Vietnamese verbs

After the lessons on Vietnamese nouns and adjectives, this express course now introduces you to the usage of Vietnamese verbs.

Before going into the details, the good news, again, is that verbs in Vietnamese is generally much simpler than their counterparts in English. Let’s see below why this is true.

Conjugation of Vietnamese verbs

First of all, while each verb in English has a singular form for the third-person case (she, he, it) by, generally, adding “s” to the base form, this isn’t a feature of Vietnamese. That is to say that you’ll use the same verb form đi(“go”) in Tôi đi(“I go”) and Cô ấy đi(“She goes”). How simpler this is for learning Vietnamese!

Vietnamese Verb tenses

The major simplification you’ll enjoy in learning Vietnamese verbs lies in its verb tense system. As a recap, we know that in English there are quite a couple of verb tenses, and for good reasons, such as past simple, past continuous, past perfect; the equivalents for the present and the future; …and more. You should then be very relieved to learn that the only major verb tenses in Vietnamese are: the present simple, the present continuous, the past simple and the future simple!

A possible question by the keen readers: How would we then express the equivalents of past continuous or past perfect? The answer for the absence of the past continuous tense is that Vietnamese “leverage” on the present continuous to express the past continuous. How about the past perfect? Well, that would not be expressed through verb tense, but the use of relative time indicators such as before and after.

Let’s go into a little more details about this interesting difference in verb tenses through a concrete example. Suppose that you want to ask a friend when she will come back home, you’d probably say something like When will you come home?. Similarly, if we want to ask when she came back: When did you come home?”. We can see from these two examples that in English we need to explicitly encode the notion of past or future time frame in the verb come by conjugating it in the past simple or future simple tense. Does Vietnamese share this way of time encoding with English?

Let’s imagine the situation: yesterday, you came home and saw your spouse at home to your surprise because she/he usually gets home from work later than you; then you remarked: You came home early today!, followed by the question When did you come home?. In this specific circumstance, it’s quite clear that the question of when refers to the past, which means we may not need to reflect that in the tense of the verb come. Or at least that’s the way we would use in Vietnamese: When do you come home?. Yes, the time frame is encoded not in the sentence but in the situation! Certainly, this feature of the language would potentially make it ambiguous in some situations and, should the confusion arise, time expressions such as yesterday or just now or tomorrow would be employed.

Now that the notions of the past and the future are encoded implicitly in dialogues’ settings and not in verbs, it’s no surprise that the present tense is the one that you would encounter most frequently. In order to express the present continuous, you add đang before the verb as in the following example.

Present continuous:

I am learning Vietnamese based on English
Tôi đang học tiếng Việt dựa trên tiếng Anh

The two remaining questions that need to be addressed are: how can we express the relative order of actions in relation to each other, which is expressed using the “perfect” tenses in English? And the second question is about redundancy: why is there still the past simple and future simple tenses in Vietnamese as mentioned above, if the notion of time is implicitly indicated by the circumstance?

In order to address the first question, let’s again use a concrete example:
When I came home, she had gone jogging.

The use of the English past perfect tense had gone is to indicate that the action of “going” took place before the action “came home”.

In Vietnamese, we’ll express this by using the word rồi, whose literal English translation is already. As such, we can rewrite this example in the Vietnamese way without the use of the past perfect tense by saying: When I came home, she already went jogging: this by the way is also an informal way of saying in English.

Combine this with our knowledge that the notion of time, in this case the past, is not usually encoded directly in verbs but in the setting itself, we’ll take away the past tense before doing a word-to-word mapping to Vietnamese: When I come home, she already goes jogging.

Translating the past perfect

Original English sentence When I came home, she had gone jogging
Rearranged for translation When I come home, she goes jogging already
Vietnamese translation Khi tôi về nhà, cô ấy đi chạy bộ rồi

Please take note that rồi must put after the verb phrase go jogging in Vietnamese.

Secondly, let’s address the second question of why we still need the past simple and future simple tenses in Vietnamese, given our knowledge that the notion of time is already indicated by the setting and not through verbs?

