First & Second Person: I-You

In a conversation, first person refers to the speaker(s), while second person refers to the listener(s).

When making a conversation, you have to know how to address yourself (I) and the other person (You) using the appropriate pronouns. Which pronouns to use, oftentimes, depend on your and the person's age (generation) and gender.

Here are some of the most common pronouns used in Vietnamese language: ông, bà, cô, chú, anh, chị, em, con. These pronouns

When talking to someone who is ... Address the person as
male female
Old enough to be your grandparent ông
Old enough to be your parent chú
Old enough to be your older sibling anh chị
Young enough to be your younger sibling em
Young enough to be your child / niece /nephew / grandchild con

a. For instance, when you are talking to a female elder (old enough to be your grandma), you would address her as , and address yourself as con (young enough to be her grandchild). She would in turn, still address herself as  and address you as con, since the roles stay the same.

Sample dialogue:

John: Chào bà. Con là John (= Hello. I'm John)
Granny: Chào con. Bà là Mary (= Hello. I'm Mary)


b. When speaking to a stranger who is around your generation, if their age is unclear, always address the person as if they are older than you (use anh or chị) to show politeness.

Sample dialogue:

John: Chào anh (= Hello)
Taxi driver: Chào anh (= Hello)


c. When talking to someone who is the same age, you can address yourself as mình (I) and address the other person as bạn (You). In this case, the person would address himself or herself as mình (I) and address you as bạn (You).

Sample dialogue:

John: Chào bạn. Mình là John (= Hello. I'm John)
Jane: Chào bạn. Mình là Jane (= Hello. I'm Jane)


d. In formal situations, use tôi to address yourself (I) and use anh or chị to address the other person (You).

Sample dialogue:

John: Chào chị. Tôi là John (= Hello. I'm John)
Jane: Chào anh. Tôi là Jane (= Hello. I'm Jane)


Third Person: He/She/It

In a conversation, third person indicates a third individual who is being referred to by the first & second person.

It uses the subject pronouns he/she/it/they in English.

In Vietnamese, there are 2 ways that you can use to address a third singular person (he/she/it). There is a general way and a Southern dialect way.

They can be pretty much used interchangeably but you will hear most Southern Vietnamese people use "the Southern dialect way" in speaking.


a. For the general way, which is more often used in written Vietnamese, formal settings and monologues, we place the word ấy after the 2nd person pronoun.

For example: anh ấy, chị ấy, em ấy, ....

b. For the Southern dialect, most of the tones on the 2nd person pronouns change to the question tone (dấu hỏi), except for "chú" and "con".

For example: ảnh, chỉ, ẻm, ...

This rule, however, does not apply to some second person pronouns. You will instead need to use the general way [2nd person + ấy].


The table below summarizes how to address a third person in Vietnamese.

2nd person3rd person (Southern)3rd person (general)[ENG]
bạnbảnbạn ấyhe or she, same-age friend
anhảnhanh ấyhe, like an older brother
chịchỉchị ấyshe, like an older sister
emẻmem ấyhe or she, like a younger sibling
chúchú ấychú ấyhe, like an uncle
cổcô ấyshe, like an aunt
ôngổngông ấyhe, like a grandpa
bảbà ấyshe, like a granny

Exceptions

(1) Cổ can also be used to address a young woman. So "cổ" can mean "that auntie" or "that woman".

(2) can be used to address a third person who is:

  • younger than you (younger sibling, niece, nephew, grandchild), whom you would call em or con
  • a same-age friend that you're close with, whom you would call bạn

also means "it" to refer to an animal or an object.

(3) You can address someone's name directly, without any pronoun, only if they are younger than you.

(4) To refer to a specific person that you know, you can refer to that person using his or her name [2nd person + name].

For example: bạn Tuấn, chú Hải, cô Mai, ông Tám.

Basic Sentence Structure

The words order of a simple Vietnamese sentence is similar to that in English:

Subject + Verb + Object.

For examples:

Mìnhthíchphở
Ilikephở noodles
Ảnhthích ănphở
Helikes to eatphở
Cổbiếttiếng Việt
SheknowsVietnamese language

Besides the words order, there are a few things that you may notice from the above examples.

  1. Vietnamese verbs are not conjugated. The verb forms stay the same regardless of the pronouns and tenses. So in the phrase “I like, I liked, he likes", the verb form "to like" stays the same as thích.
  2. In English, when there are 2 consecutive verbs, the 2nd verb is normally used in the infinitive or the -ing form. These rules, however, are not applied in Vietnamese. like to eat is simply translated as “thích ăn” (like-eat)

Question Word Order

Vietnamese questions words can be placed at the beginning or at the end of the questions. You'll have to learn where to place them in different circumstances.

However, MOST question words such as "what / who / where / which / how" are often placed after the subject of the question which they refer to or at the end of the question sentence.

