16 essential verbs in Vietnamese to learn with audio

Learn 16 Essential Verbs in Vietnamese (with Audio)

Vietnamese is very challenging to learn, but at least the verbs are easy. For instance, there are no pronoun conjugations and very few uses of past and future tenses. The same word is used for almost all verb tenses and pronouns!

But, one challenging thing about verbs in Vietnamese is the greater level of precision compared to English — Vietnamese speakers like to use the proper verb for the proper situation, and not use omnifunctional words like “get” or “take”, which are used in lots of unrelated situations in English (e.g., you don’t “take a dump” and then “take a rest” in Vietnamese). Verbs are more precise.

In this lesson, you can learn and listen to 16 essential verbs in Vietnamese. Be sure to pay attention to our notes about when to use them — and when not to.

Muốn – to Want

Pronounced like Moe-un? with an up-tone.

  • Tôi muốn cái áo này.
  • I want this shirt

The verb “muốn” is used in pretty much all the same ways as in English, as a straight-line translation. Also like in English, you can mostly use it interchangeably with the verb “to need”, which is …

Cần – to Need

Rhymes with gun, pronounced like cun with a long down-tone.

The verb “cần” is used almost identically to its English equivalent: from needing to eat, to needing to poop, to needing a hug, or needing a new shirt — cần is one of the few verbs that translates well into English.

Đưa – to Bring/Take/Get

Pronounced like dua with a hard-D.

  • Đưa tôi cốc nước.
  • Bring me a glass of water.

Đưa is a tricky verb that can be translated as several English verbs that are colloquially used “to bring to” someone, including some uses “get” and “take” (but not all). We include it here because it can be used to order things at restaurants and shops, but don’t use it in all the ways you’d use bring/get/take…

For example, “I will bring a gift to my friend” uses “Đưa” (Tôi sẽ đưa bạn tôi một món quà), but only when you specify “bring to” someone. If you just “bring a gift”, then the more appropriate translation use the verb “to carry”, which is “mang” (as in, Tôi sẽ mang một món quà).

Another counter-example is “I will bring her home (from school)”, which does not use “Đưa”, but instead uses a verb “to pick up” which is “Đón” (as in Tôi sẽ đón cô ấy đi học về).

Basically, Đưa is like “bring to” only in the most limited sense, whereas English-speakers can sloppily use “bring to” and “get” in a wide variety of situations.

Đi – to Go

Rhymes with “see”, pronounced like dee with a hard-D.

  • Tôi đi chợ
  • I go to the market

Đi is an imprecise verb, like the English “to go”. Just like in English, you can liberally use Đi to mean: walk to a store, go to school, go to Canada, go to jail, go to hell, etc.

You can use it if you are going somewhere on foot, by car, by plane, and more. It is a great general verb to know and use.

Fun tip: A great expression to know is “Đi đi mau!” — listen and learn more here.

Giúp – to Help/Assist

Rhymes with “soup” with a barely audible p, pronounced like zoop in the north. Read more about the soft “g”, and how it is different in North Vietnam vs. South Vietnam.

  • Giúp tôi tìm lại xe máy với.
  • Please help me find my motorbike.

Notice that in the above exhange, we’ve added the polite “với” at the end, which makes the expression especially pleading and nice.

Có thể – to Be Able/Can/Could

Pronounced like “Cah? Tay” with an up-tone on and a weird down-tone on thể.

  • Could you show me the way to the bus station?
  • Bạn có thể chỉ đường đến bến xe buýt cho tôi được ko?

Có thể is loosely translate to mean “to be able to” or “can”. You can use it like many English expressions that use “can” or “could”.

When English speakers ask a question, they often use verbs like can, could, may, might interchangeably; in most such circumstances, you can use the verb “có thể“, For example, “May I drink the water?” is “Tôi có thể uống nước không?” This removes a lot of complexity, as compared to English.

Làm – to Do (also Work)

Rhymes with Sam, pronounced like lam with a down-tone.

  • I’m doing it / On it.
  • Tôi đang làm.

“Do” is a weird verb in English that is used in a lot of sloppy ways that do not translate into Vietnamese. For example, “do” is used to ask questions like “do you like cake?” — làm cannot be used in this way.

