In this lesson, we're going to learn about the usage of adjectives in Vietnamese. As the primary role of adjectives is to modify nouns, it's quite important that you have finished the lesson on nouns before this lesson.

Position of Vietnamese Adjectives

If you can still recall from the lesson on Vietnamese sentence structure, you have learned that adjectives are put after the nouns they modify. For instance, I bought this interesting book yesterday is translated into I bought book interesting this yesterday.

Example:

Original English sentence I bought this interesting book yesterday.
Rearanged for translation I bought book interesting this yesterday
Vietnamese translation Tôi mua quyển sách thú vị này hôm qua

We've learned in the lesson on Nouns that this is positioned after the nouns it modifies in Vietnamese. Now, with the presence of adjectives, the adjective and the noun forms a noun phrase and này("this") is therefore put after the adjective. So, a small formula to summarise this is:

Position of Adjectives in Vietnamese

Measure word + Noun + Adjectives + này("this")/kia("that")

Let's now capitalise on this knowledge about positions of adjectives to translate the phrase this book cover. Given that cover translates into bìa and we have already known that book translates into sách, this translates into này, what's your translation for the phrase?

If your translation is sách bìa này or quyển sách bìa này or the likes, I believe you understand the materials well so far although it's not the correct answer yet. Let's ask a couple of questions to clarify the translation process: what's the main noun in this phrase? In other words, are we talking about book or cover? It's cover, right? Then we need to find out the measure word for this principal noun. It's cái.

The next question: book functions like an adjective in that it modifies the main noun cover, doesn't it? Then, our formula right above gives us the following translation:

Translation:

measure_word "cover" "book" "this"
Cái bìa sách này

Everything is clear so far? ...Let's move on to talk about inflections on adjectives.

Inflections on Vietnamese Adjectives

One of the most interesting aspect of adjectives in English is that they can change meaning through inflections. For example, the adjective happy can be negated by adding the prefix un- to form the negative-meaning word unhappy; the meaning of honest can be reverted through the use of the prefix dis- to form dishonest. In Vietnamese, this is not possible for adjectives, and for other types of words as well. But there should be no issue with translating unhappy into Vietnamese as we can simply translate it as not happy.

How about the noun happiness, which is derived by adding the suffix -ness to the adjective happy? Again, as there is no inflection whatsoever on Vietnamese words, we can't apply a similar transformation. The way to make adjectives become nouns in Vietnamese is to add in front of them an appropriate "adj-to-noun" transformers such as niềm, nỗi, sự, etc. In our example, the word for happy is niềm so that happiness is translated into niềm hạnh phúc. The difficulty here is that you need to learn which "transformer" is used for which kinds of adjectives. The good news (or bad news?) is that for most of the cases, an adjective can accept more than one "transformer": so remembering one of them will do.

How about the suffix -ly that is added to many adjectives to make them become adverbs as in happily, quickly? The answer is short and simple: no change is needed to make adjectives become adverbs in Vietnamese! That is to say that hạnh phúc("happy") can be used as both an adjective ("happy") and an adverb ("happily").

Summary

In this lesson, we've got to know the followings about Vietnamese adjectives:

  • Adjectives are put after the nouns they modify. As a corollary, phrases of multiple nouns are translated into Vietnamese in reverse order.
  • To make adjectives become nouns, add their appropriate "transformers" such as sự, niềm. Adjectives in Vietnamese also function as adverbs.