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Top 10 Most Common Chinese mistakes made by English Speakers: #6


Hi, Yangyang here again! What's the best holiday gift I could give you, aside from helping you avoid some more common Chinese mistakes?

This is the fifth in a series of posts on the most common mistakes English speakers make when speaking Chinese.

In my years of teaching Chinese, I have come to notice that English speakers tend to make similar mistakes over and over again. Today, I am going to tell you the most common mistake #7.

The goal here is to become aware of these mistakes to help you avoid making them in the first place! 

Mistake #6: Confusion about “verb + default object” verbs

In Chinese, there’s such a concept called “verb-plus-default-object-verb”. For example, the English word “to read” can either be “kàn” (看) or “kàn shū” (看书) depending on how you use it. “Kàn shū” (看书) is a “verb-plus-default-object-verb”.

In English, you can say “I like to read magazines”, “I like to read boks”, “I like to read novels”. “to read” for these three sentences is “kàn” (看).

However if you just want to say “I like to read” without referring to anything specific, you’ll have to assign a default object to the verb “to read”, which is “book - shū” (书).

The idea is pretty simple: if you don’t specify, we’re going to specify for you by assigning an obligatory object to your verb. So “to read” in the sentence “I like to read” is “kàn shū” (看书). We call such verbs as “kàn shū” (看书) “verb-plus-default-object-verbs.”

So in Chinese, when you say “I like to read”, you are literally saying I like to read books”.

If you have something specific to refer to, for example, if you want to say “I like to read newspaper”, you should go right ahead and use that specific thing – “newspapers” to replace the default object- “book - shū” (书). (Remember, in this case, you need to get rid of the default object “book - shū” (书).

To read

kàn shū ( / ) = read + book  

I like to read (books).
wǒ xǐ huān kàn shū。
我喜欢书。/ 我喜歡書。 

I like to read newspapers.
wǒ xǐ huān kàn bào zhǐ。
我喜欢报纸。/ 我喜歡報紙。

I like to read novels.
wǒ xǐ huān kàn xiǎo shuō。 
我喜欢小说。/ 我喜歡小說。

The following list covers some common "verb-plus-default-object-verbs" .

To sing

chànɡ ɡē (唱 ) = sing + song

I like to sing.
wǒ xǐ huān chànɡ ɡē
我喜欢唱歌。/ 我喜歡唱歌


I like to sing Chinese songs
wǒ xǐ huān chànɡ zhōnɡ wén ɡē。
我喜欢中文歌。/ 我喜歡中文歌。 

To eat

chī fàn (吃 / ) = eat + meal

I like to eat.
wǒ xǐ huān chī fàn
我喜欢吃饭。/ 我喜歡吃飯。 


What do you want to eat?
nǐ xiǎnɡ chī shén me?
你想什么?/ 你想什麼?

To drive

kāi chē (开 / ) = drive + car

I drive to work everyday.
wǒ měi tiān kāi chē shànɡ bān。
我每天开车上班。/ 我每天開車上班。 

kāi ()

What car do you drive? (lit. You drive what car?)
kāi shén me chē?
什么车?/ 你什麼車?

To run

pǎo bù (跑 ) = run + step

I like to run (jog) in the morning.
wǒ xǐ huān zǎo shàng pǎo bù
我喜欢早上跑步。/ 我喜歡早上跑步。 

pǎo 跑 

I like to run marathons.
wǒ xǐ huān pǎo marathon。 
我喜欢marathon。/ 我喜歡marathon。

To treat

qǐnɡ kè (请 / ) = treat + guest

My treat today. (lit. Today I treat.)
jīn tiān wǒ qǐnɡ kè
今天我请客。/ 今天我請客。 

qǐnɡ ()

I like to treat friends to meals.
wǒ xǐ huān qǐnɡ pénɡ you chī fàn。
我喜欢朋友吃飯。/ 我喜歡朋友吃飯。 

To dance

tiào wǔ (跳 ) = dance + dance

Can I invite you to dance? (lit. I can invite you to dance ma?)
wǒ kě yǐ qǐnɡ nǐ tiào wǔ ma?
我可以请你跳舞吗?/ 我可以請你跳舞嗎? 


Can you dance Cha Cha?
nǐ huì tiào Cha Cha ma?
你会 Cha Cha吗?/ 你會 Cha Cha嗎?

To speak (To talk)

shuō huà (说 / ) = speak + remarks

She likes to talk (speak).
tā xǐ huān shuō huà
她喜欢说话。/ 她喜歡說話。 

shuō ()

I can speak Chinese.
wǒ huì shuō zhōnɡ wén。
我会中文。/ 我會中文。 

To cook

zuò fàn ( / ) = cook + rice

Do you cook often? (You often cook ma?)
nǐ chánɡ chánɡ zuò fàn ma?
你常常做饭吗?/ 你常常做飯嗎? 


Can you cook Italian food?
nǐ huì zuò yì dà lì cài ma?
你会意大利菜吗?/ 你會意大利菜嗎? 

Hope you find this explanation helpful! Let me know your favorite verb-plus-default-object pairs in the comments below!

I recommend checking out this lesson from our Beginner Conversational Course, Unit 23, if you would like to learn a little bit more on this topic: