Category Archives: Grammar

Reference grammar guide to the Vietnamese language

Long time no see! Lâu quá rồi không gặp!

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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.

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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: https://www.facebook.com/groups/tiengvietnerds/

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 (http://tv.zing.vn/) 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?

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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. 🙂

xe

mẹ

mua

đua

mẹ

đánh

vehicle (car, scooter, etc.)

I (mom)

buy

race

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

em

mới

mua

đắt

quá

Shirt

I

just

bought

expensive

too

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

Cô bé

anh

gặp

hôm trước

không

chịu

cho

anh

số điện thoại

The girl

I (male)

met

the other day

not

agree to

give

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

không

quyển sách

()

em

muốn

mua

Bookstore

not

have

the book

(that)

I

want to

buy

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

()

em

rất

thích

đi lấy vợ

mất rồi

The actor

(that)

I

very much

like

got married

already

(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

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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 everydayviet.com for absolute beginner lessons.

Hà Nội

không

vội

được

đâu

In Hanoi

not

rush

possible

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

ăn

được

không?

Được,

cứ

ăn

đi.

This

eat

possible

Yes,

go ahead

eat

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

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

Anh

đi chợ

hộ

em

được không?

Không được,

anh

đang

bận

lắm

You (male)

go grocery shopping

as a favor to

me

ok?

No, I cannot

I (male)

-ing

busy

very

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

bão

to,

máy bay

cất cánh

được đâu.

Yesterday

storm

big,

airplane

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.

Ăn

nhiều

như thế

không

giảm

cân

được đâu

Eat

so much

like that

decrease

kilogram

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

quên

được

Juliet

đâu

not

forget

possible

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

sợ

ma

quá

ngủ

được đâu

He/she

scared of

ghost

too much

sleep

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.

PS:

(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

thoát

nước

số 4

facility, factory

escape

water

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!

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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?

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Đường nào cũng chết – The Universal Dilemma

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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

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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…