The express course now introduces you to the use of Vietnamese verbs after the lessons on Vietnamese nouns and adjectives.

The good news, once again, before going into the specifics, is that verbs in Vietnamese are usually much simpler than their English counterparts. Below, let’s see why this is true.

Conjugation of verbs from Vietnam

First of all, while each English verb has a unique form for the third-person case (she, he, it) by generally adding “s” to the base form, this is not a Vietnamese characteristic. That is to say that in Tôi đi (“I go) “and Cô ấy đi (“She goes”) you can use the same verb form, đi (“go). How much easier it is to learn Vietnamese!

Word tenses in Vietnamese

In its verb tense system, the big simplification you’ll enjoy in learning Vietnamese verbs lies. As a rundown, we know that there are quite a few verb tenses in English, and for good reasons, such as past plain, past continuous, past perfect; the present and future equivalents; … and more. You should then be very relieved to learn that Vietnamese’s only major verb tenses are: the simple present, the continuous present, the simple past and the future.

A potential question from keen readers: how can we then articulate the equivalents of the continuous past or the ideal past? The response to the absence of the continuous past tense is that the Vietnamese “leverage” continues to express the continuous past in the present. What about The Flawless Past? Well, it will not be conveyed by verb tense, but by the use of markers of relative time such as before and after.

With a concrete example, let’s go into a little more detail about this fascinating difference in verb tenses.

Supposing you’d like to ask a friend when she’s coming home, you’d probably say something like when are you going to come home?. Similarly, when she came back, if we want to ask: when did you come home? ”. We can see from these two examples that we need to specifically encode in English the notion of the past or future time frame in the verb by conjugating it in the simple or simple future tense of the past. Do Vietnamese share this time-encoding form with English?

Let’s imagine the situation: yesterday, to your surprise, you came home and saw your spouse at home because she / he usually comes home later than you from work; then you remarked: you came home early today! When did you come home?, followed by the question. It is very clear in this particular situation that the issue of when applies to the past, meaning that we do not need to represent that in the tense of the verb come. Or at least in Vietnamese, that’s the way we can use it: When are you going home? Yes, it is not in the sentence but in the circumstance that the time frame is encoded! Certainly, in some cases, this characteristic of the language would theoretically make it confusing and, should the uncertainty occur, period phrases such as yesterday or just now or tomorrow would be used.

Now that the concepts of the past and the future are implicitly encoded in the settings of dialogues and not in verbs, it is no surprise that the present tense is the one you will most often experience. As in the following case, you add đang before the verb in order to convey the present continuous.

Continuous Present:

I          am learning           Vietnamese based on English

Tôi      đang học              Tiếng Việt dựa trên Tiếng Anh

The two remaining questions that need to be dealt with are: how do we express the relative order of actions in relation to each other, expressed in English using the “perfect” tenses? And the second question is about redundancy: why is there still in Vietnamese, as described above, the past simple and future simple tenses, if the notion of time is implicitly indicated by the situation?

Let’s use a specific example again to answer the first question: She had gone jogging when I came home. The use of the past perfect tense is to suggest that the “leaving” action took place before the “coming home” action. We will express this in Vietnamese by using the word rồi, the literal translation of which is already in English. As such, without the use of the past perfect tense, we can rewrite this example in the Vietnamese way by saying: She was already jogging when I came home: this is also an informal way of saying it in English, by the way. Combine this with our understanding that the notion of time, in this case the past, is generally not explicitly encoded in verbs, but we can delete the past tense in the setting itself before doing a word-to – word mapping to Vietnamese: she is already jogging when I come home.

Translating the Flawless Past:

Original English sentenceWhen I came home, she had went jogging
Rearranged for translationWhen I come home,shegoes joggingalready
Vietnamese translationKhi tôi về nhà,cô ấyđi chạy bộrồi

Please note that rồi must go jogging in Vietnamese after the verb sentence.

Secondly, let’s answer the second question of why we still need in Vietnamese the past simple and future simple tenses, given our understanding that the notion of time is already indicated by the environment and not by verbs?

