Learning to speak Vietnamese is very difficult, but at least the grammar of past & future tense are very easy. The past, progressive present, and future tenses are distinguished by three modifier words:
- đã – past
- đang – progressive present
- sẽ – future
These modifiers proceed other verbs (like eat and go), and there is no verb conjugation. Therefore, you do not need to memorize irregular verbs (like the English “to be” or “to have”). This is much simpler than most European languages.
Examples of Past, Present, and Future Tense in Vietnamese
Here, we will transform “I am at the market” and “I am eating rice” into the past and future tenses in Vietnamese. Notice that “be at the market” (ở chợ) and “eat rice” (ăn cơm) are unchanged throughout all three tenses.
Past Tense in Vietnamese
Tôi đã ở chợ – I was at the market
Tôi đã ăn cơm – I ate rice
Progressive Present Tense in Vietnamese
Tôi đang ở chợ – I am at the market
Tôi đang ăn cơm – I am eating rice
Future Tense in Vietnamese
Tôi sẽ ở chợ – I will be at the market
Tôi sẽ ăn cơm – I will eat rice
Notice that the verbs “to eat” (ăn) and “be at” (ở) do not change between the tenses. It is only the modifier words “đã” (past), “đang” (present), and “sẽ” (future) that change.
What Do the Special Vietnamese Letters ã and ẽ Mean? (in đã and sẽ)
The letters ã and ẽ have a tilde-diacritic above them: the tilde changes the tone into an “up-broken tone” that has a rising pitch as if you are asking a question, and splits the vowel into a double syllable (like eh-EH?).
The Vietnamese tones are perhaps the most difficult aspect of Vietnamese to learn. The modifier-words for past (“đã”) and future (“sẽ”) are excellent examples of the hilariously-fun “up-broken” tone, whereas the progressive present modifier (“đang”) is flat.
Hearing and understanding these tonal differences is probably a greater priority for learning Vietnamese than learning the grammar rules. Without understanding the tones, you cannot even say a single word correctly, never mind conjugate its verb-tense.
Learn more about the 6 Vietnamese tones using our audio pronunciation guide.
What Does the Line Through D (đ) Mean in Vietnamese?
The crossed D or dyet (đ) is a special Vietnamese character that marks an ingressive “d”: it is a slightly aspirated hard-d, like the d in “don’t”, but without an explosive exhalation after it.
It is distinguished from the normal Vietnamese “d” character which is pronounced like a ‘z’ (as in zebra) in Northern Vietnam, or as a ‘y’ (as in ‘young’) in Southern Vietnam.
- d – pronounced ‘z’ as in zebra
- đ – hard-d slightly aspirated like in “don’t”
Learn more about the Vietnamese consonants using our audio pronunciation guide for vowels, digraphs and consonants.