The Easy Vietnamese
Vietnamese grammar for beginners
To be able to get advanced in Vietnamese, you need to know elementary grammar such as: our definition of letters, sounds and words, word types, personal pronouns, most commonly used tenses, and negative sentences. In this article, you will learn basic grammar and also some rules to get acquainted with the language. Vietnamese grammar requires a lot of patience and constant practice. The more you do it, the better level you will achieve.
Letter, sound and word
Letter (chữ, tiếng)
A writing unit used to record sounds.
The smallest phonetic unit, which is to distinguish the sound of a word. Each sound can be recorded by 1 or 2 or 3 letters put together.
Word is formed by a combination of letters. A combination of alphabet letters cannot be considered a word if the word does not make sense.
Types of words
Single word and complex word
There are two main types of words.
Single word, referring to a word formed by one letter.
Example: nắng (sun), mặt (face), nhẹ (light), sách (book).
Complex word, referring to a word formed by two letter. There are two types of complex word, combined word and reflective word.
Words that have two or more letters combined with meaning. Words that have letters related to each other in meaning.
chợ búa, cây mai, mặt trăng, hoa lá
Words that are formed by sound-related and -similar initials and letters.
Synonyms and antonyms
Synonyms: Words that have the same meaning.
Example: synonyms of ba (father) are bố, tía, cha.
Antonyms: Words with opposite meanings.
Example: antonyms of đẹp (beautiful) is xấu (ugly), of nóng (hot) is lạnh (cold).
In Vietnamese, there are many words that have two or more meanings. Words would look the same but meanings are different.
đầu means the head, a part of the body, or the beginning of an object (đầu sông - the beginning of the river).
ăn means to eat, or also to dress up (ăn mặc), to get tanned (ăn nắng).
Other common types
Từ tượng hình refers to words that evocate the pictures and appearance of objects.
Example: san sát, chen chúc, thăm thẳm, lom khom.
Từ tượng thanh refers to words that evocate sounds of objects.
Example: rầm rập, ào ào, xì xào, loảng choảng.
Pronouns - Đại từ nhân xưng
In Vietnamese grammar, personal pronouns can be divided into:
first person (equivalent to "I", "we" in English)
second person (equivalent to "you" in English)
third person (equivalent to "he", "she" "it" in English)
Pronouns in Vietnamese are based on gender, age and the relationship between parties in that conversation. From the pronouns used, you can also guess the position of one person to another.
In most cases, pronouns are commonly used in place of names.
In Vietnamese, there are 3 basic tenses: Present (hiện tại) - Past (quá khứ) - Future (tương lai). It is an interesting fact that we refer to the time-related words and adverbs to spot the time the incidents occur.
Rules to remember
Present tense (hiện tại)
S + đang + V + O
Tôi đang ăn tối
(I am eating dinner)
Past tense (quá khứ)
(Time-related word) + S + đã + V + O
(Time-related word) + S + V + O + rồi
(Lúc 19h) tôi đã ăn tối
(At 7pm I ate dinner)
(Hồi nãy) tôi ăn tối rồi
(I already ate dinner a while ago)
Future tense (tương lai)
(Time-related word) + S + sẽ + V + O
(Tí nữa) tôi sẽ ăn tối
(I will eat dinner in a while)
When there are "đang", "đã", "sẽ" in sentences, the other time-related words are value-added and optional, meaning that the opposite person can still understand what you mean. If they are used, it means that the times are important to say and to know.
Time-related words and adverbs help us identify the tenses. This applies for other tenses that will be introduced in a more advanced post.
Time-related words and adverbs can be placed in the beginning, at the end or in the middle of the sentence, as following:
Time-related word + S + V + O
S + V + time-related word + O
S + V + O + time-related word
To say a negative sentence in Vietnamese, you just need to add negative words không, không phải, chưa, chưa phải to the sentence. Negative sentences are widely used to answer yes/no questions or when you should clarify information.
không, chưa are usually used when the information to be validated refers to a verb, an action.
không phải, chưa phải are usually used when the information to be validated refers to a noun, subject, human.
Q: Mẹ ngủ ngon không? (Mom, did you sleep well?) A: Mẹ không ngủ ngon (I did not sleep well)
Q: Anh có phải là anh Hưng không? (Are you Hung?)
A: Tôi không phải là Hưng (I am not Hung)
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