The first explanation is that the explicit use of the past simple or future simple is justified in isolated sentences, especially in prose, where the context does not provide adequate details about the time setting of actions (present, past or future). Another example of using these tenses is for the purpose of emphasis: when we want to stress (for example, in making promises) that something has already happened or will certainly happen. By prefixing verbs with “đã” and “sẽ” respectively, the previous simple and future simple tenses are conveyed. The following table offers examples:


Tôi(đã) đọcbài báo nàyhôm qua
Ireadthis articleyesterday
Tôi(sẽ) về nhàvào lúc 5 giờchiều nay
Iwill come homeat five o’clockthis afternoon

As indicated in the table, with regard to expressing time, the use of đã and sẽ is optional. However, they are needed if we want to put an emphasis on time.

Finally, the very commonly used tense is worth mentioning: the present perfect. The two most common uses of this tense, as we have heard, are 1). to refer to actions that have taken place and done without a definite point of time in the past or 2). To suggest that an event that has taken place in the past for some time is still going on at the point of speaking.

In the table above, consider the first case. The Vietnamese translation would be Tôi đã đọc bài báo này if we just wanted to say I have read this post. There is no mention of time in this usage of the present perfect, so that the use of đã in the Vietnamese translation is compulsory because we can not convey the definition of the past without it. Tôi đã đọc bài báo này rồi I whose literal translation into English is already read in this post, could also have been said. Although indicating that the action “read” has already taken place and ended, the word rồi(“already) “often emphasizes the completion aspect of the action.

In Vietnamese, the second use of the present perfect tense, as I have lived here for 2 years, is expressed by the word được. This term holds the sense of for in this use. Below, the full translation is given.


Ihave livedherefor 2 years
Tôi(đã) sốngở đâyđược 2 năm

We can see that the term đã is optional in this use. This is because the action in the sentence is unmistakably known to have begun on the basis of context in the past. In this use, the word được often carries the notion of something that has existed for some time.

If the sentence in the present perfect continuous tense has been written (more correctly): I have been living here for 2 years to place more emphasis on the length of the time, the Vietnamese translation remains the same. You don’t accept the Vietnamese verb tenses are easier? Do you approve … grudgingly?!??

Phrasal verbs from Vietnamese

Last but not least, a brief discussion about phrasal verbs, which are used very extensively in (especially informal) English, seems to be appropriate. “To illustrate, we refer to verbs such as look after and boost up, which are composed of a verb and a particle, by” phrasal verbs.

The good news is that in Vietnamese, there is almost no definition of “phrasal verbs.” The Vietnamese translation of look after is chăm sóc, which has two words, but as one “unit” verb, you can think of it. It certainly isn’t a verb + a particle. Some Vietnamese grammarians may argue that chăm sóc is one word, and not two words, to digress a bit. The response does not seem to make any difference to our goal of learning Vietnamese. And to make it familiar, as in English, we will stick to spaces as the demarcating unit of terms. We’ll say, in this light, that chăm sóc is a unit verb consisting of two words.

There are undoubtedly Vietnamese versions of English prepositions, such as in and on; but to form phrasal verbs, they are not paired with verbs. They can, however, be used with verbs to add meaning compositionally. For example , consider the phrase He’s walking up the staircase in English.


Heis walkingupthe staircase
Anh tađang đilêncầu thang

We can see that up is used to denote the direction of the verb walk, and when combining walk with up, there is no special sense. A combination of the translation of walk, which is đi and that of up: lên, is therefore the Vietnamese translation.

So much for our argument about verbs. Let ‘s review this lesson’s gist.


The simplicity of Vietnamese verb tenses has been illustrated by this lesson on verbs. We’ve discovered, in particular:

  • Either indirectly in the context or directly by time phrases, the notion of time is conveyed, not in verb tenses.
  • The two most widely used tenses in Vietnamese are the simple present and the continuous present.
  • In Vietnamese, there is no definition of “Phrasal Verbs”
  • Although Vietnamese verbs can consist of two or more words, they should be regarded as a unit in that the meaning of the verb can not be extracted instantly from the meanings of the constituent words.
  • For the third-person subject, no conjugation exists. This is in line with the general rule that we have previously learned: Vietnamese words have no inflection of any sort.

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