Serial constructions in Chinese

Serial constructions in Chinese

The Chinese language often allows the juxtaposition of two adjectives and or verbs without the help of any element of which a language like Italian or English would use. This juxtaposition is commonly known as “serial constructions”.

Let’s clear up the concept right away: a serial constructions consists of two (or more) verbal predicates that share the same subject and follow one another without the use of conjunctions (or commas).

In Chinese there are different types of serial constructions that are divided according to the meaning that they wish to express.

Let’s study these serial constructions in detail:

Serial constructions that express a time sequence

The action expressed by the first verb takes place before that expressed by the second verb. Usually, after the first verb you’ll find the perfect particle 了 (le) which we’ve already discussed in detail in a preceding article.

Here are some examples:

Wǒ érzi xià le kè huíjiā lái le.
My son, once finished with the lesson, returned home.

Yīshēng shuō, chī le yào bìxū qù shuìjiào.
The doctor said that, taking the pills, I have to go to bed.

Serial constructions that express a purpose

The action described by the second verb is the purpose of the action expressed by the first verb. Quite often, the second verb is introduced by the character 来(lái) which, in this case, can be thought of as “at the end of”.

Here are some examples:

Wǒ láidàole Chóngqìng xuéxí Hànyǔ.
I came to Chongqing to study Chinese.

Wǒ láidàole Chóngqìng lái xuéxí Hànyǔ.
I came to Chongqing to study Chinese.

Wǒ qù chāoshì mǎi dōngxi.
I go to the supermarket to buy something.

Wǒ xiǎng qù túshūguǎn lái jiè shū.
I intend to go to the library and take out some books.

Important: Expressions like 以便 (yǐbiàn), which means “in order to”, 以免(yǐmiǎn), which means “to avoid that”, are very useful within the serial constructions indicating a purpose.

Here are some examples:

Tā xuéxí Zhōngwén yǐbiàn zhǎodào gōngzuò.
He studies Chinese in order to find work.

Wǒ nǔlì xuéxí yǐmiǎn ràng māma nánguò.
I study hard to avoid making my mother sad.

Serial constructions that entail 用, 坐, 着 and others

Here are the structures for serial constructions that entail 用 (yòng), which means “to use”, 坐 (zuò), which means “to take public transport”, 着 (zhe), or particle of duration, and so forth:

Wǒ píngshí zuò diàntī shàng qī lóu.
Usually I go up to the seventh floor in the elevator.

Wǒmen zuìhǎo yòng Zhōngwén shuōhuà.
It’s better that we speak in Chinese.

Tā de nánpéngyou wòzhe tā de shǒu shuō: wǒ ài nǐ.
His fiancee, shaking his hand, told him: I love you.

Other cases

Here’s an example of serial constructions where the main verb is followed by a second verb that doesn’t add new information but repeats the same idea from a different perspective using a negative antonym expression:

Jǐngchá zhuāzhù xiǎotōu bù fàng.
The policemen hold the thief firmly and don’t let him go.

Here are some serial constructions with the verb 有 followed by its object and another verb that expresses an intentional action that refers to that object (quite often, before the second verb you’ll find an auxiliary modal):

Wǒ jīntiān méiyǒu qián kěyǐ huā.
Today I don’t have money to spend.

Wǒ hái yǒu yī piān lùnwén yào xiěwán.
I still have a thesis to finish and write.

Nǎli yǒu mántou kěyǐ mǎi?
Where can we buy mantou?

Wǒ méiyǒu shénme fù zérèn gàosu tā.
I don’t have any responsibility in referring it to him.

Nǐ méiyǒu lǐyóu měitiān dào tā nàli húshuōbādào.
You don’t have any reason to go to her every day and say shocking things.


As you will have noticed, the five different serial constructions that I’ve listed in this article doesn’t have a specific name because I couldn’t manage to think up an appropriate technical term.

I turn it over to you, dear readers, in the hope that you might help me find the technical names by writing in the comments below. Thank you from my heart!

Photo Credits: Creative Commons License Chinese Characters by j.casey.oneill

2 thoughts on “Serial constructions in Chinese”

  1. Armando Turturici

    Dear Dr Joergensen,

    thank You for the appreciation, I really hope these articles will be helpful to You!
    I think that “compound predicates” fits pretty well; moreover, in Italian it would be “predicati composti”… It sounds very good!
    Thank You for your cooperation :)

    Best regards,

  2. Holger Lindberg Joergensen

    Dear Professor Turturici,

    Yet another excellent article from your hand, professor. Thank you very much.

    Could the overall technical name that you are pondering be “compound predicates” (of which there two main groups/categories as I understand it)?

    Cheerio from Carrickfergus, NI

    Dr Joergensen

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