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Your Guide to Understanding Vietnamese Verbs

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Verbs are considered the most important part of speech when learning any new language. They describe every single mental and physical activity we do, from the moment we wake up in the morning to falling asleep at night. Even sleeping is full of verbs: you sleep, you breathe, you relax, you dream, you toss and turn, you snore… okay, maybe you snore! 

The word ‘verb’ comes from the Latin for ‘word’ – your first indication that it’s pretty important. In elementary terms: these are the ‘doing’ words and they exist in every language. Verbs are essential in communication and no sentence can exist without one. When learning to speak Vietnamese, the verbs you know will be your building blocks to make sentences. Whether you’re commenting on the weather, asking a question or indicating your desires, you’ll be using verbs.

With enough verbs in your repertoire, you can get people to understand your needs and intentions at a basic level – even when you’re battling to form a full and clear sentence. So, how many Vietnamese verbs do you know? There is no doubt that you’ll have to also learn a few grammar rules, but if you want to understand the language faster, begin by simply memorizing a bunch of verbs that are commonly used in everyday life. 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Useful Verbs in Vietnamese Table of Contents
  1. Talking about actions in daily life
  2. Don’t travel without knowing these top 10 verbs.
  3. Negative verbs in Vietnamese
  4. Conclusion

1. Talking about actions in daily life

As much as we are so different from one another and have our unique habits and ways of doing things, there are certain frequently-performed activities and rituals common to us all. It makes sense, then, to learn the words for these things first. Once you have a firm grasp of Vietnamese verb forms and usage for situations you’ll be in often, you can move onto more specialized action vocabulary. For example, as a beginner, you don’t need to know the Vietnamese word for ‘sail’ if you’re terrified of the sea – you won’t use it unless it comes up in conversation.  Focus on the essentials first.

Of all the verb forms, action verbs are the first kind taught to kids in school and there’s a reason for that: they are the easiest to understand in the context of grammar, as they clearly describe specific activities that have visual connections. If I talk about dancing, you’ll picture someone dancing. If you mention texting someone, I’ll see a mental image of a cell phone. 

We’ve put together a very useful Vietnamese verbs list using action words you’ll come across daily. Here are 20 common words and phrases describing everyday activities. 

1- Go out: đi dạo phố

Whenever I travel with my sister, there’s always the discussion about whether or not we both wish to go out in the evening. Sometimes we want the same thing; other times, one of us is too tired from the day’s adventures. If you’re keen to explore the city at night, this is a Vietnamese verb you should learn! 

2- Eat: ăn

We all have to eat and this verb is sure to come in handy on a daily basis in Vietnam.  Whether you love going out to eat or enjoy cooking at home, the Vietnamese verb for ‘eat’ is an essential one. Even if your Vietnamese skills are really basic and you can’t ask a full question, people will know what you mean when you use this word. 

3- Rest: nghỉ ngơi

After a long day of exploring or surviving the office, we all like to put our feet up and rest. Here’s a verb in Vietnamese that you can use when you want to be left alone to unwind.  If you’re up for it, why not use the opportunity to improve your language skills? Perhaps the most leisurely way to learn Vietnamese while having a rest, is simply to watch a local movie. Or, you could tune into our Roku channel on your TV and get some cultural tips. 

4- Cook: nấu

Once you’re over the novelty of exploring the night markets for Vietnamese street foods, you’ll probably try your hand at cooking from time to time. This is a great verb to use if you want to invite friends over for dinner. The only question is: will you attempt to cook an authentic Vietnamese recipe, or will you give your comrades a taste of something from home? I vote for the latter!

Top Verbs

5- Use a computer: sử dụng máy vi tính

Whether you’re taking a vacation or on a work contract in Vietnam, chances are you will be using a computer at some point – it’s just the way we roll in modern times! Here is a phrase that will come in handy if you’re looking for a plug point at a coffee shop, or asking around for an internet cafe. 

6- Return: trở về

To return is to go back to a place you came from and we do that all the time, don’t we? We return to work, return home and return to our favourite meeting places. You can also return to an activity, such as a game of Monopoly that goes on for a week.  Not to mention returning purchases – something I do regularly. After all, when you buy clothing from outdoor markets around the world, it’s not always possible to try them on, and it’s the luck of the draw to get a great fit. 

