ấy – thing (pronounced like “eye-yuh? up-tone)
The Vietnamese word “ấy” is a versatile and extremely useful word in Vietnamese that everyone studying Vietnamese should learn.
It is like the English catch-all word “thing“. But, it also has a lot of other uses. It can be used as a pronoun, noun, an adjective, or verb. Some uses include:
- something (special)
- “meh”, or a polite non-committal verbal expression of ambiguous disagreement
How to say “He” and “She” in Vietnamese?
The most important use of “ấy” in Vietnamese is to say “he” and “she”. But not on its own: instead, ấy is a modifier of familial designations (like sister or auntie or uncle) which changes them into third-person pronouns. For example:
- Em ấy cao – He is tall (referring to a male who is younger than you)
- Anh ấy cao – He is tall (referring to a man who is older than you, within 15 years)
- Chú ấy cao – He is tall (referring to a man who is the same age as your father’s younger brother)
- Em ấy đẹp quá – She is very beautiful (referring to a female who is younger than you)
- Chị ấy đẹp quá – She is very beautiful (referring to a woman who is older than you, within 15 years)
Why are there so many different words for “he” and “she” in Vietnamese? Because it is polite in Vietnamese to refer to everyone, including strangers, as if they were a sister/brother or auntie/uncle or grandpa/grandma. To do so, there are age- and sex-specific words (like Anh vs Chú). The word ấy merely indicates that you are referring to a third-person, but you still need to use the correct familial-pronoun.
Without ấy, it is unclear whether you are saying he/she in Vietnamese, or you. For example: If you say “Anh ấy đẹp trai” it means “he is handsome”, but if you drop the ấy it becomes “you are handsome”. Likewise, without ấy, “Em đẹp quá” means “you are beautiful”, whereas “Em ấy đẹp quá” means “she is beautiful”.
Ấy – How to Say “Thing” in Vietnamese?
One of most common uses of Ấy is as a filler-word to refer to something, or this, or that.
- How much is this thing? – Cái ấy bao nhiêu tiền?
- Look at this thing! – Nhìn cái ấy đi!
One difference with English is that, while it is offensive to refer to people as things in English, this is perfectly acceptable in Vietnamese. Or rather, “ấy” can also mean “this girl” or “that girl” or “this person” or “that person”
- That girl … – Cô ấy
Ấy – How to Say “Somewhere” in Vietnamese?
Ấy is like the English “something” as well as “somewhere”.
- That girl is doing something somewhere – Cô ấy đang ấy ở ngoài ấy
How to say “Ain’t she something?” in Vietnamese?
Ấy can also be used to imply that something is special or beautiful or deserving attention. This is very similar to English, for example, when a man says “Wow, isn’t she really something, ain’t she?”, referring to a woman, and, from his happy body language, one can infer that /she/ is very beautiful or very special.
Likewise, in Vietnamese, one can also describe something as “ấy” and based on body-language or facial expressions, one can infer what kind of adjective or superlative the speaker actually means.
- This flower is very something! – Bông hoa này rất ấy!
How to be Non-Committal in Vietnamese?
Ấy can be used as a polite way to say “no” without actually saying no, like a non-committal Vietnamese equivalent of “meh”.
For instance, if your girlfriend wants to know whether she looks pretty in dress, you can politely let-her-down by answering “ấy”.
- “Do I look good in this dress?” — “ấy” (polite non-committal “no”)
In this way, “ấy” can be used to declare that something is bad or ugly, but in a polite way that does not exaggerate or emphasize the negative aspects.
Fans of the American TV Show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” can well imagine that a Vietnamese Larry David would shrugging and saying “ấy” a lot.
How to Pronounce Ấy in Vietnamese
Ấy sounds like “eye?” but with the “y” heavily articulated, almost like “eye-yuh?”.
The diacritic on the “a” (ấ) means that you need to pronounce the word with an upward inflection in pitch, as if you are asking a question. This is the “up-tone” in Vietnamese.
Learn more about the 6 Vietnamese tones here.
Other useful non-word words: “Nha” – like “Okay?” or the Canadian eh?”