The first reason is that in isolated sentences, especially in writing, where the context doesn’t provide enough information about the time setting of actions (present, past or future), explicit use of the past simple or future simple is warranted.

Another instance where these tenses are used is for emphasis purpose: when we want to emphasize (for example, in making promises) that something actually did happen or will definitely happen. The past simple and future simple tenses are expressed by prefixing verbs with “đã” and “sẽ”, respectively.

Examples are given in the following table:


Tôi (đã) đọc bài báo này hôm qua
I read this article yesterday
Tôi (sẽ) về nhà vào lúc 5 giờ chiều nay
I will come home at five o’clock this afternoon

As indicated in the table, the use of đã and sẽ are optional with regards to expressing time. They are needed, however, if we want to put an emphasis on the time.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the very often used tense: the present perfect. As we’ve known, the two most prevalent uses of this tense is 1).to refer to actions that took place and have completed in the past without a definite point of time or 2). to indicate that an action, which took place some time in the past, is still continuing at the point of speaking.

Consider the first example in the above table. If we just want to say I’ve read this article, the Vietnamese translation would be Tôi đã đọc bài báo này. In this usage of the present perfect, there is no mention of time so that the use of đã in the Vietnamese translation is compulsory because without it we would fail to express the notion of the past. We could also have said Tôi đọc bài báo này rồi, whose literal translation to English is I read this article already. The word rồi(“already”), while signalling that the action “read” already took place and completed, also puts emphasis on the completion aspect of the action.

The second use of the present perfect tense, as in I have lived here for 2 years, is expressed in Vietnamese through the word được. In this usage, this word carries the meaning of for. The complete translation is given below.


I have lived here for 2 years
Tôi (đã) sống ở đây được 2 năm

We can see that in this usage, the word đã is optional. This is because the action live in the sentence is unmistakably understood to have started in the past based on meaning. Also, the word được in this usage also carries with it the notion of something that has lasted for some time.

If the sentence has been written (more correctly) in the present perfect continuous tense: I’ve been living here for 2 years to put more emphasis on the time duration, the Vietnamese translation remains the same. Don’t you agree Vietnamese verb tenses are simpler? Agree…grudgingly?!?

Vietnamese Phrasal verbs

Last but not least, it seems necessary to have a short discussion about phrasal verbs, which are used very extensively in (especially informal) English. To clarify, by “phrasal verbs”, we’re referring to such verbs as look after and boost up, which are comprised of a verb and a particle.

The good news is that there is almost no notion of “phrasal verbs” in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese translation of look after is chăm sóc, which has two words but you should think of it as one “unit” verb. It’s definitely not a verb + a particle. To digress a little bit, some Vietnamese grammarians may argue that chăm sóc is one word, and not two words. For our purpose of learning Vietnamese, the answer doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference. And to make it familiar, we’ll stick to spaces as the demarcating unit of words, as in English. In this light, we’ll say chăm sóc is a unit verb made up of two words.

Certainly, there are Vietnamese equivalents of English prepositions such as in and on; but they are not combined with verbs to form phrasal verbs. They can, however, be used compositionally with verbs to add meaning. For instance, consider the English sentence He’s walking up the staircase.

Preposition example:

He is walking up the staircase
Anh ta đang đi lên cầu thang

We can see that up is used to indicate the direction of the verb walk and there is no special meaning when combining walk with up. The Vietnamese translation is therefore a combination of the translation of walk, which is đi, and that of up: lên.

So much for our discussion on verbs. Let’s review the gist of this lesson.


This lesson on Verbs has demonstrated the simplicity of Vietnamese Verb tenses. In particular, we’ve learned:

  • The notion of time is expressed either implicitly in the context or explicitly through time expressions, not in verb tenses.
  • The two most frequently used tenses in Vietnamese are the present simple and the present continuous.
  • There is no notion of “phrasal verbs” in Vietnamese
  • Though Vietnamese verbs may consist of two or more words, they should be treated as a unit in that the verb’s meaning can not be immediately derived from constituent words’ meanings.
  • There is no conjugation for third-person subject. This is in accord with the general rule we’ve previously learned: there is no inflection of any kind on Vietnamese words.

