Directional complements in the Chinese language

directional complements

Directional complements

In the Chinese language, there are verbs of motion that, besides movement, also express direction. These verbs can be used transitively and intransitively, and are conventionally divided into two groups:

The first group is made up of the verbs 来 (lái) “to come” and 去 (qù) “to go”

Here are some examples:

老师来了。
Lǎoshī lái le.
The professor arrived.

其他同学不来上课。
Qítā tóngxué bu lái shàngkè.
The other students aren’t coming to the lesson.

我爷爷不能来。
Wǒ yéye bù néng lái.
My grandfather can’t come.

白先勇老师没来。
Bái Xiānyǒng lǎoshī méi lái.
Professor Bai Xianyong didn’t come.

莫言要去重庆。
Mò yán yào qù Chóngqìng.
Mo Yan will go to Chongqing.

李小龙去过佛山。
Lǐ Xiǎolóng qùguo Fóshān.
Bruce Lee was in Foshan.

我明天不能去上课。
Wǒ míngtiān bùnéng qù shàngkè.
Tomorrow I won’t be able to go to class.

我妈妈没去过中国。
Wǒ māma méiqùguo Zhōngguó.
My mother has never gone to Cina.

As you can see from the examples, the verbs 来 and 去 can be used both transitively and intransitively, therefore followed by the object that could be a specific or figurative place, in the case of “to go/to come to class”.

The second group instead, is made up of a number of verbs that precede 来 (lái) and 去 (qù) to express movement toward precise directions.

In these cases, 来 expresses a movement that goes toward the direction of the speaker; 去, instead, expresses a movement that goes away from the speaker.

The translations of 来 and 去, respectively “to come” and “to go”, could be helpful in remembering the direction that these express. There are numerous verbs in this group. Let’s examine them in detail:

上 (shàng) “to go up on, up, toward the top, above, on”

An example of an intransitive use:

毛老师上来了。
Máo lǎoshī shànglai le.
Professor Mao went up, or he went in the direction of the one speaking.

毛老师上去了。
Máo lǎoshī shàngqu le.
Professor Mao went up, or he went away from the one speaking.

An example of a transitive use (the object is placed between the main verb and 来 / 去):

毛老师上楼来了。
Máo lǎoshī shànglóu lái le.
Professor Mao “went up” the stairs, or he went in the direction of the one speaking.

毛老师上楼去了。
Máo lǎoshī shànglóu qùle.
Professor Mao “went up” the stairs, or he went away from the direction of the one speaking.

下 (xià) “to go down, lower, toward the bottom, below, down”

An example of an intransitive use:

毛老师下来了。
Máo lǎoshī xià lai le.
Professor Mao went down in the direction of the one speaking.

毛老师下去了。
Máo lǎoshī xià qu le.
Professor Mao went down away from the direction of the one speakin.

An example of a transitive use (the object is placed between the main verb and 来/去):

毛老师下楼来了。
Máo lǎoshī xiàlóu lái le.
Professor Mao “went down” the stairs in the direction of the one speaking.

毛老师下楼去了。
Máo lǎoshī xià lóu qu le.
Professor Mao “went down” the stairs away from the direction of the one speaking.

过 (guò) “to cross, here, there”

An example of an intransitive use:

亲爱请过来。
Qīn’ài qǐng guòlai.
Dear, please come here. Go in the direction of the one speaking.

亲爱请过去。
Qīn’ài qǐng guò qu.
Dear, please go there. Go away from the direction of the one speaking.

An example of a transitive use:

我的朋友过路来了。
Wǒ de péngyou guòlù lái le.
My friend crossed the street. Going in the direction of the one speaking.

我的朋友过路去了。
Wǒ de péngyou guò lù qu le.
My friend crossed the street. Going away from the direction of the one speaking.

回 (huí) “to return (to a place)”

An example of a transitive use:

终于爸爸回来了。
Zhōngyú bàba huílai le.
In the end papa came back. He went in the direction of the one speaking.

我的上海朋友要回去。
Wǒ de Shànghǎi péngyou yào huíqu.
My friend from Shanghai has to come back. He must return by going away from the one speaking.

