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Showing Ability

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Showing Ability

Nice work on Lesson 9! Now that you've got the days of the week down, let’s add a few more action verbs and discuss how to say you have the ability to do something. After this lesson you’ll be well on your way to having basic conversation in Chinese with these skills:

  • Use 会to express the ability (or inability) to do certain activities
  • Express that something is easy or difficult for you to do
  • Flash Cards - Vocabulary
    Flash Cards - Vocabulary
    Complete Lesson (PDF)
    Printable PDF version of this lesson

    Showing Ability

    Are you studying with the flashcards daily? Be sure to print them onto business card template paper and carry them with you everywhere you go.

    会 ( huì ): can
    Radical: 人 (people)
    Component: 人 (people) and 云 (cloud)
    会, here, means "can" or "to have the ability to". 会 is placed just before the verb. To negate 会, use 不会.
    Memorization Hint: Do you remember from Lesson 6 that 会 also means "will"? If I "will" do something, then I also "can" (have the ability) do it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

    说 ( shuō ): speak, say
    Radical: 讠 (language)
    Component: 讠 (language) and 兑 (exchange)
    说 is a verb that describes using language to verbally express thoughts and ideas.
    Memorization Hint: Many Chinese words that have to do with language use the 讠radical. Memorizing this now will help you make semantic connections in the future. You may have noticed that 说 also includes a mouth 口. Combining a mouth with the language radical indicates spoken language.

    中文 ( zhōng wén ): Chinese (language)
    Radicals: 中 (center) and 文 (literature, culture)
    Sub-Word : 中 - center
    文 - literature, culture
    Components for 1st Character: 中 (center)
    Components for 2nd Character: 文 (literature, culture)
    中文 refers to both written and spoken Chinese.
    Memorization Hint: Remember back in Lesson 2 when we discussed the word for China? It literally translates as "center country", or 中国. So, "center literature" is Chinese language.

    英文 ( yīng wén ): English (language)
    Radicals: 艹 (grass) and 文 (literature, culture)
    Sub-Word : 英 - flower, brave
    文 - literature, culture
    Components for 1st Character: 艹 (grass) and 央 (center)
    Components for 2nd Character: 文 (literature, culture)
    英文 refers to both written and spoken English
    Memorization Hint: Lesson 2 also introduced the word for England, 英国, or "brave country". In the same way that we learned the word for Chinese language, follow the character 英 with the character for literature, we have the word for English language.

    学 ( xué ): learn, study
    Radical: 子 (child)
    Component: 子 (child) and 冖 (cover)
    学 means to "learn" or "study". It follows the subject and may be followed by an object. For example, 你学中文 (You study Chinese).
    Memorization Hint: Although the roof radical isn't a part of this character you can stretch your imagination and picture the 冖 (cover) component as similar to a roof. As such, this character resembles a child under a roof studying.

    唱歌 ( chàng gē ): to sing a song
    Radicals: 口 (mouth) and 欠 (own)
    Sub-Word : 唱 - sing
    歌 - song, lyrics
    Phonetic: 昌 (chang) and 哥 (ge)
    Components for 1st Character: 口 (mouth) and 昌 (prosperous,flourish)
    Components for 2nd Character: 哥 (elder brother) and 欠 (own)
    While 唱歌 consists of a verb and an object, you'll most commonly find these two sticking together. One exception is outlined in the Grammar section of this lesson.
    Memorization Hint: Some young boys (哥 — elder brother) may sing to the girl they dream of to try to win her heart.

    一点 ( yì diǎn ): a little, a few
    Radicals: 一 (one) and 灬 (fire)
    Sub-Word : 一 - one
    点 - point, dot
    Components for 1st Character: 一 (one)
    Components for 2nd Character: 占 (occupy, observe) and 灬 (fire)
    Use 一点to say you "want a little" 我要一点 (I want a little/I’ll have a little). You can also use it to show the degree of ability with verbs: 我会说一点 (I can speak a little). Check out the Discussion section of this lesson to understand how to add objects to this pattern. In China 一点 often will become 一点点 to emphasize that it’s really just a little bit: 我会说一点点!
    Memorization Hint: One "little bit" of fire can go a long way.

    有点 ( yǒu diǎn ): a little
    Radicals: 月 (moon) and 灬 (fire)
    Sub-Word : 有 - have
    点 - point, dot
    Components for 1st Character: 一 (one), 丿(slash) and 月(moon)
    Components for 2nd Character: 占 (occupy, observe) and 灬 (fire)
    有点 also means "a little", but it's usage is different than一点. 一点 is used when describing a verb or ability, but 有点 is used with nouns. For example, if you want to say that "Chinese is a little bit difficult", use 中文有点难. Note that when using 有点 before an adjective, 很 is omitted.
    Memorization Hint: Just remember that 点 means point — that's definitely a little thing.

    难 ( nán ): difficult
    Radical: 隹(short-tailed bird)
    Component: 又 (again, repeat, and) and 隹 (short-tailed bird)
    An adjective, like 难, can describe a noun and should be preceded with 很. For example, 中文很难. In addition, you can describe a noun phrase like "speaking Chinese" as well: 说中文很难.
    Memorization Hint: Catching a short-tailed bird is very difficult — you may have to try again and again.