7- Do housework: làm công việc nhà

Housework isn’t exactly the most exciting part of anyone’s day, is it? Some of us take the edge off the pain with music and a comforting cup of tea; others sweep the chores under the rug and hope they’ll go away. Of course, there’s always the option of paying somebody else to do it! If you need to ask around for some domestic help in Vietnam, this will be a useful phrase to practice saying. 

8- Brush one’s teeth: đánh răng

You should also know how to use everyday action verbs in Vietnamese and this is a handy example, as brushing your teeth is an habitual action you perform daily – no matter where in the world you are. In certain rural areas, you might find yourself doubting that the news of toothbrushes has arrived yet, but history tells me you can safely use a twig! 

Turquoise Toothbrush and Toothpaste

9- Wash one’s face: rửa mặt

Just like brushing one’s teeth, it is necessary to wash one’s face every day to prevent break-outs and keep the skin fresh and glowing. In Vietnam, why not try some of the local brands of face wash? Even better still would be to ask your new Vietnamese friends about traditional skin-cleansing rituals. Some of the most beautiful complexions in the world are a result of using completely natural, homegrown products. 

10- Bathe: tắm

In English, we use two similar words to describe the ritual of immersing oneself in water for the purpose of cleansing: ‘bath’ and ‘bathe’. While often used interchangeably, the words have slightly different meanings. To ‘bath’ is about personal hygiene and means to wash the body while submerged in a tub; to ‘bathe’ means submergence in any body of water and can also be for religious ritual or therapeutic purposes. 

11- Check email: kiểm tra email

This is a useful verb phrase you will use when you need to find an internet cafe, or if you want to ask an establishment for their wifi password. These days, it’s really easy to check your email with a smartphone. 

Working people habitually check email at the start of the day; travelers check email whenever they can, to hear from family and friends. Digital nomads, like me, do a bit of both. We need to check email frequently, relying on numerous online platforms, as well as supportive words from home, to ensure the adventure can continue!

Woman Sending an Email

12- Wake up: thức dậy

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? I go straight to the kitchen and perform the sacred coffee ritual. It’s my favourite time of day and always puts me in the right mood for the soon-to-come busyness. 

13- Sleep: ngủ

I love sleeping. Don’t you? Sleep is essential for the well-being of the body and mind. If you’re an insomniac, like I am, you may find that travel makes it even worse. There’s a theory that when we try to sleep in a new environment, our brains act in a primal way, staying semi-alert to watch for danger. Pretty annoying, if you ask me! On the other hand, once you’ve settled into a relaxing vacation, stress also takes its leave and you’re usually able to fall into happy dreams with ease. 

14- Shower: tắm

After a long day of work or adventure in Vietnam, you’ll probably be thinking of food, a refreshing drink and a relaxing hot shower.  In certain warm countries – especially out of the touristy areas – you may find that your shower has no geyser and you can’t get hot water. I have friends who love this and friends who hate it. I’ve always found that if I’m on an adventure in the tropics, I don’t mind cold showers and they can be quite heavenly! On the other hand, if I’m teaching at a school, it’s a pretty miserable feeling to come home to a cold shower every night. One should always enquire ahead! 

Man Showering

15- Work: làm việc

This is one of those common Vietnamese action verbs that you’ll have in your head all the time if you’re taking a job in Vietnam, so it might be helpful to practice using it in its different forms. If you want to work on your practical use of Vietnamese, knowing how to put your verbs to work, so to speak, is a priority! 

16- Get up: thức dậy

After a good night’s sleep, we all have to eventually get up and get going. Getting up leads to good things like coffee and breakfast, so it’s not all bad. I’d venture so far as to say that even if you’re typically a sleepyhead who battles in the mornings, you’ll be an early bird in those first weeks waking up in Vietnam. It’s always easier to get up knowing you have a whole new country to explore!

17- Shop: mua sắm

Who doesn’t like this word? It’s a Vietnamese verb you’re sure to use every week; from buying your groceries and exploring the local fashion stores,  to buying souvenirs before you finally head home, you’ll need to shop in Vietnam. 

18- Have a dream / dream: có một ước mơ/mơ

How many times have you heard someone say they don’t dream when they’re sleeping? I’ve heard this countless times in my life and I find the thought of dreamless sleep kind of sad. Truth is, though, that everybody dreams – even those who claim not to. It can feel like you’ve had a dreamless night, but in reality, 95% of dreams are simply lost from memory within seconds of awakening. This is because the changes in the brain that occur during sleep do not support the information processing and storage needed for memory formation to take place.

