Chinese Directional Complements: An In-Depth Analysis of 来 (lái) and 去 (qù)

beach gf73e10ace 1920

A gratifying and intriguing experience can be had when learning the Chinese language. The use of directional complements, notably 来 (lái) and 去 (qù), is one of the fundamental concepts to master. These two characters greatly influence the direction and momentum of sentences. An in-depth discussion of 来 (lái) and 去 (qù), their usage, typical verb jumbles, temporal expressions, idiomatic phrases, and important distinctions between them are provided in this article.

Overview of 来 (lái) and 去 (qù)

Meaning of 来 (lái)

The multipurpose character 来 (lái) primarily denotes “to come” or “to arrive.” It denotes Movement in the speaker’s direction or a point of reference. It may function as a verb, directional complement, or as component of a verb-complement structure.

Meaning of 去 (qù)

It means “to go” or “to leave” in Chinese 去 (qù). It denotes moving away from the speaker or a point of reference. It can also be used as a verb, directional complement, or component of a verb-complement construction, just like 来 (lái).

Usage of 来 (lái) and 去 (qù) in Sentences

Basic Sentence Structure

The simplest way to use 来 (lái) and 去 (qù) is as verbs:

  • 他来了。(Tā lái le.) – He came.
  • 她去了。(Tā qù le.) – She went.

Verb-Object-Complement Structure

来 (lái) and 去 (qù) can be used as complements to other verbs:

  • 我买来了苹果。(Wǒ mǎi lái le píngguǒ.) – I bought (and brought back) apples.
  • 他寄去了信。(Tā jì qù le xìn.) – He sent (away) the letter.

Expressing Movement with 来 (lái) and 去 (qù)

These characters can also indicate the direction of Movement in a sentence:

她走出去了。(Tā zǒu chūqùle.) – She walked out.

请进来。(Qǐng jìn lái.) – Please come in.

to stage gb21d5a903 1920

Common Verb Combinations with 来 (lái) and 去 (qù)

来 (lái) Verb Combinations

Some common verb combinations with 来 (lái) include:

  • 回来 (huílái) – to come back, return
  • 过来 (guòlái) – to come over
  • 上来 (shànglái) – to come up
  • 下来 (xiàlái) – to come down

去 (qù) Verb Combinations

Examples of verb combinations with 去 (qù) are:

  • 出去 (chūqù) – to go out
  • 回去 (huíqù) – to go back, return
  • 过去 (guòqù) – to go over
  • 上去 (shàngqù) – to go up
  • 下去 (xiàqù) – to go down

Time Expressions with 来 (lái) and 去 (qù)

来 (lái) and 去 (qù) can be used to express time in the past or future:

  • 这两年来 (zhè liǎng nián lái) – in the past two years
  • 今后 (jīn hòu) – from now on (literally “from now going forward”)


For expressing direction and movement in sentences, Chinese directional complements, in particular 来 (lái) and 去 (qù), are crucial. Your Chinese language skills will be much enhanced if you know their usage, typical verb combinations, time expressions, idiomatic expressions, and significant differences.

REGISTER for our SUMMER CAMP in 2023!

Learn about our Internship Program in China.

Learn about holidays in China in 2023.

Get free Chinese learning resources.

Read about the Spring Festival Celebration on NRK’s ​​website:

Shopping Basket

Ønsker du en gratis prøveklasse? Registrer deg!

Bli med på en gratis prøveklasse i kinesisk!

Do you want a Free Trial Chinese Class? Register now!

Join a Free Trial Chinese Class!