regarding 參加 or 游泳 taking adverbials of place instead of objects seems highly suspect to me. I fail to see what is adverbial about 比賽 in 我參加了比賽 "I joined a tournament".

  • Would you call 比賽 a direct object, a thing that is acted upon of 參加 "to take part" verb? It is obviously more an adverbial than it is an object because it is an event which is held and I am taking part in it. Thus verb semantics I am inferring above. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 21:18
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    @minerals 比賽 is definitely a direct object in that sentence. You're reasoning about it wrong--"direct object" is a syntactic property, not a semantic one. Although it often is the case that a direct object is "a thing that is acted upon", that need not be the case. In order for it to be an indirect object, it would really need to be part of a preposition phrase or some similar syntactic construct (e.g., "double" objects). Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 0:05
  • @StumpyJoePete I'd say it is a relation type, but yes, from syntactical point it is a direct object. However syntactical approach is no good for fact extraction, which I am more interested in. Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 0:59

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