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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).

But, but… but… but…???

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“But I don’t know how to say “but” in Vietnamese!”

Don’t worry. After this lesson, you will.

Nhưng (and nhưng mà) means “but” in English. You can use it between sentences or verbs / adjectives.

Trâm muốn đi ăn nhưng Tâm muốn đi xem phim
Trâm want go eat but Tâm want go watch movies

Trâm wants to eat but Tâm wants to go watch a movie.

Quán ăn đông người nhưng phục vụ nhanh
Restaurant crowded people but service fast

The restaurant is crowded but the service is fast

Nhưng mà em phải đi học chiều nay
But I have to go to school afternoon today
But I have to go to school this afternoon
Nhưng between verbs & adjectives
Quả này chín nhưng không ngọt
Fruit this ripe but not sweet

This fruit is ripe but not sweet

Loại điện thoại đó rẻ nhưng bền
Type telephone that cheap but durable
That kind of telephone is cheap but durable
Em bé mới học nói nhưng đã nói được ông
Baby recently learn speak but did speak able to grandpa grandma

The baby just learned how to speak but could already say “grandpa grandma”

 means “but” that shows contradiction or surprise. It is placed between verb and adjectives.

Nộm ngó sen dễ làm ngon miệng
Salad lotus root easy to make but tasty mouth

Lotus root salad is easy to make but decilicous!

Em tưởng hiệu sách gần hóa ra xa quá
I thought bookstore close but turn out far very
I thought the bookstore would be close but it turned out to be very far.

Note: also has many other meanings and usages. Be careful not to misuse them.