Category Archives: Grammar

Reference grammar guide to the Vietnamese language

Long time no see! Lâu quá rồi không gặp!


My last post here was dated December 30, 2013. Today is October 4, 2015. I had said I had hoped my hiatus wouldn’t turn out to be permanent. Oh well… Life happens. To all of my friends and supportive readers, I’m very sooooorrrrry about the long hiatus!!!!!

A lot has happened since then. I finished my language study in China, gained a lot of good friends, got a job, breathed in quite a lot of P.M 2.5 in Beijing (the tiny, tiny toxic particles in the air that can pass through your lung membrane and enter your blood stream and reduce your life expectancy by 5 years – maybe I should blame the blog’s prolonged hiatus on PM 2.5?).

It warms my heart to think that you’d be able to find good-natured, kind-hearted people anywhere in the world, regardless of your background, upbringing, the types of food you eat, your customs and so on. Language in any case serves as either the barrier or the bridge to friendship. In my case, my investment paid off and I got a Chinese bridge (pun on the Chinese language competition).

But anyhow, lots of good things came to an end. I had a good year in China, and then moved forward. I had to think about a career, and so moved to the next place: the only country in the world whose official language is Vietnamese!

Guess where I’m based now? Hanoi.

Stuck in a 9-5 corporate job. Ooops. Wrong career choice. It’s relatively well-paid and I’ve always thought I’d settled down somewhere in a 9-5 white collar office job, but after a year I’m bored to tears at my job and stressed out. Common story, eh? Also adding to the hiatus is the fact that I had a lot of readjustments to make when back in Vietnam. I’ve been away from the country for 10 years, since I was a kid. Saying the country has changed a lot is an understatement. Imagine the legendary bamboo that grew 2 meter (6 ft 5) overnight.


So now I’d like go back to my roots, to doing what I’ve always enjoyed doing: teaching and learning languages.

One thing though: I’ve been out of commission for so long, so to all of those who asked what to do after reading my blog, that’s a question that will take me a while to answer.

There’s a very helpful Facebook group for Vietnamese learners:

You can ask questions in English and get the answer in English, or if you’re more advanced, ask and get an answer in Vietnamese!

For TV, not sure if you can access this overseas, but there’s a site called Zing TV ( and Zing music app with a lot of Vietnamese songs (they have English interface). I was never a fan of learning Vietnamese through songs since Vietnamese lyrics are too flowery for practical use, but hey, check out the new music. It maybe better now.

What’s next for the site, and when? It’ll take a while for me to gather myself together. Ideally I’d like to explain more intermediate stuff, start the audio sessions (been wanting to do this for a long while but never really had enough resources), get a part time job teaching Vietnamese here (my full time corporate gig foots the bills unfortunately) to gain more experience and get a sense of what is most useful for learners.

Anyhow, I’m back (and hopefully will be better than ever)! Cheers!

Who bought the scooter?


Please see the original by artist Nguyễn Thành Phong on his Facebook page here. This page comes from a really cool comic series called K0 còi which aims to raise traffic awareness for người Hà Nội by họa sĩ Thành Phong. 🙂







vehicle (car, scooter, etc.)

I (mom)




hit (punish)

So the mom told her (grown-up?) son: The scooter that I (mom) bought (xe mẹ mua), if you use dare to join a race on the street (đua), I’ll hit you (mẹ đánh).

In term of grammar, it’s a pretty good example of relative pronoun “that” (or more accurately, the lack of it). There are other points to discuss but let’s just focus on the relative pronoun “that” for today. Keep in mind that Vietnamese grammar does not correspond directly to English grammar (that’s my way of saying “if the language doesn’t make sense, it’s none of my problem”).

Cái áo












Relative pronoun without “that”: (Cái áo) (em mới mua) (đắt quá) – the shirt I just bought is too expensive.