Woman Dreaming

19- Read a newspaper: đọc một tờ báo

Do you like to keep up with the local news when traveling? Reading a newspaper is a really great way to do that, because it also gives you invaluable language practice from an authentic piece of Vietnamese writing. Newspaper articles are my favourite texts to use for teaching reading classes, because they’re both topically interesting and filled with the type of language people hear every day in business and recreation. So, next time you want to ‘read the paper’ in Vietnam, make sure it’s a Vietnamese one!

20- Shopping: mua sắm

Retail therapy is not just a thing in your own country. If you’ve never before gone shopping in Vietnam, you’re in for a treat! Use this verb when planning a day for visiting the best stores in the city, the more authentic and affordable spots where the locals shop, or the colorful open-air markets. My travel tip: if you want to really blend in and lose the ‘tourist’ stamp, ask a Vietnamese friend to take you shopping wherever they go for their own gear. You’ll definitely need to do this if you’re planning to stay in Vietnam for a long time – especially to find suitable work clothes.

Busy Shopping Mall

2. Don’t travel without knowing these top 10 verbs.

Essential Verbs

From the moment you buy a plane ticket, to the end of your journey, there are certain activities you are guaranteed to do plenty of while traveling. It makes sense, then, to learn the verbs that will inevitably become part of the sentences you’ll have to string together when you’re on-the-go in Vietnam.  

When the big day comes and you’re standing in the inevitable long and slow-moving line to board your plane, what do you typically think of? Perhaps you find yourself thinking of the on-board meals and wondering if you should buy some duty-free wine and chocolate – even though you’d rather avoid paying more money before you even reach Vietnam!  If you’re sharing your journey on Instagram, you might take a ‘Me, the nomad’ picture and think about how much nicer it is to land than it is to take off. 

If you’re like me, when the minutes lengthen and all your rational thoughts have been used up, you may find yourself studying the exterior of the plane for telltale signs of sabotage. If you’re not afraid of flying, though, your mind may already be on your destination: have you arranged a ride from the airport to your hotel? Perhaps you like to think about that first day in a new country: taking a tour, sightseeing… all the good things!

My advice for beating the queueing blues: put those earpods in and zone out with a relaxing Vietnamese audio lesson on your smartphone or Nook.

3. Negative verbs in Vietnamese

Negative Verbs

No matter who you are, sometimes you’re going to feel unhappy – you’re human. Knowing how to express your feelings is important and when you’re in a foreign country, you might need to do so in the local language. 

The first negative feeling I typically get when traveling is that I miss my family. This sadness can linger a while and if I’m tired from long-haul flights, I can get irritated by inconvenient things such as not being able to find my luggage. I’m sure you know the feeling!

While you don’t want to be rude to the first people you encounter in Vietnam, it’s perfectly reasonable to complain at the help desk. If the attendant doesn’t speak English, don’t be afraid to attempt your query in Vietnamese. Getting prompt help depends on your ability to communicate effectively; you want to bring attention to the apparent mistake made, while avoiding insult. Don’t overthink it, though – they won’t reject you just because you aren’t fluent! As you probably know by now, Vietnamese folk will appreciate your attempt to speak their language and this can only work in your favour.  

4. Conclusion

Well, today we’ve covered quite a few new everyday verbs in Vietnamese – particularly action verbs that you’ll use while traveling. I hope you’ve found them useful and that you feel inspired to learn even more. If you’ve already opened your free lifetime account, you’re well on your way to success. In fact, you’ll be practicing Vietnamese verbs right from the start, with the Word of the Day arriving in your inbox daily. Pretty neat, huh? 

If you’d like to to enhance your learning experience and jump ahead with Vietnamese, have a browse through these other cool products and freebies we offer:

  • For fun and unique audio lessons that will help you grasp the culture, try a lesson from our free eBooks – also available for kids. Great for long bus and train rides!
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  • As the world’s largest language education mobile app developer, we can also offer you free apps, such as Genko Flashcards. Flashcards are one of the most effective learning tools, because they involve all of your senses and this is a proven fast method for remembering vocabulary. You look at a picture of the word, hear it pronounced, and see it written all at the same time. Winner! 

With these tools and so much more, you’re going to thrive here with us at VietnamesePod101. Our commitment to helping you learn means we also encourage our VietnamesePod101 learners to communicate with each other, and you can chat with people in our online language learning community. It’s a fun way to work out problems, share knowledge and get some ‘talking’ practice before you even get to Vietnam. So, what are you waiting for? Sign up to VietnamesePod101 here and learn something cool right away!

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