A directional complement is a complement used to describe the direction of a verb. In Chinese, these are known as 趋向补语 (qūxiàng bǔyǔ lit. "directional complement").
Verbs often already have some inherent movement implied, but by adding a directional complement, it becomes clearer where, exactly, that action is going.
Simple Directional Complement
The most basic (and common) form of directional complement is formed by a verb and 来 or 去.
Verb + 来 / 去
The most important thing to consider with directional complements is the position of the speaker. If the action moves towards the speaker or comes closer in any way, use 来. If the action moves away from the speaker or becomes more distant in any way, use 去.
Verb + Complement Explanation
The movement is down and towards the speaker: "come down"
The movement is down and away from the speaker: "go down"
The movement is up and towards the speaker: "come up"
The movement is up and away from the speaker: "go up"
The movement is out and towards the speaker: "come out"
The movement is out and away from the speaker: "go out"
The movement is in and towards the speaker: "come in"
The movement is in and away from the speaker: "go in"
The movement is towards the speaker: "come back"
The movement is away from the speaker: "go back"
You might be wondering how the directional distinction between 来 and 去 works when you're talking about yourself moving. You can't move away from or towards yourself, so should it be 来 or 去? The answer is to look at the context of the movement you're talking about. Are you telling someone you'll see them tomorrow? Similar to English, in Chinese you'd say something like "I'll come and see you tomorrow."
You can use these simple compounds in a huge variety of situations. Here are some example dialogs to provide a little more context:
- A: 我在楼上，你上来。
Wǒ zài lóushàng, nǐ shànglái.
I'm on the upper floor. Come up to me.
Nǐ zài lóushàng děng wǒ yīxià. Wǒ yīhuìr jiù shàngqù.
Please wait a moment on the upper floor. I'll come up in a few minutes.
- A: 出来玩吧，我们在酒吧等你。
Chūlái wán ba, wǒmen zài jiǔbā děng nǐ.
Come and hang out with us. We'll be waiting in the bar.
Wǒ mā bù ràng wǒ chūqù.
My mother won't let me go out.
- A: 这是我家，进来吧，随便坐。
Zhè shì wǒ jiā, jìnlái ba, suíbiàn zuò.
This is my house. Please come inside. Feel free to take a seat.
Nà shì nǐ de wòshì ma? Wǒ néng jìnqù ma?
Is that your bedroom? Can I go in?
- A: 你下班了吗？几点回来吃饭？
Nǐ xiàbān le ma? Jǐ diǎn huílái chīfàn?
Are you off work now? When are you coming back for dinner?
Wǒ jīntiān bù huíqù chīfàn.
I'm not going back home for dinner today.
Compound Directional Complements
Directional complements can be more complex than just 来 or 去.
Forming Compound Directional Complements
You can form compound directional complements in the following way:
- 上来 “come up"
- 下来 “come down”
- 进来 “come in”
- 出来 “come out”
- 回来 “come back”
- 过来 “come over”
- 起来 “get up”
- 上去 “go up”
- 下去 “go down”
- 进去 “go in”
- 出去 “go out”
- 回去 “go back”
- 过去 “go over”
These compounds can then be used in much the same way as 来 and 去. Attach them to verbs to give detail about the direction of the action.
Verb + [Compound Directional Complement]
Qǐng zhàn qǐlái.
Please stand up.
Bùyào ràng tā pǎo chūqù.
Don't let it run out.
Cóng wǒ jiā zǒu guòlái yào bàn gè xiǎoshí.
It took me half an hour to walk here from my place.
Nǐ bāo lǐ de dōngxi dōu ná chūlái le ma?
Did you take all your stuff out of your bag?
Directional Complements with Objects
Directional complements are not only used to describe the movement of people. Moving objects can also be described with direction complements. Again, the direction of the movement relative to the speaker (or at least to the context of the conversation) is important when deciding what complement to use.
The verbs that commonly appear in this construction include 拿, 送, and 带.
Verb + Object + Complement
Fúwùyuán, qǐng zài ná jǐ gè wǎn lái.
Waiter, please bring a few more bowls.
Kuàidiǎn sòng háizi qù ba, bié chídào le.
Hurry up, send the kids off. Don't be late.
Shīfu, sòng liǎng tǒng shuǐ lái.
Shifu, please deliver two buckets of water.
Kěyǐ dài péngyou guòlái ma?
Can I bring some friends over?
Tāmen dài le yīxiē lǐwù huíqù.
They took some presents back with them.
Although 回来 and 回去 can be compound complements, they can each also just be the verb 回 with a simple directional complement. Many Chinese learners make the following mistakes:
- 回来中国 <<< BAD EXAMPLE, never say it this way!
- 回中国来 <<< GOOD EXAMPLE
huí Zhōngguó lái
come back to China
- 回去美国 <<< BAD EXAMPLE, never say it this way!
- 回美国去 <<< GOOD EXAMPLE
huí Měiguó qù
go back to the USA
You can't say 回来中国 because 回 is the verb, 来 is the complement, and 中国 is the object. You can't put both a complement and an object after a single verb, but it's OK to put just a 来 or 去 after the object. In spoken language, if the context is clear, people often omit 来 or 去 and only say 回美国 or 回中国.
Directional Complements with 把
Directional complements work very well in 把 sentences, as they can be used to describe the disposal of an object (what happened to it in the end). Because of this, it's very common to see directional complements and 把 appearing together.
Subj. + 把 + Obj. + Verb + [Direction Complement]
Bǎ shū ná chūlái.
Take out your book.
Bǎ shǒu jǔ qǐlái.
Raise your hands.
Bāng wǒ bǎ zhège xiāngzi bān guòqù.
Help me move this suitcase over there.
Converting to Potential Complement
Adding 得 to directional complements makes the phrase an affirmative potential complement. Adding 不 makes the phrase a negative potential complement.
- 回去 “go back”
- 回得去 “able to go back”
- 回不去 “can’t go back”
- 过来 “come over”
- 过得来 “able to come over”
- 过不来 “can’t come over”
- 站起来 “stand up”
- 站得起来 “able to stand up”
- 站不起来 “can’t stand up”
- 走上去 “walk up [away from the speaker]”
- 走得上去 “able to walk up”
- 走不上去 “can’t walk up”
- 开进去 “drive in [away from the speaker]”
- 开得进去 “able to drive in”
- 开不进去 “can’t drive in”
- 拿出来 “take out [something from a container]”
- 拿得出来 “able to take out [something]”
- 拿不出来 “can’t take out [something]”
A lot of directional complements, particularly compound directional complements, have additional idiomatic meanings beyond literally describing the direction of an action. The most common of these are:
- 起来 ”to start [doing something]” (lit. rise-come)
- 出来 “to come up [with a result]” (lit. exit-come)
- 下去 “to continue [doing something]” (lit. down-go)
[adapted from AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA 3.0]
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