Vietnamese sentence structure is one of the basic grammars that you should learn to master the language. It is good if you already know many Vietnamese words, but it could be even better when you can put the words in the correct order. This will help Vietnamese locals understand you better and avoid misunderstanding when you talk with your friends.
Yes and No. If you compare Vietnamese with some western languages such as English, German, there are some aspects of Vietnamese that are even easier to learn. For example, Vietnamese doesn't have a lot of tenses as in English or Vietnamese verbs don't reflect with pronouns.
However, Vietnamese grammar can be hard and that can lead to misunderstanding when you put words in the wrong order or when you put punctuation in different positions. Vietnamese people have a joke 'Phong ba bão táp không bằng ngữ pháp Việt Nam.' which means the storms are not as tough as the Vietnamese grammar.
The basic affirmative sentence in Vietnamese is formed with subject + verb + object.
SUBJECT + VERB + OBJECT
Anh ăn cơm.
You eat rice.
In the example, 'anh' (you) is the subject that causes the verb 'ăn' (eat), then 'cơm' (rice) is what the verb 'eat' acts on. This structure is similar to the SVO form in English.
Subjects can be a person or people, animals, or things, which produce the verb.
Sometimes, a subject or an object can be removed, but this shorten sentence is usually used in daily conversation rather than in writing. Let's look at the two examples below:
Example 1: Anh ăn cơm chưa? - Ăn rồi. (Have you eaten yet? - Yes, I have.)
The sentence 'Ăn rồi.' doesn't include the subject because both listener and speaker understand that the subject is 'anh'.
Example 2: Mặt trời mọc. (The sun rises.)
'Mặt trời' is the subject and 'mọc' is the verb. This sentence doesn't have an object because the sun rises by itself and it doesn't require an object to rise.
Unlike English, Vietnamese doesn't have 12 tenses. The verbs don't reflect with the tenses either. There are tense words that you can use to define the past, present, and future tenses.
To describe an event in the past, you can use 'đã' before the main verb. E.g. Bạn đã đến Việt Nam. (You went to Vietnam.).
You can also use some time phrases to define the past such as 'hôm qua' (yesterday), 'tuần trước' (last week), 'năm trước' or 'năm ngoái' (last year).
'Hồi' (when) is used to start a time phrase or a clause to bring the listener back to the past. For instance, 'Hồi tôi ở Mỹ, tôi hay đi leo núi.' (When I lived in the States, I used to go hiking.)
If it's a simple sentence tense, you can just use the verb alone without adding any other words or phrases.
If you want to describe a continuous action or what is happening, put 'đang' before the main verb. E.g, 'Cô ấy đang học tiếng Việt.' (She is learning Vietnamese.)
You can also use the following time phrases: 'hôm nay' (today), 'bây giờ' (now), 'ngay bây giờ' or 'tại thời điểm này' (at the moment).
There are different ways to say something will happen. You can use each way separately or combine them together.
The first way is to use 'sẽ' before the main verb. For example, 'Tôi sẽ lấy vợ Việt Nam.' (I will marry a Vietnamese woman.)
The second way is using time phrases like 'ngày mai' (tomorrow), 'tuần tới' or 'tuần sau' (next week), 'năm tới' or 'năm sau' (next year), 'cuối năm nay' (at the end of this year), 'cuối tuần này' (at the end of this week).
The third way is using a clause to describe what will happen when it finishes. In this case, you can use 'khi' (when) or 'sau khi' (after) to start the clause. For example, 'Sau khi tôi tốt nghiệp, tôi sẽ kiếm việc làm.' (After I graduate, I will find a job.).
There are three types of questions in the Vietnamese language: questions with a question word, yes-no questions, and questions used to express the speaker's attitude or emotion without requiring an answer (aka 'câu hỏi tu từ').
Questions words in Vietnamese include 'Cái gì' (What), 'Khi nào' (When), 'Tại sao' (Why), 'Bằng cách nào' (How - manner), 'Như thế nào' (How - manner or feeling), 'Ai' (Who, Whom), 'Của Ai' (Whose), 'Cái nào' (Which).
A question word sometimes stands in the beginning and sometimes stands at the end of a question. We will learn more about Vietnamese questions in another lesson but today you can remember the format of a question with a question word is simple as follows:
Question word + Subject + Verb+ Object + ?