Say Pronouns in Vietnamese: I/You/We and My/Your/Our

Introduction to Vietnamese Pronouns

As we have learned before in the Grammar lessons, Vietnamese sentence structure is similar to that of English.

However, one of the challenges that may hinder you from making rapid progress with your Vietnamese is…pronouns. Their usage is not different from English, just that there are many different Vietnamese words for each English pronoun (I, You, etc.). And the various words are not always interchangeable.

The grammatical reasons for different Vietnamese words for the same word, say I, are, firstly, to express the difference in age, which is culturally a “big deal”; and secondly, to express the 2 genders.

And a further complication is that in different regions (North, Middle, South) local words are used extensively for pronouns (which is not true for most other Vietnamese words).

But there is nothing to be afraid, because after finishing this lesson, you’d know the necessary common words to use in almost every situation, and be understood everywhere in Vietnam.

Let’s learn how to say Vietnamese pronouns by starting with the pair ‘I – You’.

Say I, You in Vietnamese

From my experience, it’s usually more effective to learn this part by shifting our mind from asking questions such as How do I say ‘I’ in Vietnamese? or How do I say ‘You’ in Vietnamese?. Instead it’s useful to ask the question: What’s the correct word to refer to the older/younger person of conversation?.

To see why the latter is a more apt question, let’s take a look at the following table:

Vietnamese words for I and You in various situations

Word for I – Word for You When to use
Tôi – Bạn ‘I’ and ‘You’ are more or less at the same age
Em – Chị ‘I’ is younger than ‘You’ and ‘You’ is female
Chị – Em ‘I’ is older than ‘You’ and ‘I’ is female
Em – Anh ‘I’ is younger than ‘You’ and ‘You’ is male
Anh – Em ‘I’ is older than ‘You’ and ‘I’ is male

As can be seen from the above table, if ‘You’ are older (than ‘I’) and are female, the correct word is chị. And interestingly, the word for ‘I’ is also chị if ‘I’ were female and older than ‘You’.

As an illustration, consider the following example:

Mai (female, older than Huy): Em đang đi đâu đấy? (Where are you going?)
Huy (male): Em đang đi học. Còn chị? (I’m going to school. And you?)
Mai: Chị đang đi đến cơ quan. (I’m going to office)

In this conversation, Mai is older than Huy so Mai refers to Huy using the word em in the first line. When answering Mai’s question, Huy refers to himself using the same word em!

In line 2, we see again that Huy uses the word chị to refer to Mai while Mai also uses that same word to refer to herself in the 3rd line.

So we’ve known how to address ourself and the other person in the case of equal or moderately different ages, i.e., within the range of 10 years. The numer 10 is not carved in stone, but approximate. So as long as you feel both persons are in the same ‘generation’, it’s appropriate.

Next, let’s learn the words to use when the difference in age is significant.

Say I – You when there is a significant difference in age

Word for ‘I’ – Word for ‘You’ Age relation
Em – Cô/Bác The other person is much older than you, but not very old yet (looks younger than 70?). For female.
Em – Chú/Bác Same as above, but for male.
Con – Bà The other person is really much more senior than you (looks older than 70?)
Con – Ông Same as above, but for male.

As can be learned from the table above, you’d use the word in situations where the other person is female, and quite older than you. It’s also this same word that would be used by the other person to refer to herself when talking to you. She may choose to use a different word, but its must be equivalent to . And since is the most common word for this situation, you can just learn this word to get started.

And the interesting observation is that if you don’t want to remember the word to use for females, and chú for males, you can just remember the word bác, which can be used for both males and females. In practice, the word bác may be more popular than chú in the case of addressing males, while is more widely used for females.

As just about no explanation can be as illustrative as a good concrete example, let’s go through another example short dialog where a young man called Trung is talking to a very senior couple.

Trung: Ông bà đang nấu gì vậy? (Grandpa Grandma are cooking what?)
The old couple: Ông bà đang nấu xôi. (Grandpa grandma are cooking sticky rice)

In this example, Trung refers to the senior couple as ông bà, juxtaposing the words ông and to refer to the couple. When replying to Trung’s query, the senior couple themselves use the same phrase ‘ông bà’ to refer to themselves.

