Decoding Chinese Serial Verb Construction: An In-Depth Guide to Action Chains


Due to its extensive syntactic flexibility, the Chinese language possesses a unique characteristic called Serial Verb Constructions (SVCs). SVCs, also known as action chains, provide a concise and cohesive representation of complicated activities or events. This article seeks to debunk the myth surrounding Chinese SVCs by thoroughly explaining their usage and illustrative examples and associated pinyin for pronunciation guidance.

Understanding Serial Verb Constructions

Mandarin is one of the languages that frequently uses the syntactic structure known as serial verb construction (SVC). Without coordinating conjunctions like “and” or “then,” numerous verbs are concatenated into a single sentence. This feature makes it possible to portray a sequence of events, an action, and its outcome, or a procedure and its result. SVCs provide a way to condense a multitude of data into a single statement.

SVCs are widely used in Mandarin, making them essential to spoken and written communication. They assist in concisely and accurately presenting concepts.

Chinese SVCs: The Structural Aspects

Like English, Chinese SVCs often follow the Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) structure. The main distinction is that although Chinese SVCs order the verbs, conjunctions or prepositions are often used in English to link verbs. English speakers may initially find it challenging to understand, but the idea becomes increasingly apparent with time and repetition.

Here’s a basic structure of a Chinese SVC:

Subject + Verb 1 + Object 1 (optional) + Verb 2 + Object 2 (optional) + …


我 (wǒ) + 走 (zǒu) + 到 (dào) + 学校 (xué xiào) + 看 (kàn) + 书 (shū)

Translation: I walk to school to read books.

In the above example, “我走到学校” (wǒ zǒu dào xué xiào) and “我看书” (wǒ kàn shū) denote two actions occurring in sequence. The subject “我” (wǒ), which translates to ‘I,’ is the performer of both activities. Interestingly, these two actions are linked without the use of a conjunction.

In the illustration above, “我走到学校” (wǒ zǒu dào xué xiào) and “我看书” (wǒ kàn shū) signify two events taking place in succession. The subject carries out both activities or “I,” which is represented by the character “我” (wǒ). Interestingly, there is no conjunction used to connect these two acts.

Categorization of Chinese SVCs

Chinese SVCs can be divided into several categories, each with its guidelines and uses. Among the most typical ones are those listed below:

Directional SVCs

Mandarin uses directional SVCs to denote the direction of an action. Typically, the structure looks like this: Subject + Verb + Directional Complement.

For instance:

他 (tā) + 跑 (pǎo) + 出去 (chū qù)

Translation: He runs out.

Here, “跑出去” (pǎo chū qù) is a directional SVC where “跑” (pǎo) is the Verb (run) and “出去” (chū qù) is the directional complement (out).

Resultative SVCs

SVCs that describe outcomes describe an action and its work. They often have the following syntax: subject + verb + result.

For example:

我 (wǒ) + 听 (tīng) + 懂了 (dǒng le)

Translation: I have understood what I heard.

In this example, “听懂了” (tīng# I’ll use the browser tool to look up more information on Chinese SVCs to continue the explanation. search(“types of Chinese serial verb constructions”). 懂了 (dǒng le) is a resultative SVC. The verb “听” (tīng) means ‘listen,’ and “懂了” (dǒng le) is the result, translating to ‘understood.’

Descriptive SVCs

Descriptive SVCs provide further details regarding the condition of the subject or object. Typically, they are organized as follows: Subject + Verb + Description.

For example:

她 (tā) + 坐 (zuò) + 得 (de) + 累 (lèi)

Translation: She sits until she’s tired.

In this instance, “坐得累” (zuò de lèi) is a descriptive SVC, where “坐” (zuò) is the Verb (sit), and “累” (lèi) is the description (tired).

Potential SVCs

Potential SVCs show if a course of action is likely or unlikely. They often have the following formatting: Subject + Verb + 得 (de) or 不 (bù) + outcome.

For example:

我 (wǒ) + 听 (tīng) + 得 (de) + 懂 (dǒng)

Translation: I can understand what I hear.

Here, “听得懂” (tīng de dǒng) is a potential SVC, where “听” (tīng) is the Verb (listen), and “懂” (dǒng) is the result (understand).

SVCs and Chinese Language Proficiency

It’s essential to master SVCs if you want to become fluent in Mandarin. It makes it possible to explain complicated thoughts and opens the door for more fluid and natural speaking. Despite the initial difficulties, mastering SVCs can significantly improve one’s understanding and use of the Chinese language.


In conclusion, Chinese SVCs provide an intriguing window into the distinctive syntactic characteristics of the Chinese language thanks to their adaptability and expressiveness. Accepting the idea of SVCs and adopting them into regular language usage can help learners transform their learning of Chinese.

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