Example: Tại sao bạn thích món ăn Việt Nam? (Why do you like Vietnamese food?)
Subject + Verb + Object + Question word + ?
Example: Bạn cảm thấy như thế nào? (How do you feel?)
To make yes-no questions, you can use these words at the end of an SVO: chứ, nhỉ, hả, không, phải không, phải chứ, đúng không, đúng chứ, được không, được chứ.
The words are slightly different in meanings. Let's look at the following examples:
The second question shows your guess and asks for confirmation. The first question is simple a yes-no question.
When you learn Vietnamese by reading Vietnamese books, you might see these questions sometimes. The questions are made to express the writer's opinion, feeling, or attitude, but not to require an answer from the readers. The questions, instead, trigger the curiosity of the readers and encourage them to find their own answers.
For example, 'Chẳng phải đã đến lúc chúng ta phải hành động?' (It's time to have action, isn't it?).
To make this kind of questions, you can use phrases like 'chẳng phải', 'có lẽ nào', 'phải chăng', 'liệu rằng' before a SVO.
To create a negative sentence in Vietnamese, you can simply add 'không' before a verb. 'Không' means no or not in Vietnamese.
E.g. Tôi không thích ăn cá. - I do not like eating fish.
If you want to say something with a to-be verb like isn't, aren't, am not, you should say 'không phải là'.
E.g. Bạn không phải là giáo viên. - You are not a teacher.
If you want to express what has not been done, you can use 'chưa' before a verb.
E.g. Bố tôi chưa gọi cho tôi. - My dad has not called me yet.
An exclamatory sentence is used to show your emotion or feeling about something which could be an object or an event. For example, when you see a beautiful sunset on a beach, you will say 'What a beautiful sunset!'.
In Vietnamese, you can also express your emotion such as sadness, happiness, or give your compliments or judgments with exclamatory sentences. They are called 'câu cảm thán'.
For the example of the beautiful sunset, you can say in many ways in Vietnamese as follows:
'Hoàng hôn' means sunset and 'đẹp' means 'beautiful'.
When you want to order or ask someone to do something, use command sentences. A Vietnamese command sentence usually starts with a verb and ends with an exclamation mark.
You can also put a pronoun before the verb to clarify who you want to give your command to. E.g. 'Con ăn đi!' (when you ask your child to eat).
In services, they will add 'vui lòng' (please) or 'xin mời' (invite to do something) before the verb.
Example: Quý khách vui lòng điền thông tin vào đây! (Guests, please fill your information here!).
A conditional sentence is formed with 'Nếu' (if) ...'thì' (then). The sentence structure looks like this:
Nếu + if-clause, thì + SVO
E.g. Nếu trời mưa thì tôi sẽ không đi làm. (If it rains, I will not go to work.)
You can replace 'thì' with a comma.
When something already happened and you want to say what you would do if that didn't happen, the effect clause needs to be in the past tense.
E.g. Nếu tôi không nói thế thì anh đã không đến đây. (If I didn't say that, you wouldn't come here.)
Vietnamese adjectives are added behind the nouns that they describe. This is opposite to the adjective position in English. Below are some examples:
Adverbs are the words that support the meaning of a verb/ verbs, or an adjective/adjectives.
In Vietnamese, adverbs that modify a verb will be added to the end of a sentence.
If the adverbs modify an adjective, they can be put before or after the adjective.
Quantifiers are words that indicate quantity. Quantifiers can be cardinal numerals and other words which indicate some quantity, such as 'một' (one), 'hai' (two), 'mỗi' (each), 'mọi' (every).
Quantifiers are put before a noun to make a noun phrase.
As same as the Thai language, Vietnamese also has classifiers. Classifiers are used when you count or measure different objects such as bottles, animals, people, and so on.
Vietnamese classifiers stand before the noun which they modify.
I believe that if you master all the sentence structures mentioned in this article, you will be able to communicate quite confidently with local people. Practice the structures by creating your own sentences and ask your local friends to check, or simply comment below so I can help you out.
You can also practice building sentences with the Ling App. Inside the app, you will learn how to put words in the correct order. The app will check your answer and give you the result if it is correct or not.
Let me know if you want me to share more knowledge about any aspect of the Vietnamese language. Have fun learning Vietnamese!