Repeating Verbs in Mandarin Chinese

Have you come across repeating verbs in Chinese, such as 看看 and 听听, or 看了看 and 听了听, and wondered how they are different from regular verbs in Chinese? This post discusses how you could interpret and use repeating verbs in Chinese!

Learn how to use repeating verbs in Chinese with Peppa Pig!

In S01E04 Part 1, Granny Pig wanted Peppa and George to guess what pet she and Grandpa Pig got. She asked:

nǐmen cāi cāi kàn shì shénme
Guess what it is

In S01E04 Part 4, Peppa Pig wanted George Pig to try talking with Polly Parrot. Peppa said: 乔治,你和波利说说话

qiáozhì, nǐ hé bō lì shuō shuōhuà
George, you should try talking with Polly.

In S01E09 Part 4, Peppa Pig suggested to George Pig to look for their dad’s glasses in their parent’s bedroom upstairs.

wǒmen dào lóushàng bàba māma de wòshì lǐ qù kànkàn ba
Let’s go to daddy and mommy’s bedroom upstairs to look.

You probably noticed the repeating verb characters such as 猜猜, 说说, and 看看.

As these expressions are colloquial, you will come across them often daily conversations. So I thought I’d focus on them in this post and provide more examples. In the future, I’ll try to update this post with more references to Peppa Pig episodes as I come across them later while writing Learning Chinese with Peppa Pig show notes.

Check out this list of verbs:

  • 试试 = Shì shì, to try, often for the first time
  • 看看 = kàn kàn, to take a look at, usually for a short period of time
  • 尝尝 = cháng cháng, to taste, often for the first time to taste
  • 听听 = tīng tīng, to listen or to hear for, usually briefly
  • 闻闻 = wén wén, to sniff
  • 等等 = děng děng, to wait

They usually imply doing the action for only short periods of time, and often for an initial attempt or experiment. These verbs are also more vivid. For example, 听听 makes me think of the act of listening.

These expressions are often used in imperative sentences, such as 你猜猜, prompting the person you’re talking to to take a guess. Granny Pig asked Peppa Pig and George Pig to 猜猜 what pet they got.

BTW, I came up the explanations above on my own based on my personal understanding of those words (after also consulting with my mom who’s also native to Beijing). If you think there is a better way to explain them, please let me know! I have never thought so much about my own native language, and I will keep updating my explanations to ensure they are as accurate as possible.

You might also notice that all the above examples only involve verbs that are a single character. Off the top of my head, most commonly used verbs in spoken Chinese are single characters, so even with repeats it’s not onerous to use them.

There are also verbs with two characters that sometimes get repeated in a sentence. For example:

  • 溜达 = liūda, to stroll
    我出去溜达溜达 = wǒ chūqù liūda liūda, I’m going out for a stroll
  • 运动 = yùndòng, exercise
    你应该多运动运动 = yu nǐ yīnggāi duō yùndòng yùndòng, you should do more exercises. Note that the sentence implies the person spoken to hasn’t been exercising and should start doing light exercises or simply move more. Don’t use this to somebody who’s training for a marathon.
  • 试验 = shìyàn, to experiment
    你多试验试验 = nǐ duō shìyàn shìyàn, you should experiment more (with a method).

The above two examples both imply light, short actions.

How to use verb + 了 + verb in Chinese

Are you ready for more? In S01E03 Part 4, the narration said:

Pèiqí tīngle tīng qiáozhì de xīnzàng
Peppa listened to George’s heart.

I hope you noticed the usage of 听了听. If you are using repeating verb, you can’t add the 了 at the end of the verb. For example, 我听了means I listened to it. But you cannot use 我听听了. Instead, you would say 我听了听.

This expression emphasizes that you’ve completed the action of attempting something, but not necessarily successful. It does not imply whether the action is successful or not. I can apply 一下 to the whole list of verbs I had above:

  • 试了试
  • 看了看
  • 尝了尝
  • 听了听
  • 闻了闻
  • 等了等

However, I don’t think the verb + 了 + verb expression works with two-character verbs. For example, 溜达了溜达 doesn’t sound right to me.

How to use verb + 一下 in Chinese

Now, in S01E03 Part 3, Mommy Pig was calling for George Pig, and she had a request for him:

Wǒ xūyào nǐ bāng wǒ tiǎn yīxià zhège wǎn
I need you to give this bowl a lick.

Pay attention to the expression 舔一下 = tiǎn yīxià. This means give a lick. 一下 means briefly or for a short while. 舔舔 and 添一下 are exchangeable in most cases.

Let’s convert my earlier list of verb to the 一下 expression. I think 一下 may have a slightly stronger emphasis on the brevity of the action, although in most cases they mean exactly the same thing.

  • 试试 = 试一下
  • 看看 = 看一下
  • 尝尝 = 尝一下
  • 听听 = 听一下
  • 闻闻 = 闻一下
  • 等等 = 等一下

I hope you had as much fun reading this post as I did writing this post. All these expressions are connected! Isn’t that cool?

Have you come across any other Chinese verbs that are repeated this way? Share your favorite ones!

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