How to soften your tone with verb reduplication in Chinese

In Chinese by Gwilym James

In Mandarin, we can repeat some words, usually verbs and adjectives, to soften the meaning and tone of expression slightly.

Take a look at the gallery post below from our #SkritterChineseTips mini-lessons from Instagram.

1

In Mandarin, we can repeat some words, usually verbs and adjectives, to soften the meaning and tone of expression slightly. Let’s take a look at some of these verbs!

  • 看书 kànshū: to read
  • 看看书 kànkan shū: to read a bit

2

Repeating a verb, like in 看看书, indicates doing something “a little bit” with the action done rather casually. Only volitional verbs, things we willingly do, can be reduplicated, for example:

我喜欢音乐。周末就在家听听音乐,看看书。
Wǒ xǐhuan tīng yīnyuè. Zhōumò jiù zài jiā tīngting yīnyuè, kànkan shū.
I enjoy listening to music. On the weekend, (I) just stay home and listen to some music and do some reading.

3

Many verbs in Mandarin are Verb-Object structure, such as 说话 shuōhuà “to speak words” and 跑步 pǎobù “to run”. In V-O structures, only the verb is repeated.

  • 说说话 shuōshuo huà “to talk a bit, to chat”
  • 跑跑步 pǎopao bù “to run a bit”
  • 看看电视 kànkan diànshì “to watch some TV”

4: Tone Changes!

Yes, as you saw in the previous examples, there are some tone changes going on. When a monosyllabic verb is repeated, the repeated (second) one is usually a neutral tone because the first one is the main verb and takes the “stress“.

  • 吃吃东西 chīchi dōngxi “to nibble, to snack”
  • 出去走走 chūqù zǒuzou “to take a stroll outside”

5

For monosyllabic verbs, 一 can be added between the original and the repeated verb. The meaning stays the same, but the repeated verb will remain the same tone as the original.

  • 说一说 shuō yìshuō
  • 吃一吃 chī yìchī
  • 走一走 zǒu yìzǒu
  • 看一看 kàn yíkàn
  • Note: tone changes for 一 yī:When followed by a 4th tone, 一 is pronounced as a 2nd tone. When followed by a 1st, 2nd or 3rd tone, 一 is pronounced in the 4th tone.

6

What about disyllabic (two character) verbs? Most of the volitional verbs can be reduplicated to indicate doing it relatively casually or soften the tone of the sentence.

  • 讨论讨论 tǎolùn tǎolùn: “to discuss a bit”
  • 整理整理 zhěnglǐ zhěnglǐ “to tidy up a little”
  • 参观参观 cānguān cānguān “to casually visit”

Card 7:

For disyllabic (multi-character) verbs, the repeated portion remains the same tone as the original verbs. Unlikely monosyllabic verbs, you cannot add 一 to these.

  • 这个问题,我和他讨论讨论,再告诉你。
    Zhègè wèntí, wǒ hé tā tǎolùn tǎolùn, zài gàosù nǐ.
    Regarding this topic, let me discuss it with them a little and then I’ll let you know.

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