If everything has been clear so far to you: Congratulations! you’ve got the knack of Vietnamese pronouns. Really.

Before we wind up this section, it’s worth repeating that one of the deciding factors when choosing the correct word pair to use is the age difference of the 2 speakers, not absolute age. If you’re a 45 male, a young chap at 20 would call you anh but your high-school friends, who are also 45 years old, would definitely not refer to you using anh because to them, you’re not older.

The following Video by Donna Vo would help you review what we’ve gone through so far.

Say He, She in Vietnamese

The not-so-good news is that just as for the pronouns I and You we’ve learned above, there are many different translations for He and She, depending also on the age relation between the speaker and the referred person as well as the gender of the referred person (and note how English also has 2 words: she for female and he for male.

The absolutely fantastic news is that you’ve already learned all those words! The following table confirms why.

He, She in Vietnamese

[The word for ‘You’, if you were talking to the person directly] + ấy (or ta).

To clear things up, what’s the phrase for he if the man is older than you?

To get to the correct answer, what’s the word to refer to an older guy you’re talking to? It’s anh, right? (If you got it wrong, please review the section about ‘I’ and ‘You’ above).

So the phrase for he is then… anh + ấy = anh ấy. What if he’s younger than you? The answer is em ấy.

Just to make sure everything is absolutely well understood, how would you translate She likes chatting with friends? The answer is below:

Cô ấy thích trò chuyện với bạn bè
She likes chatting with friends

You (plural), We and They

In this section, we’ll learn how to refer to a group of people.

We’ve learned in section 1 above that there are many words for the (singular) You such as em, anh and chị. To make You plural to refer to the many people you’re talking to, we simply add the word các in front.

To refer to the plural version of You, use các + [The suitable word for singular You]

Next, let’s talk about the pronoun They as it shares a similar rule as the plural You. The standard translation is họ or bọn họ. In cases when they comprises of only men or only ladies, we normally translate they in another way to indicate this explicitly.

They (all men) ‘các’ + [The suitable word for ‘He’]
They (all ladies) ‘các’ + [The suitable word for ‘She’]

So what does [The suitable word for ‘He’] above mean? It means you need to choose the appropriate word for the pronoun he, depending on the age relation. For example, if they is a group of men all older than you, the correct phrase would be các + anh ấy. Again, anh ấy is the translation of he when referring to older men.

What should you use for they if some of them are older than you while some are younger? If some of them are older than you, I think you wouldn’t mind refer to the group as a whole as if they consisted of people all older than you. Would you?

Lastly, let’s see how we say we in Vietnamese:

We = tụi/bọn/chúng + [the suitable word for ‘I’].

For example, a group of children talking to their teacher would refer to themselves as tụi em or bọn em. A group of senior students would use tụi anh in the place of we when talking to junior students.

Some caveats on pronouns usage

In this lesson, we’ve learned how to say the various pronouns: I, You, He, She, We, You, They. There is one thing you must be aware of by now is that there are many different words for each of the English pronouns, due mainly to 2 reasons: age and gender.

The first point I would like to remind you is that in the cases where there are different words for male and female, please take your time to use the correct word. Or they may think you’re confused about their gender…Just kidding.

For age, however, you really need to exercise some caution. And the reason is that if you talk to an older person, which necessitates the word anh for male or chị for female but you use the word em instead. This would make the other person think you are not respecting him/her and this is definitely be among the mistakes you don’t want to make (unless you’re disrespectful on purpose). And if the other person is a male, there’s no doubt it’s not a trivial mistake.

In our discussion in section 1, we said you’d use anh or chị when the other person is older than you. But if you have the slightess doubt whether you or they are older, consider them older and use the appropriate word. That’s the short and simple way to be right.