Cô bé



hôm trước





số điện thoại

The girl

I (male)


the other day


agree to


me (male)

phone number

(Cô bé) (anh gặp hôm trước) (không chịu cho anh số điện thoại) – The girl that I met the other day wouldn’t give me her phone number.

Hiệu sách


quyển sách








the book



want to


Relative pronoun with “that”: “that” in Vietnamese would be equivalent to “.” “” is a Swiss army knife of Vietnamese words. It is used to mean many things. Its usage as “that”, the English relative pronoun, is one.

Hiệu sách không có (quyển sách) ( em muốn mua). – The bookstore does not have the book that I want to buy.

Cái anh diễn viên





đi lấy vợ

mất rồi

The actor



very much


got married


(Cái anh diễn viên) ( em rất thích) (đi lấy vợ mất rồi). – The actor that/whom I like very much got taken already (he got married).

And here’s the parting shot. You can figure it out yourself!

sắm” means the same thing as “mua“, and “cắm” means to pawn, “chém” means to chop, like pork chop.

PS: In terms of cultural background, this is common practice in Vietnam for the grown up child to depend on his/her parents financially and/or live with the parents well after graduating from college. For the mom to buy her grown up son a scooter is not that uncommon in Vietnam (a car is still extravagant though).

K0 còi comics series


My favorite Vietnamese artist, Nguyễn Thành Phong, just released a new comics series to raise public awareness about traffic etiquette for Hanoian. You can see the series on his Facebook page here. I think it’s awesome.

It’s been a long time since I last found exciting stuff that comes out of Hà Nội and probably a wake up call for me to start updating the blog again.

I’ve been MIA, especially with usable content for quite a while now. One reason is that I was quite occupied at work. The other is that I have been mulling over which direction I wanted the blog to follow. If I venture into Intermediate level, I wonder how many readers I will confuse. This was never intended as a primary source to learn the language, only as a reference or points to discuss with your teacher. It’s a free hobbyist blog, which I put a lot of time into. Now imagine people who complain about my blog but don’t have any good suggestion or solution.

Anyway, whichever way the wind blows. Let Intermediate level begins. If you find it too difficult, there’s always the previous lessons which are easier, or visit for absolute beginner lessons.

Hà Nội





In Hanoi




Hà Nội không vội được đâu. – In Hanoi, it’s not possible to rush.

If you live in a Hanoi for a full year, any year during the last 10 years, you most likely have lived through a flood which submerged part of the city. 

But first, a little memory jogging.

(1) Remember the question “Anh khỏe không?”

For “yes”, you answer ““, and for “no”, you answer “không“?

(2) Remember that “được” means it’s ok or possible or you have permission to do something (it also has other usages).

Cái này












go ahead


Cái này có ăn được không? Is it possible to eat this thing? (Is it edible?)

Được, cứ ăn đi. – Sure, go ahead (eat).


đi chợ



được không?

Không được,





You (male)

go grocery shopping

as a favor to



No, I cannot

I (male)




Anh đi chợ hộ em được không? Can you go grocery shopping for me?

Không được, anh đang bận lắm. No, I cannot. I’m really busy right now.

The point that I want to highlight to day is the structure “It’s not possible to do something…”.

Hà Nội không vội được đâu. – In Hanoi, it’s not possible to rush.

which in Vietnamese is both “someone + + do something + được đâu” and “someone + không + do something + được đâu

How come “có được đâu” and “không được đâu” both mean “it’s not possible…”?

And that’s where Vietnamese grammar doesn’t match up with English’s any more. You’ll just have to learn it. No easy way out. Don’t shoot the messenger (me). In particular, pay attention to the “đâu” at the end. If “đâu” doesn’t mean “where” (“ở đâu“), then it usually signifies a negative sentence.

Here are some examples:

Hôm qua



máy bay

cất cánh

được đâu.





takes off

not possible

Hôm qua bão to, máy bay có cất cánh được đâu – Yesterday there was a big storm. The airplane couldn’t take off.



như thế




được đâu


so much

like that



not possible

Ăn nhiều như thế không giảm cân được đâu – (If you) eat so much like that, it’s not possible to lose weight (giảm cân).









