How to Use 起来 (qǐlái) in Chinese: Explained in Detail with Examples

The Chinese language is a complex tapestry of characters, tones, and grammatical structures, and mastering its subtleties requires time and effort. One of the versatile and commonly used phrases in Chinese is 起来 (qǐlái). Let’s dive deep into its usage and significance.

1. The Basic Meaning of 起来 (qǐlái)

Translated, 起 (qǐ) means “to rise” or “to get up,” and 来 (lái) means “to come.” Combined, 起来 (qǐlái) can be translated as “to rise” or “to stand up.” However, this combination is often used in more abstract ways than its literal meaning suggests.

2. Using 起来 (qǐlái) to Indicate the Start of an Action

One of the primary uses of 起来 is to indicate the beginning or the initiation of an action.


  • 他笑起来了。(Tā xiào qǐlái le.) Translation: He started to laugh.

3. Using 起来 (qǐlái) to Express a Feeling or Sensation

This construction is frequently used to describe a particular emotion or sensation resulting from a situation, event, or experience.


  • 这首歌听起来很好。(Zhè shǒu gē tīng qǐlái hěn hǎo.) Translation: This song sounds really good.

4. Using 起来 (qǐlái) in a Complementary Sense

起来 can be used after a verb to emphasize the result or state after the action.


  • 把书捡起来。(Bǎ shū jiǎn qǐlái.) Translation: Pick up the book.

5. Using 起来 (qǐlái) to Describe Potential or Capability

In some contexts, 起来 can express the ease or difficulty of an action.


  • 这道题做起来很简单。(Zhè dào tí zuò qǐlái hěn jiǎndān.) Translation: This question is easy to do.

6. Using 起来 (qǐlái) in a Reflective Sense

Sometimes, 起来 is employed to reflect upon a feeling or experience.


  • 说起来容易,做起来难。(Shuō qǐlái róngyì, zuò qǐlái nán.) Translation: Easier said than done.

7. Using 起来 (qǐlái) to Emphasize Continuation

It can also denote the ongoing nature or continuity of an action.


  • 他跑起来真快!(Tā pǎo qǐlái zhēn kuài!) Translation: He really runs fast!

Tips for Practice

  • Pay attention to context. As demonstrated, 起来 (qǐlái) can have varied meanings depending on the situation.
  • Practice with native speakers. It will give you a clearer understanding of when and how to use 起来 (qǐlái) naturally in conversations.
  • Listen to Chinese songs, watch movies, or read texts. Exposure to authentic content can significantly enhance understanding and usage of such versatile phrases.

In conclusion, while 起来 (qǐlái) might appear simple at first glance, it’s a versatile and essential component in the Chinese language. Mastering its use will not only improve your fluency but will also give you deeper insight into the nuanced way in which the Chinese language constructs meaning.

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FAQs about Using 起来 (qǐlái) in Chinese

Q1: Can 起来 (qǐlái) be used with any verb?

A1: While 起来 (qǐlái) is versatile, it doesn’t fit naturally with every verb. It’s essential to familiarize oneself with common collocations and contexts where it’s used.

Q2: Is the literal translation “to rise” commonly used?

A2: Yes, in some contexts, like when talking about physically getting up. E.g., 早上起来 (zǎoshang qǐlái) means “get up in the morning.”

Q3: How is 起来 (qǐlái) different from other verb complements in Chinese?

A3: Chinese has several verb complements. 起来 (qǐlái) often emphasizes the initiation or the result of an action, whereas other complements might indicate a direction, potentiality, or other nuances.

Q4: Can 起来 (qǐlái) be used to talk about future actions?

A4: Yes, it can. For example, “明天你可以早点起来” (míngtiān nǐ kěyǐ zǎo diǎn qǐlái) means “You can get up earlier tomorrow.”

Q5: How is “看起来” (kàn qǐlái) different from just “看” (kàn)?

A5: “看” (kàn) on its means “to look” or “to watch.” When you add 起来 (qǐlái), it changes the meaning to “seems” or “looks like.” For instance, “她看起来很累” (tā kàn qǐlái hěn lèi) means “She looks tired.”

Q6: Is there a difference in tone or emphasis when using 起来 (qǐlái) in spoken Chinese?

A6: Not mainly, but context and surrounding words can affect the emphasis in a sentence. However, as always, correct tonal pronunciation is vital for clarity in Chinese.

Q7: Are there any common mistakes learners should be aware of when using 起来 (qǐlái)?

A7: One common mistake is overusing or placing it in unnecessary contexts. It’s essential to practice and listen to native speakers to grasp its natural usage.

Q8: Can 起来 (qǐlái) be used in formal writing?

A8: Yes, 起来 (qǐlái) is suitable for both spoken and written Chinese, including formal contexts. However, as with any language, suitability often depends on the text’s specific context and desired tone.

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