Subject + Verb + Object + Question Word?

For examples:

Bạnai?
Youarewho?
Bạnlàmđâu?
Youworkatwhere?
Bạnlàmcông tynào?
Youworkatcompanywhich?

Note: nào is placed after the noun that it refers to, which is the "company".
"Công ty nào?" = "Which company?"

To be (am/is/are/..): Là

is an equivalent of the verb ‘to be’ in English. However, unlike English, Vietnamese verbs such as can be used in the same form regardless of the pronouns and tenses. This means that other 'to be' forms such as -am/is/are/was/were are represented using the same word .

Subject ⎯⎯ to be ⎯⎯ noun

In Vietnamese, the verb (to be) is only required when talking about the identity of someone, such as nationality, job and professions.

MìnhJohn
IamJohn
Cổngười Việt Nam
SheisVietnamese
Họgiáo viên
Theyareteachers

is NOT required when talking about age, relationship status.

Mình28tuổi
I28age

which means, "I am 28 years old"

Johnđộc thân
Johnsingle

which means, "John is single"

Subject ⎯⎯ Adjective

There is one big different between Vietnamese and English, is that only precedes nouns or noun phrases, but not adjectives.

Cái nàyđẹp
This onebeautiful

which means, "This one is beautiful"

Ảnhđẹp trai
Hehandsome

which means, "He is handsome"


Negations: Không / Không phải là

In this lesson, we'll learn how to negate verbs and adjectives in Vietnamese.

không ⎯⎯ verb

In order to negate verbs in Vietnamese, simply placed the word không in front of the verb, except for (to be)

Mìnhkhông thíchsầu riêng
Idon't likedurians
Ảnhkhông hiểumình
Hedoes't understandme

không phải là ⎯⎯ noun

Không phải là is an equivalent of 'to be not' in English. It is used as a negation of the verb là (to be).

Mìnhkhông phải làJohn
Iam notJohn
Ảnhkhông phải làgiáo viên
Heisn'ta teacher
Đókhông phải làJane
Thatisn'tJane

không ⎯⎯ adjective

When it comes to adjective, you can also place the word không to negate the adjective.

To sound more natural, instead of không, native speakers use không có before the adjective to form a negative sentence when speaking.

Cái nàykhông (có) đẹp
This onenot beautiful

which means, "This one isn't beautiful"

Cổkhông (có) cao
Shenot tall

which means, "She isn't tall"

This/that/these/those

In the first few lessons, you may have seen me using the word cái này (this one), where cái refer to a general object, and này acts as a demonstrative.

Demonstratives are words like this, that, these, those. Just like in English, in Vietnamese, we use demonstratives to point to people and things.

As a language learner, it's important to understand the difference between demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives. Let's take a look at these 2 demonstratives.

Demonstrative adjectives: này (this) - đó (that)

In Vietnamese, demonstrative adjectives are used to modify a noun or pronoun, and are placed right after that them. For instance:

Cô gáinày
girlthis

which means, "This girl"

Khách sạnđólớn
hotelthatbig

which means, "That hotel is big"

Demonstrative pronouns: đây (this) - đó (that)

Demonstrative pronouns are used to introduce someone or something, and are often placed at the beginning of the sentence, e.g. Đây là... this is..., Đó là... that is...

ĐâyJane
ThisisJane
Đókhông phải làkhách sạn Hilton
Thatis notHilton hotel

Tag Question: Hả? / Phải không?

Hả and phải không are question words, the equivalents of the tag questions "isn't he? don't you? weren't they? in English.

They are often placed at the end of a statement to seek confirmation or ask for agreement. They can also be translated as "right?", "agree?" and are often used by native speakers in daily conversation.

Hả is used more often than phải không in spoken Vietnamese.

Bạnthíchphởhả?
Youlikephởright?
ẢnhJohnhả?
HeisJohnright?
Cái đónước mắmhả?
That oneisfish sauceright?

Yes-No Question: Có ... không?

In Vietnamese, to make a simple Yes-No question we use the structure:
Subject ⎯⎯ (có) ⎯⎯ verb/adjective ⎯⎯ không?

Bạnthíchphởkhông?
You-likephở?

which means, "Do you like phở?"

Cái đómắckhông?
That one-expensive?

which means, "Does that one expensive?"

NOTES:

  • Không is placed at the end of the sentence.
  • is placed before the verb or verb phrase, and can be omitted.

Classifiers

Classifiers are words that are used to specify nouns and to classify them into categories, such as people, objects, and animals.

Vietnamese classifiers are always placed before the noun that they relate to.

For instance, trái is the classifier for fruits. When a classifier is required in the sentence, we placed the classifier before the noun. E.g. trái táo - apple, where táo means apple.