Romeo có quên được Juliet đâu – Romeo couldn’t forget Juliet





được đâu


scared of


too much


not possible

Nó sợ ma quá có ngủ được đâu – He/she is so afraid of ghost that he/she wasn’t able to sleep.


(1) if you have good eyesight, you’ve probably spotted “xí nghiệp thoát nước số 4” on the yellow sign. It means “water drainage facility No. 4”

xí nghiệp



số 4

facility, factory



No. 4

(2) to be on a diet is “ăn kiêng“. Ex: em đang ăn kiêng để giảm cân (I’m on a diet in order to lose weight).

Oh that’s too much! Quá lắm rồi đó!


A few things someone (you) may want to exclaim in Vietnamese:

1. buồn ngủ quá! (say this before going to bed or drinking extra large coffee) (I’m) very sleepy
2. buồn tè quá! I really want to pee. Nhà vệ sinh ở đâu? where’s the restroom?
3. đói quá! (I’m) very hungry
4. khát quá! (I’m) very thirsty
5. lạnh quá! Too cold!
6. nóng quá! Too hot!
7. mệt quá! (I’m) very tired / it’s so tiring
8. đau quá! Ouch! I’m hurt!
9. say / xỉn quá (rồi)! (you) are drunk!
10. mắc / đắt quá! Too expensive!
11. rẻ quá! So cheap!
12. ngon quá! So tasty!
13. dở quá! So bad! (food, music, clothes, person with bad personality, etc.)
14. bẩn quá! So dirty!
15. quá! So strange / weird / ridiculous!

On a happier note:
16. vui quá! So happy!
17. mừng quá! So happy!
18. may quá! Whew, lucky!
19. giỏi quá! Good job! Well done!
20. hay quá! Good one! Well-played!
21. tốt quá! Good one! Lucky!

Here quá means “very”, “too”, or “so”
Sometimes people add “đi” after “quá“, it means the same thing.

22. Quá đáng! You bully!
23. Quá lắm rồi đó! – that’s too much (I’m not gonna take that any more!)
(then you quit your job and walk out the door :))

What do you think this guy wants to say?


Đường nào cũng chết – The Universal Dilemma


This is a story for beginner/elementary level.

Bạn gái: Anh thấy em có mập không?
Bạn trai: Không.
Bạn gái: Anh nói dối! Em ghét anh!
Bạn trai: Có.
Bạn gái: Sao anh dám chê tui! Tui ghét anh!

Bạn gái
Friend female, girl, gal

Bạn gái  – Girlfriend

Bạn trai
Friend male, boy, guy

Bạn trai – Boyfriend

Bạn gái (the girlfriend) calls her boyfriend “anh” and calls herself “em / tui”
Bạn trai (the boyfriend) calls himself “anh” and calls his girlfriend “em.”

Anh thấy em mập không?
You (older male) to think / to see me (younger person) fat

Do you think I’m fat?

Không – No

Anh nói dối. Em ghét anh!
You talk lie I hate yo

You’re lying. I hate you!

Có – Yes

Sao anh dám chê tui. Tui ghét anh!
Why you dare criticize me I hate you

How dare you judge me! I hate you!

The most important point in this story (for beginner) is how the girlfriend and boyfriend are addressing themselves and each other.
The boyfriend calls himself “anh”, the pronoun used for a male who is older (old enough to be an older brother). If the person is a guy and old enough to be an older brother of the other person, he calls himself “anh” (I) and the other person also calls him “anh” (you). The pronoun for the older female/sister is “chị”.
The girlfriend calls herself “em” as she is younger. Same as above, the younger person (both male &  female) calls him/herself “em” (I), and the person talking to this younger person also calls the younger person “em” (you).