Now, let’s delve a bit into the dynamics behind why using the appropriate word is necessary. When the person you talk to is male, talking to them using anh shows that you value them highly because the word has evolved to become a symbol of strength, not just a mere language-correct way to refer to someone older than you. As such, it’s obvious that you should take every opportunity to use the word anh to refer to a man you talk to, especially in business settings. And you’d see they refer to you using anh or chị as well. It’s polite and is used everyday by locals, so you should follow.

If the other person is a lady, the wind flows in the opposite direction. Vietnamese women, like women everywhere else, want to be viewed as “young” in the eyes of men. So if you’re male and older than the lady, definitely use the word em to refer to her. And even when you’re younger but the age difference is small, use em as well. And if she ever mentions you’re younger than her, congratulate her on looking so young (that you were mistaken she’s younger than you). It simply works.

In business settings, however, it may be safer to use chị when it’s unclear who’s younger.

In business settings, it’s polite to refer to the other person using the word for a senior person.

My, Your, Our in Vietnamese

Vietnamese language doesn’t really have a direct equivalent of possessive pronouns such as My, Your, etc. This means that in order to say, for example, my, you would say of me or belonging to me when translated literally to English. And the Vietnamese translation of ‘of’ or ‘belonging to’ is của.

My = của + [the suitable word for ‘I’]
Your = của + [the suitable word for ‘You’]

The above rule applies to all other cases: his, her, our, its, their, etc.

To practice, let’s translate the sentence: This is my friend, John. The table below explains the translation:


Đây là người bạn của tôi , John
This is the friend of me , John

Me, You, Us in Vietnamese

It can’t be better: the same word for ‘I’ is used for ‘me’. The same word for ‘we’ is used for ‘us’. The same applies to other pronouns. What a good news!

Mary loves him
Mary yêu anh ấy
He loves Mary
Anh ấy yêu Mary


There is no doubt that this is a tough lesson. So please review it as many times as you need to. And if you have any questions, please simply write in the Comments section below.

The most important points in this lesson are:

  • There are different Vietnamese words for each English pronoun, depending on the age relation and gender of the person you talk to.
  • The common canonical Vietnamese words for IYou are tôi, bạn, anh, chị, and em, etc. Other pronouns: He, She, We, They are built upon the words for I and You.
  • In business settings, it’s polite to refer to your associates as anh and chị
  • The way to say my in Vietnamese is belonging to me or of me. Similar for your, his, her, our, their.
  • In Vietnamese, the same word is used for both subject and object pronouns: I and me, He and him, etc.
  • We didn’t quite mention this: the word for It and Its is .

Vietnamese basic grammar: sentence structure

The Introduction to Vietnamese Language has introduced you the most important characteristics of the language as a whole. In this very first lesson of the Express Grammar Course, we would learn the most important grammatical features of Vietnamese Language, especially when compared with English.

Vietnamese Sentence Structure

In this section, we’ll learn how Vietnamese words are arranged to form meaning. Let’s get started with the classical example: I love you. How is that expressed in Vietnamese? It’s Anh yêu em. Let’s see the break-downs:


Viet English
Anh It means: I, also implying that you’re older or more senior.

In Vietnamese, we’ll use different words for I, depending on our relationship with the listener (whether we are older or more senior). The specific word choice also varies with different regions of Vietnam.

Yêu This means: love.
Em The word means: you. This word implies that you are younger, less senior. (More on pronouns)

Please don’t remember all the details above, it’s just for reading purpose. What should be remembered, however, is this:

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 1

Vietnamese Language has the same sentence structure as English:
Subject + Verb + Object (or SVO for short).

Did you see it? Anh(“I”: Subject) + yêu(“love”: Verb) + em(“you”: Object). This is one of the most fundamental rules of Vietnamese grammar, or of any language for that matter. The next time you learn a new language, it’s good to ask from the very beginning: what’s the basic sentence structure of this language? (For a language with a different sentence structure, Japanese is a good example).

Position of Vietnamese Adverbs

Now, let’s try to add some more romance to this sentence. How about I love you a lot? The Vietnamese equivalent is Tôi yêu em nhiều. The first part remains the same and the added part is nhiều for a lot: a lot <–> nhiều. And this gives us a general rule about position of adverbs (eg. often, fast, beautifully):

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 2

In Vietnamese, as in English, adverbs are positioned after the verbs they modify.