An example of an intransitive use:

我妈妈回家来了。
Wǒ māma huíjiā lái le.
My mom came back home. She returned in the direction of the one speaking.

意大利大使回北京去了。
Yìdàlì dàshǐ huí Běijīng qùle.
The Italian ambassador returned to Beijing. He came back away from the one speaking.

进 (jìn) “to enter”

An example of a transitive use:

请问,你可以进来吗?
Qǐngwèn, nǐ kěyǐ jìn lai ma?
Excuse me, can one enter? in the direction of the one speaking.

你先进去吧!
Nǐ xiān jìnqu ba!
You go in first! going away from the one speaking.

An example of an intransitive use:

老师进教室来了。
Lǎoshī jìn jiàoshì lái le.
The professor entered the class. He entered in the direction of the one speaking.

各位同学进教室去吧!
Gèwèi tóngxué jìn jiàoshì qù ba!
Students, please enter the classroom! The enter by going away from the one speaking.

出 (chū) “to go out, to leave”

老板突然出来了。
Lǎobǎn tūrán chūlai le.
Suddenly the boss jumped outside, in the direction of the one speaking.

医生出去了。
Yīshēng chūqu le.
The doctor left. Going away from the one speaking.

Other than very rare exceptions, this verb isn’t used in a transitive form with 来 or 去.

他出门去了。
Tā chūmén qùle.
He left.

Figurative directional complements

There is a series of movement verbs which, if together with other characters, express a meaning different than what it would usually have. These characters are conventionally called “figurative directionals”.

过去 (guò qu) can indicate the passing of time.

秋天已经过去了,冬天快来了。
Qiūtiān yǐjing guòqule, dōngtiān kuài lái le.
Autumn is has passed by now and winter is about to arrive.

起来 (qǐlai) recalls to mind or to remind of something or someone.

我终于想起你的名字来。
Wǒ zhōngyú xiǎngqǐ nǐ de míngzi lái.
In the end I remembered your name.

突然想起来了。
Tūrán xiǎng qǐlai le.
In the end I remembered them.

起来 (qǐlai) can begin an action.

她唱起蔡依林的歌来了。
Tā chàngqǐ Cài Yīlín de gē lái le.
She started singing a song by Jolin Tsai.

这个小孩子哭起来了,那个笑起来了。
Zhège xiǎoháizi kū qǐlai le, nàge xiàoqǐlai le.
This kid started crying, that one started laughing.

天气热起来了。
Tiānqì rè qǐlai le.
The temperature got hot.

下来 (xiàlai) indicates the gradual diminishing of an action or state.

公共汽车停下来了。
Gōnggòng qìchē tíng xiàlai le.
The bus gradually stopped.

小孩子们安静下来了。
Xiǎoháizimen ānjìng xiàlai le.
The kids slowly calmed down.

下去 (xiàqu) indicates the continuation or restarting of an action.

请唱下去吧,你唱得很好听!
Qǐng chàng xiàqu ba, nǐ chàng dehěn hǎotīng!
Please, keep singing. You sing well!

坚持下去!没有什么不可能!
Jiānchí xiàqu! Méiyǒu shénme bù kěnéng!
Don’t give up! Nothing is impossible!

上 (shàng) indicates something that one can put on one’s body or the surface of something else.

夏天的时候,我平时穿上一件T恤。
Xiàtiān de shíhou, wǒ píngshí chuānshang yī jiàn T xù.
In summer I usually wear a T-shirt.

我妈妈在封上贴上两张邮票。
Wǒ māma zài fēngshàng tiēshàng liǎng zhāng yóupiào.
My mother attached two stamps to the letter.

上大学后,我开始戴上眼镜。
Shàng dàxué hòu, wǒ kāishǐ dàishang yǎnjìng.
After beginning university I started wearing glasses.

上 (shàng) implies the closing of something.

我闭上了嘴,她闭上了眼睛。
Wǒ bìshangle zuǐ, tā bìshangle yǎnjing.
I closed my mouth and she closed her eyes.