Tui is just a variant of tôi, an universal pronoun for “I” in Vietnamese regardless of age or gender. If you want to speak like a native, learn to use “anh”, “chị”, “em” and other Vietnamese pronouns (cô, chú, con, ông, bà, etc.) properly.

Things to take away from this story:

  • how to ask someone what he/she thinks about something: you + thấy (think) + sentence? (anh thấy em có mập không? do you think I’m fat?) (chị thấy em có khổ không? do you think I’m miserable?)
  • vocabulary: (yes), không (no), mập (fat), nói dối (to lie), ghét (to hate), chê (to criticize, to judge)

Personally, I think the most important thing to learn is that when your girlfriend asks you “anh thấy em có mập không?“, just resign yourself to the fact that she sets out to hate you, because a loving girlfriend wouldn’t think to put you in such a difficult situation.

You’re dead either way, and you can say “đường nào cũng chết.”

Story from Truyện Cười . VN

Movie: Cô dâu đại chiến – Battle of the Brides


I came across this comedy movie while “researching” for “teaching materials” for my new class.

It’s hilarious and for all of those who need to ask, you’ll learn a ton of dating vocabulary while watching this movie. Anyone who asks me “how to say “I love you” in Vietnamese” from now on will be referred to watching this movie Cô dâu đại chiến. Cô dâu is a bride. Đại chiến is a big war. The movie is about a Don Juan type getting slaughtered by all of his homicidal exes.

Hilarity aside, I can’t tell the girls from one another. They all look like one to me.

A few other recent titles that I’ve heard to be good include action-thriller Bẫy rỗng (literally Dragon Trap), comedy Để mai tính (literally Decide tomorrow), Người Mỹ trầm lặng (The Quiet American).

HTV 9, a TV station in Vietnam produces a lot of TV series, but they’re not to my taste, so it was painfully boring for me to watch. Thank God I don’t have to use them as “teaching materials.” The upside of those TV series is that they’re all native speaker (Southern accent) and the language is up to date, not some ridiculous monotone robot type recording that I listened to in another book. For listening purpose, just YouTube HTV 9 titles such as “Hoàng tử xấu trai” (Ugly prince), “Cuộc chiến hoa hồng” (Rose War), “Vũ khí sắc đẹp” (Beauty weapons), Tiểu thư Lọ Lem (Miss Cinderella), Những cô nàng độc thân làm mẹ (Young, single mom), etc. Each of these series has several episodes, worth many hours of audio. If I ever feel like combing through them for the audio…

Hiểu hay không hiểu? Did you understand that or not?


You’ll find this sentence useful you’re new to Vietnamese: (Tôi) không hiểu – I don’t understand
Tôi – I
không – no, not
hiểu – understand

Followed by Tôi mới học tiếng Việt – I just started learning Vietnamese
mới – recently (new)
học – to study, learn
tiếng – language (sound)
Việt – Vietnam, Vietnamese

And here’s an oxymoron for you: Tôi không biết tiếng Việt. – I don’t know (speak) Vietnamese
biết – to know
Why would you deny knowing Vietnamese by saying a perfectly correct Vietnamese sentence? 🙂

Anyway, back to the main point: the verb hiểu (to understand).
You can pair it with other verbs
(Tôi) nghe không hiểu: I don’t understand what I heard
(Tôi) đọc không hiểu: I don’t understand what I read
(Tôi) nhìn không hiểu: I don’t understand what I saw

This structure is similar to “nhìn không thấy” and “nghe không thấy” in a previous lesson.
You put không between the main verb and the result to show the outcome of that action.

Guess what these sentences mean: Tôi đọc tiếng Việt không hiểu. Tôi nghe tiếng Việt cũng không hiểu. Tôi nói tiếng Việt không ai hiểu. Tôi học tiếng Việt mãi mà không hiểu. Trời ơi! (start yanking out hair!)
ai who
mãi forever

Hay means “or”
Hiểu hay không hiểu?
Do you understand the title of this post now?
What’s your answer?