In Chinese, many verbs consist of two characters. However, not all two-character verbs function in the same way. One category of two-character verbs consists of verbs where the two characters cannot be separated. For example, 工作 (gōnḡzuò, to work), 翻译 (fānyì, to translate) and 介绍 (jièshào, to introduce).

Another category of two-character verbs consists of verbs where the two characters can become separated. For example, 游泳 (yóuyǒng, to swim; literally "to swim" + "action of swinning"), 洗澡 (xǐzaǒ, to bath/shower), 排队 (páiduì, to queue, stand in line), 打折 (dǎzhé, to give a discount) and 生气 (shēngqì, to get angry). For example, you can say things like "他游了三个小时泳" (he swam for three hours, see Chinese SE) and "洗了澡, ..." can mean "after showering, ...".

The texbook series New Practical Chinese Reader identifies these verbs as "verb plus object" (动宾式动词). The trouble is, dictionaries just list these words as "verbs" and if there is no example sentence where the verb gets split, you don't know whether you are dealing with a "normal verb" or "verb plus object". Native speakers of Chinese just know this, but it is hard to figure out for learners of the language.

Is there a list of "verb plus object" verbs, ideally with example sentences? The list does not need to be comprehensive, but it should go beyond the very basic examples I listed above. A dictionary that identifies "verb plus object" verbs would also be helpful. It needn't be a Chinese - English dictionary; Chinese - French, Chinese - German, Chinese - Spanish or even Chinese-only would also work.

A similar question was posed to Chinese Language Stack Exchange in 2014: Is there a comprehensive list of separable verbs/离合动词 anywhere? There are several lists out there, but they're not comprehensive--mostly the kind of things you'd find in a blog post-sized Chinese lesson on what the concept is:

When you're searching for a list or examples, try searching for 离合词 (líhécí), "separable word".

  1. 工作, 翻译, and 介绍 are verbal phrases (in accordance with the definition in English grammar) used as verbs or 词 (more-than-1-character Chinese structures with 1 inseparable meaning; a structure comparable to any given English verb). But, the two characters in aforementioned verbs have similar meanings or cannot stand alone to mean what the verbs mean at least in modern Chinese context.

  2. To me, the separation of the 2 characters in a verb depends on 2 things: a)in itself, the strucutre is verb+object, e.g.: 打折 and 排队;b)in a colloquial setting, for example 生气, 洗澡, and 游泳, which are not technically verb+object structures.

What I can tell you is this:

  1. there is no such list as you would like to have;
  2. as long as the "verbs" can be clearly and indisputably divided into a verb and its object, you can insert a (time) modifier at least when the usage is colloquial as in 购了三千块的物 or 购了五小时的物;
  3. avoid the insertion/separation usage when you want to write seriously or sound formal.
  • You write, 'as long as the "verbs" can be clearly and indisputably divided into a verb and its object ...'. But the problem behind my question is precisely: how do you find out whether this is the case if dictionaries don't tell you this? – Christophe Strobbe May 21 at 15:07
  • There are just no such dictionaries as per your request. The alternative might be a troublesome one: break 词 down into characters, and determine the grammatical relationship between characters with the help of a dictionary. All (off the top of my big head and the small one of my wife) verb+object and even verb+prepositional phrases (排队, to queue in line, which should be a correction to my answer) can be split up with modifiers inserted. Luckily the method will keep you safe at least in a colloquial setting, and unluckily the method might not even be in your zip code... I tried. – S.Z. May 22 at 16:35

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