请你关上门。我已经关上了窗户。
Qǐng nǐ guān shangmén. Wǒ yǐjing guānshangle chuānghu.
Please close the door. I already closed the windows.

上 (shàng) implies a success or the realization of something difficult.

他考上了北京大学。
Tā kǎoshangle Běijīng Dàxué.
He was admitted into Beijing University.

我还没看上叶问3.
Wǒ hái méi kànshang Yè Wèn 3.
I haven’t yet managed to see Ye Wen 3.

你终于买上了房子吗?
Nǐ zhōngyú mǎishàngle fángzi ma?
In the end did you manage to buy a house?

上 (shàng) implies an addition.

请种上两棵树。
Qǐng zhòngshang liǎng kē shù.
Please plant another two trees.

算上我吧!
Suànshàng wǒ ba!
Consider me in!

下 (xià) implies a detachment or removal.

别脱下雨衣,快要下雨了。
Bié tuōxià yǔyī, kuàiyào xiàyǔ le.
Don’t take off your raincoat because it’s about to rain.

她从树上摘下了一朵花。
Tā cóng shù shang zhāixiàle yī duǒ huā.
She picked a flower from a tree.

下 (xià) may want to indicate the noting of something.

我会忘记,我记下来!
Wǒ huì wàngjì, wǒ jì xiàlai!
I might forget, so I’ll write it down!

同学们,写下这句话。
Tóngxué men, xiěxià zhè jù huà.
Students, write this phrase.

出 (chū) or 出来 (chūlai) reveals something or recognizes something.

叶师傅,我真看不出来你这么厉害。
Yè shīfu, wǒ zhēn kànbuchūlai nǐ zhème lìhai.
Master Ye, I never imagined that he was so strong.

你能听出来这是哪里的方言吗?
Nǐ néng tīng chūlai zhè shì nǎli de fāngyán ma?
Can you understand (by listening) which dialect this is?

我没听出来他是中国人。
Wǒ méi tīng chūlai tā shì Zhōngguórén.
I didn’t understand that he was Chinese.

这篇文章我全看得懂,但是用自己的话我不能说出来。
Zhè piān wénzhāng wǒ quán kànde dǒng, dànshì yòng zìjǐ dehuà wǒ bùnéng shuō chūlai.
I understood the entire article but am not able to tell it in my own words.

已经过了很多年,我不认出来我的前任了。
Yǐjingguo le hěn duō nián, wǒ bù rèn chūlai wǒ de qiánrèn le.
Many years have passed, I no longer recognize my ex.

过来 (guòlai) indicates the change in a situation.

这本小说已经翻译过来了。
Zhè běn xiǎoshuō yǐjing fānyì guòlai le.
This novel was already translated.

他们的帽子换过来了。
Tāmen de màozi huàn guòlai le.
They changed their hair.

过来 (guòlai), preceded by 不, indicates the impossibility of doing something.

孩子太多了,妈妈一个人照顾不过来。
Háizi tài duō le, māma yī gèrén zhàogù bu guòlai.
The kids are too much, the mother can’t take care of them alone.

谢谢你们,但是这么多菜,我吃不过来啊。
Xièxie nǐmen, dànshì zhème duō cài, wǒ chī buguò lái a.
Thanks, but I can’t eat all this food.

Note that the verbs commonly used together with 过来 with this function are: 吃 (to eat),用 (to use),玩 (to enjoy/to play),看 (to read/to look),干 (to do),管 (to watch after),数 (to count),背 (to learn by memory),念 (to read),算 (to calculate),复习 (to review),照顾 (to take care of)。

过来 (guòlai), indicates the return to a normal or original state and, usually, has a positive connotiation.

图蒙多把这个错字改过来了。
Tú Méngduō bǎ zhège cuòzì gǎi guòlai le.
Tu Mengduo corrected this wrong character.

经过医生的抢救,爸爸终于醒过来了。
Jīngguò yīshēng de qiǎngjiù, bàba zhōngyú xǐng guòlai le.
Thanks to the help from the doctor, papa eventually got up again.

Photo Credits: Creative Commons License Look Right by Joop

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