However, làm is used in many strange ways that are particular to Vietnamese — some make sense when translated into English, and some don’t. Here are a few examples:

  • “Đang làm gì đấy?” – “what are you doing?”
  • “Đi làm” – “Go to work” (here, what you “do” is referring to employment)
  • “Làm chuyện ấy” – “Doing this/that” (a slang for having sex, much like “doing it” also refers to sex in English)

Có – to Have

Rhymes with saw, pronounced like cah? with an up-tone.

  • Do you have kids?
  • Bạn có con không?

Mua – to Buy/Purchase

Pronounced like “Moo-uh” with a flat tone.

  • I want to buy a shirt.
  • Tôi muốn mua cái áo này. (I want buy shirt this)

Bán – to Sell

Rhymes with “van”, pronounced like ban? with an up-tone.

  • Do you sell eggs / sim-card?
  • Bạn có bán trứng không / Bạn có bán sim card không?

Bán (to sell) and Bạn (you) sound similar to English speakers, but in Vietnamese, the former has an upward inflection (denoted by á), like asking a question, whereas the latter has a sharp down-tone (denoted by ), like an angry halty sound. If you can’t hear the difference, be sure to study the Vietnamese tones here.

Also notice that, in English, it is common to use the verb “to have” as a lazy substitute for “to sell”, but this is not possible in Vietnamese. For example, you might ask a store-clerk “do you have eggs?”, and they’ll understand that you are asking them “do you have eggs to sell?”. This is not the case in Vietnamese — you must use bán.

Ăn – to Eat

The ă in ăn is half-way in-between ah and uh. The tone is neutral and flat.

  • Ăn cơm chưa?
  • Have you eaten rice yet?

One funny use of the verb ăn is “Ăn cơm chưa?”, which means “how are you?”, but it literally translates to “eaten rice yet?”

You can read more about this funny expression and how it came to be used as a generic greeting here.

Uống – Drink

Rhymes with “lung”, pronounced like ew-ung? with an up-tone.

  • Do you want to drink coffee with me?
  • Em có muốn đi uống cafe với anh không?

One funny thing about asking someone to go out for a drink in Vietnamese, is that you must clarify that it is “with me” (với anh as said by a male, or với em as said by a younger woman). If you don’t include the “with me” part, then the listener may think the invitation is to drink with other friends, or colleagues or family members. The “with me” signifies that it is a date. In English, this is not necessary.

Nói – Talk/Speak

Rhymes with “soy”, pronounced like noi? with an up-tone.

  • I don’t know how to speak Vietnamse.
  • Tôi không biết nói tiếng Việt

One weird thing about Vietnamese is that the word for older brother (Anh) is the same for English (Anh).

“I speak English” is “Tôi biết nói tiếng Anh”. To ask “Do you speak English?” is “Em biết nói tiếng Anh không?” if you are asking a younger man or woman, or “Anh biết nói tiếng Anh không?” if you are asking a man of your age or slightly older, or “Chị biết nói tiếng Việt không?” if you are asking a slightly older woman.

Lái – Drive/Ride

Rhymes with “sky”, pronounced like lie? with an up-tone.

  • Can you drive a motorbike?
  • Bán biết lái xe máy không?

You can use lái to talk about driving a car, motorbike, plane, or a train. But, there is a different verb “lướt” to talking about riding a skakeboard, or to surf, or ski, or ride a roller-coaster.

Rửa – Wash/Clean

Pronounced in the North like zoo-ah, with a weird down-tone on the ửa (learn more about this difficult tone).

  • I must wash my hands
  • Tôi phải rửa tay

You can rửa your hands, or the dishes, or a car. But, there is a different verb (giặt) to wash your clothes (“to launder”), and another verb (tắm) to wash animals or humans (“to bath”) — e.g. to “wash the cat” is “tắm cho mèo”.

Sửa – Fix/Repair/Mend/Heal

Pronounced inlike soo-ah, with a weird down-tone on the ửa (be sure learn more about this difficult tone).

  • Can you repair my phone?
  • Bạn có sửa điện thoại không?

Sửa can only be used for physical objects and organic things, like “fix a car” or “mend a hole in the pants” or “heal a broken arm” — all of these are sửa.

However, for abstract things that need repair, like “fixing a broken relationship” (hàn gắn mối quan hệ) or “repairing the broken government”, there are different verbs — so remember to restrict the usage of sửa to just physical things and organic things.

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