In English, some adverbs, such as rather, are positioned before the verb as in this sentence: I rather like it. This is also the case in Vietnamese and indeed, the translation of that sentence is: Anh(I) khá(rather) thích(like) nó(it).

The other rule is that if verbs require objects, adverbs are then positioned after the objects, as in English. As we don’t say I love a lot you in English, we don’t say Anh yêu nhiều em (*). The correct Vietnamese translation is Anh yêu em nhiều. The sentence structure we have learned so far is then: Subject + Verb (+ Object) + Adverbs.


In fact you are very beautiful
Quả thật em No translation needed rất đẹp

Apart from the absence of the translation of the verb to be, this is almost a direct one-to-one word mapping from English to Vietnamese. How similar Vietnamese is to English! Don’t you think so? The absence of the translation of the verb to be is explained in the following rule:

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 3

In Vietnamese, adjectives don’t go with to be.

No to be with adjectives? Yes, so the Vietnamese way of saying She’s beautiful is simply She beautiful!

The astute readers would then ask: Then, how do we change it to a question: there is no to be to be inverted to the front of the sentence as in English! That’s a really good question and the answer is that we’ll use a question marker combined with a rising in intonation to express questions in Vietnamese. This way of asking questions is shared by Chinese and French as well.

We’ve learned about verbs, adverbs and adjectives. Now, we’ll conclude this overview of Vietnamese Grammar with the usage of nouns through another compliment: You have a very beautiful voice. What’s the Vietnamese translation? Let’s first break this English sentence into its major components:

You(Subject) + have(Verb) + a very beautiful voice(Object). We’ve learned above that Vietnamese also shares the same Subject + Verb + Object (or SVO) ordering. So how does the sentence structure of the Vietnamese translation look like? Yes, it’s the same!

Translation mapping:

You have a very beautiful voice
Em một giọng nói rất hay.

Let’s take a closer look at the translation of the phrase very beautiful voice: giọng nói rất hay.

giọng nói rất hay
voice very beautiful

As you can observe, the phrase rất hay(“very beautiful”) is positioned after giọng nói(“voice”), which is different from English. And this gives us another general rule:

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 4

In Vietnamese, adjectives are positioned after the nouns they modify.

Another observation that you might have had is that the adverb of intensity very is positioned before the adjective beautiful: rất(“very”) đẹp(“beautiful”), as in English. This is aslo a general rule: adverbs are put before adjectives they modify, just as in English. For instance, She is very smart would translate into Cô ta rất thông minh. Note that rất (very) occurs before the adjective thông minh (smart).

Now, let’s review what we’ve learned by translating this snippet You are very beautiful. Let’s go very slowly, though I know that you can do it much faster, to make it very sure that everything is clear and in order.

You + are(“to be”) + very(adverb) + beautiful(adjective). The phrase very beautiful is an adjectival phrase consisting of the main adjective beautiful and the adverb of intensity very. The Vietnamese translation of this phrase, as we’ve already discussed, has the same order of: rất(“very”) + đẹp(“beautiful”).

We’ve also learned that adjectives in Vietnamese aren’t accompanied by to be. Therefore, the Vietnamese version would be You very beautiful. Putting everything together, we reach the correct translation: Em rất đẹp. If you got it right, congratulations!

That’s enough for an overview. I hope you have enjoyed the reading and learning so far.


We’ve quickly gone through the most important points in Vietnamese Grammar in this overview. The take-away points are:

  • Vietnamese is similar to English in the general sentence structure, which is: Subject + Verb (+ Object) + Adverbs.
  • In Vietnamese, as in English, adverbs are put after the verbs they modify.
  • In Vietnamese, adjectives aren’t prefixed with to be.
  • In Vietnamese, adjectives are positioned after the nouns they modify.

You would probably now agree that Vietnamese and English Grammar are very similar. The last two points about adjectives in the summary list above are two of the (few) most significant grammatical differences. Everything else can be assumed to be the same for now.