In Vietnamese language, classifiers are used very often. If you skip classifiers, your sentence may sound unnatural to the natives' ears.

Now you roughly understand what is a classifier, let's take a look at when you have to use it the the sentence and when you don't have to.


1. Classifiers is often used when referring to something specific

  • Trái táo này không ngon - This apple isn't tasty
  • Cái áo đó mắc - That shirt is expensive

2. Classifiers are often omitted in a general statement

  • Mình thích táo - I like apples (omit fruits classifier trái)
  • Mình ghét gián - I hate cockroaches (omit animals classifiers con)

3. Classifiers MUST be used when referring to a specific number of objects

  • Ba con mèo - 3 cats
  • Năm trái xoài - 5 mangoes

4. Classifier can also be used without a noun when it is clear from the context what it refers to

  • Cuốn sách này hay - This book is interesting
  • Mình thích cuốn này - I like this book

In the second line, the noun sách is omitted since it is clear from the first line that the same book is being referred.


Plurals

In this lesson, we'll learn about Vietnamese plurals.

Plural forms are created in Vietnamese by adding the plural markers, such as mấy, before the classifier and the noun. For example, mấy trái táo - apples.

In the previous lesson on demonstratives, we talked about the singular ones, which are this and that. Let's take a look at the phrase order when using plural demonstratives these and those.

  • mấy -- Noun -- này/đó (demonstrative adjective)
  • Đây/Đó -- là -- mấy -- Noun (demonstrative pronoun)
Mấy cô gáinày
girlsthese

which means, "These girls"

Mấy khách sạnđólớn
hotelsthosebig

which means, "Those hotels are big"

Đómấy trái táo
Thoseareapples

Noun Phrase Order

We have learned the basic sentence structure in Vietnamese is Subject - Verb - Object. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the basic noun phrase structure or order in Vietnamese.

After this lesson, you'll know how to arrange all the components in a noun phrase, which may have a number, adjective, noun, classifier and demonstrative.

Let's take a look at these 2 example sentences.

batráitáomàu đỏnày
3classifierappleredthese

which means, "These 3 red apples"

mấycáinhàđó
plural markerclassifierhouseoldthose

which means, "Those old houses"


In the above examples, we can see the general order of a noun phrases is as followed:

amount - classifier - noun - adjective - demonstrative

Possession "Của"

In this lesson, we'll learn about how to say something or someone belongs to you in Vietnamese or to someone elses.

In Vietnamese, to talk about possession, we use the word của. This word can be translated as "to belonging to" or "of" in English.

Của is always placed after the object and before the object's owner. Let's look at this example:

ÁocủaJohn
ShirtofJohn

which means, "John's shirt" or "The shirt belongs to John"

You can see that the order of a Vietnamese possessive sentence follows this simple structure:

  • Object - của - Owner/Pronoun

Here are some other examples:

HọcủamìnhSmith
Last nameofmeisSmith

which means, "My surname is Smith"

Đâysố điện thoạicủacổ
Thisisphone numberofher

which means, "This is her phone number"

Tenses

In this lesson, we'll learn 4 most common Vietnamese tenses: past, present, future and present continuous.

As mentioned in the course introduction, Vietnamese verbs are not conjugated. The verb forms stay the same regardless of the pronouns and tenses.

So to indicate the tenses, we simply place the tense markers before the main verb. The 3 common tense markers are: đang - đã - sẽ

TensesExamplesTranslations
PresentMình ăn táoI eat apples
ContinuousMình đang ăn táoI'm eating apples
PastMình đã ăn táoI ate apples
FutureMình sẽ ăn táoI will eat apples

NOTES:

Tense markers, except đang, can be omitted when a specific time expression is clearly stated.

For example:

Hôm quamìnhăntáo
YesterdayIateapples

Đã can be omitted in the above sentence since it's clear from the context that the action had already happened in the past yesterday.

Tháng saumìnhđiCanada
Next monthIgoCanada

which means, "Next month I'll go to Canada"

Sẽ can be omitted in the above sentence since it's clear from the context that the action will take place in the future next month.

Question Words

In the previous lesson, we have learned how to make a simple yes-no question with the ending question word không.

In this lesson, we'll look at most common Vietnamese questions words and where they are often placed in the sentences.

Questions wordsExamplesTranslations
- whatĐây là ?What is this?
ai - whoĐây là ai?Who is this
đâu - whereBạn làm ở đâu?Where do you work?
nào - whichBạn làm ở công ty nào?Which company do work at?
thế nào - howBạn làm thế nào?How do you do (it)?

From the above examples, we can see that oftentimes, Vietnamese question words are placed at the end of the questions.

Some question words are be placed after the main noun or verb that they refer to. For instance, nào is placed after the main noun công ty (company); thế nào is placed after the main verb làm (to do).