Chinese Causative Verbs: A Comprehensive Guide to 让 (ràng) and 叫 (jiào)

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Learning Chinese causative verbs is essential to become fluent in Mandarin. They are particular kinds of verbs that induce action in someone or something else. We’ll concentrate on two of them today: 让 (ràng) and 叫 (jiào). Although both can be used to direct or request someone to do something, their application varies depending on the situation. Let’s learn more about these verbs, their uses, and some of the subtle distinctions between them.

Understanding 让 (ràng)

The verb “letting” or “allowing” someone to accomplish something is known as 让 (ràng) in Chinese. It can also be utilized similarly to how “to make” or “to cause” are used in English. It appears like the speaker is being unresponsive. To demonstrate this, consider the following examples:

  • 他让我去买东西 (Tā ràng wǒ qù mǎi dōngxī) – He let me go shopping.
  • 她让我很难过 (Tā ràng wǒ hěn nánguò) – She makes me sad.

The speaker is the object of the action or emotion in these sentences. Remember that the verb that comes after (ràng) may be an action verb or a verb of state (expressing feelings or states).

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Understanding 叫 (jiào)

On the other hand, 叫 (jiào), which is equivalent to “tell” or “call” in English, is frequently employed more directly and actively. It often suggests the speaker’s position of authority or their connection to the person being addressed. Here are a few instances:

  • 妈妈叫我去学习 (Māma jiào wǒ qù xuéxí) – Mom told me to study.
  • 老师叫我们准备考试 (Lǎoshī jiào wǒmen zhǔnbèi kǎoshì) – The teacher told us to prepare for the exam.

In these instances, the party using 叫 (jiào) has some control over the subject who is being asked to carry out the task.

Key Differences between 让 (ràng) and 叫 (jiào)

The degree of formality between 让 (ràng) and 叫 (jiào) is one of their primary contrasts. In more formal settings or when decency is expected, the word 让 (ràng) is frequently employed. Although not always informal, “叫 (jiào)” is more commonly used in casual conversations among friends and relatives.

Which verb is employed can also depend on the nature of the activity. While 叫 (jiào) is more frequently used to teach or order an activity, 让 (ràng) is more frequently used to allow or enable an action.

Finally, there is a difference in the speaker’s directness and authority. While 叫 (jiào) is more aggressive, 让 (ràng) is more docile.


It can be challenging to comprehend the subtle differences between 让 (ràng) and 叫 (jiào), but with practice, you’ll be able to understand when to use each causative verb correctly. Understanding the contexts in which they are employed and the connections between the speakers is as meaningful as learning the literal translations. As with most language acquisition processes, mastery comes from repetition and exposure to the language in many settings.

Contact our head teacher Chen Huimin at if you want to learn Chinese or have additional questions about our Chinese programs. 

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