Cantonese Vocabulary

The verbs section is arranged differently than the other vocabulary lessons on this site.  Instead of arranging words in terms of a theme, they will be arranged according to the type of object which they take.

Verbs 1 ] Verbs 2 ] Verbs 3 ] Verbs 4 ]

This page introduces grammar principles important in understanding Cantonese verbs.

Cantonese verbs vs. English verbs

Cantonese verbs differ from English verbs in some significant ways.  For one, most Cantonese verbs can become nouns without undergoing any sort of change.  In English, a verb is changed into its gerund form to act as a noun (e.g. "to swim" becomes "swimming").  In Cantonese, verbs do not change form.

Except for in a few cases, Cantonese verbs must have an object- even when acting as a noun.  The object can sometimes be understood from previous context.

Verb Phrases (VP)

Verb Phrases are made up of a verb and its object.  The object can be made up of another VP, a NP, or a sentence.  As mentioned before, in some cases the object is understood, and in a very few cases there is no object (similar to "intransitive verbs" in English).

Stative Verbs

There is a special sort of verb that does not fit this general description, sometimes called a "stative verb", that is comparable to the English part of speech "adjective."  They function syntactically much like other verbs, but semantically as adjectives.  They are not represented in these vocabulary pages on verbs.  They are briefly discussed in Cantonese GL3.

Noun Phrases (NP)

Noun phrases are made up of a noun and its descriptors.  The descriptors of a noun can be adjective phrases, which in turn can be verb phrases or noun phrases, so the descriptions can become quite complex.  An NP's descriptors come immediately before it and are separated from the noun by the particle ge.  (see Cantonese GL5)

Verbs 1 ] Verbs 2 ] Verbs 3 ] Verbs 4 ]


Cantonese sentences consist of a topic and a comment on that topic.  In general, the topic is an NP and the comment is a VP, corresponding to the English components of "subject" and "predicate", although there are times where this is not the case.  Some verbs take a sentence as their object.

Some verbs that take an NP as their object can also take a VP as an indirect object that describes the reason for the action on the noun.  When combined, these will appear to form a sentence, but the independent sentence formed has a fundamentally different meaning than in the original sentence.

(My use here of "indirect object" may be inaccurate, as these VP's perform more of an adverbial function than that of an object.  A better term may be "object complement" or just "adverbial phrase", but  since there is no consensus on what these should be called, I am using "indirect object" since that is a term more familiar to most people.)

Default Objects

Many verbs have a default object.  These objects are added to the verb when there is no other object to add.  Common examples of these are jaahp (miscellaneous) and /yeh/ (things/stuff),  These are included with the verb when the verb acts as a noun and there is no other object to use.

Resultative Complements

Resultative complements modify a verb.  They follow directly after the verb and often separate the verb from its object.  This vocabulary list will not go into detail, but they are mentioned here because the verbs are often used with a resultative complement in place of an object.  Resultative complements will be discussed in Cantonese GL8 in relation to aspect markers.

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