    容易 ( róng yì ): easy
    Radicals: 宀 (to cover) and 日 (sun)
    Sub-Word : 容 - looks, appearance
    易 - change, easy
    Components for 1st Character: 宀 (to cover),丿 (slash),丶 (dot), 人 (people) and
    Components for 2nd Character: 日 (sun) and 勿 (not to)
    容易 is used the same way as "difficult" as described above, but means "easy". Adjectives should follow 很 as described more thoroughly in the Discussion section of this lesson.
    Memorization Hint: Look closely at 容. See the person under a roof? It’s 'not' (勿) 'easy' (容易) to be burned by the 'sun' (日) when you’re under a 'roof' (宀).


    Originally we learned that 很 means “very”. But it also has a very important grammatical role in Chinese. When describing a noun or a noun phrase, 很 must precede the adjective instead of 是.

    "Chinese is difficult." — Here, your subject is the noun, "Chinese". So, the sentence becomes, 中文很难. If you were to use 是 instead of 很, the sentence becomes awkward and actually means that Chinese = difficult. This is not at all what you’re trying to say. So, remember if you’re describing something, always use 很!

    Similarly, if you're describing a phrase like "studying Chinese" or "going to China", you also must use 很. First, let’s consider how to create these phrases. Because there is no conjugation, just follow the verb by the object. These two become 学中文, and 去中国 respectively.

    Again, 很 should be placed just before the adjective to describe these phrases. So, to say "studying Chinese is difficult" use 学中文很难. And, "going to China is difficult" becomes 去中国很难. To negate any sentence where 很 is used to describe something, replace it with 不:学中文不难 or 去中国不难.

    So, you think Chinese is difficult, but just a little bit, huh? Okay, let’s try that. "Chinese is a little difficult." The subject is "Chinese", which is a noun, so we should use 有点. When using either form of "a little", 很 should be dropped. This sentence becomes 中文有点难. (Subject 有点 adjective)

    Describing an ability or desire is a little bit more complicated, but can be remembered as: Verb 一点 Object. Let's take "I can speak Chinese a little bit." Place 很 between the verb and object like this: 我会说一点中文.

    Whew! That was a lot of new information. I’ll bet you're "a little" bit tired. Stand up and stretch out your legs, grab your favorite drink and check out the Grammar section next!


    会 in a New Way

    • In English it's possible to omit the word "can" from a sentence showing ability (I speak Chinese), but in Chinese you must use 会 to show you have the ability to do something.
    • 会 is placed between the subject and the main verb. 会 acts as an auxiliary verb, or helping verb. So in the sentence 我会说中文, the verb becomes 会说, or "can speak".
    Vocabulary Review:
    1. 会 huì can
    2. 说 shuō speak, say
    3. 中文 zhōng wén Chinese (language)
    4. 英文 yīng wén English (language)
    5. 学 xué learn, study
    6. 唱歌 chàng gē to sing a song
    7. 一点 yì diǎn a little, a few
    8. 有点 yǒu diǎn a little
    9. 难 nán difficult
    10. 容易 róng yì easy
    Pierce meets Xiao Yuan’s older brother, Wen Hui Feng. Hui Feng is engaging Pierce in a discussion about language and eventually tricks Pierce into singing karaoke.
    Hui Feng: 
     Nĭ de zhōng wén hěn hǎo.
     Your Chinese is very good.
     我会说一点. 你会说英文吗?
     Wŏ huì shuō yì diǎn. Nĭ huì shuō yīng wén ma?
     I can speak a little. Can you speak English?
    Hui Feng: 
     我会说一点. 我每天学英文. 英文有点难!
     Wŏ huì shuō yì diǎn. Wŏ měi tiān xué yīng wén. Yīng wén yǒu diǎn nán!
     I can speak a little. I study English every day. English is a little bit difficult!
     Zhōng wén yě hěn nán.
     Chinese is also difficult.
    Hui Feng: 
     Nĭ huì bú huì shuō yīng wén?
     Can you speak English?
     会 (laughing), 我是英国人.
     Huì (laughing), wŏ shì yīng guó rén.
     Yes (laughing), I’m British.
    Hui Feng: 
     很好! 你会唱英文歌吗?
     Hěn hǎo! Nĭ huì chàng yīng wén gē ma?
     Great! Can you sing songs in English?
     不... 会.
     Bú… huì.
    Hui Feng: 
     你是不是英国人? 很容易 —来!
     Nĭ shì bú shì yīng guó rén? Hěn róng yì —lái!
     Are you (really) British? It’s easy —come on!
    Fill in the Blank:

    下个月我会去北京学______. (Chinese)
    Xià gè yuè wŏ huì qù běi jīng xué ______.
    Next month I’ll go to Beijing to study Chinese.

    我的姐姐会______. (sing a song)
    Wŏ de jiě jie huì ______.
    My sister can sing.

    说______很容易. (English)
    Shuō ______ hěn róng yì.
    Speaking English is easy.

    我不会______中文. (speak)
    Wŏ bú huì ______ zhōng wén.
    I can’t speak Chinese.

    我每个星期六______中文. (study)
    Wŏ měi gè xīng qī liù ______ zhōng wén.
    I study Chinese every Saturday.

    下个月我______去中国. (can)
    Xià gè yuè wŏ ______ qù zhōng guó.
    Next month I can go to China.

    我会说______中文. (a little)
    Wŏ huì shuō ______ zhōng wén.
    I can speak a little Chinese.

    去中国______难. (a little)
    Qù zhōng guó ______ nán.
    Going to China is a little difficult.

    去美国很______吗? (difficult)
    Qù měi guó hěn ______ ma?
    Is going to the US difficult?

    中文不______. (easy)
    Zhōng wén bù ______.
    Chinese is not easy!

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