The Vietnamese Language: Sentence Structure

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 1

Vietnamese Language has the same sentence structure as English:

Subject + Verb + Object (or SVO for short).

Did you see it? Anh("I": Subject) + yêu("love": Verb) + em("you": Object). This is one of the most fundamental rules of Vietnamese grammar, or of any language for that matter. The next time you learn a new language, it's good to ask from the very beginning: what's the basic sentence structure of this language?.

Position of Vietnamese Adverbs

Now, let's try to add some more romance to this sentence. How about I love you a lot? The Vietnamese equivalent is Tôi yêu em nhiều. The first part remains the same and the added part is nhiều for a lot: a lot <--> nhiều. And this gives us a general rule about position of adverbs (eg. often, fast, beautifully):

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 2

In Vietnamese, as in English, adverbs are positioned after the verbs they modify.

In English, some adverbs, such as rather, are positioned before the verb as in this sentence: I rather like it. This is also the case in Vietnamese and indeed, the translation of that sentence is: Anh(I) khá(rather) thích(like) nó(it).

The other rule is that if verbs require objects, adverbs are then positioned after the objects, as in English. As we don't say I love a lot you in English, we don't say Anh yêu nhiều em (*). The correct Vietnamese translation is Anh yêu em nhiều. The sentence structure we have learned so far is then: Subject + Verb (+ Object) + Adverbs.

Position of Vietnamese Adjectives

Now, why don't we continue this loving mood by saying In fact, you are very beautiful? That translates to Quả thật, em rất đẹp.

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 3

No to be with adjectives? Yes, so the Vietnamese way of saying She's beautiful is simply She beautiful!

The astute readers would then ask: Then, how do we change it to a question: there is no to be to be inverted to the front of the sentence as in English! That's a really good question and the answer is that we'll use a question marker combined with a rising in intonation to express questions in Vietnamese. This way of asking questions is shared by Chinese and French as well.

We've learned about verbs, adverbs and adjectives. Now, we'll conclude this overview of Vietnamese Grammar with the usage of nouns through another compliment: You have a very beautiful voice. What's the Vietnamese translation? Let's first break this English sentence into its major components:

You(Subject) + have(Verb) + a very beautiful voice(Object). We've learned above that Vietnamese also shares the same Subject + Verb + Object (or SVO) ordering. So how does the sentence structure of the Vietnamese translation look like? Yes, it's the same!

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 4

In Vietnamese, adjectives are positioned after the nouns they modify.

Another observation that you might have had is that the adverb of intensity very is positioned before the adjective beautiful: rất("very") đẹp("beautiful"), as in English. This is aslo a general rule: adverbs are put before adjectives they modify, just as in English. For instance, She is very smart would translate into Cô ta rất thông minh. Note that rất (very) occurs before the adjective thông minh (smart).

Now, let's review what we've learned by translating this snippet You are very beautiful. Let's go very slowly, though I know that you can do it much faster, to make it very sure that everything is clear and in order.

You + are("to be") + very(adverb) + beautiful(adjective). The phrase very beautiful is an adjectival phrase consisting of the main adjective beautiful and the adverb of intensity very. The Vietnamese translation of this phrase, as we've already discussed, has the same order of: rất("very") + đẹp("beautiful").

We've also learned that adjectives in Vietnamese aren't accompanied by to be. Therefore, the Vietnamese version would be You very beautiful. Putting everything together, we reach the correct translation: Em rất đẹp. If you got it right, congratulations!

That's enough for an overview. I hope you have enjoyed the reading and learning so far.