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Chinese Grammar: Directional complements

Just like in English, where “out”; “over; “up”, “down” etc. give very different meanings to the verb “turn”, Mandarin Chinese is full of words you can add to a verb to specify and describe its action. These words are called complements. There are all sorts of complements in Chinese: direction complements, degree complements, potential complements, result complements...

Enough to start a small Series. Once you finish this series you’ll be able to accurately and precisely describe your actions in Chinese; which, is useful in a lot of situations, as you’ll see in the examples! Let’s begin the Series of stages on Complements here, starting with Direction complements.

Remember learning about ? That was your first approach of components in Chinese. This is its logical follow-up.

Are you going up? Down? Coming in? Going out? Just like in English, it's the little words you add to the verb that help you be clear about your direction. In Chinese, these words called 趋向 补语 direction complements.

Direction complements: the basics

Direction complements can be directional words, other verbs or a combination of both.

Directional words

Rather simply, as we do in English, you can add a directional word to the verb, to describe where the verb is going. The most common words to indicate a direction are:

  • , up and , down <== notice how they kind of look like arrows?
  • , in and , out
  • , to cross over
  • , up
  • to come back.
  • (to arrive) to

You just place the directional word right after the verb, like so:


V + // / / /


He ran into the train station.

Put down your cellphone.

& indicate the speaker’s position

The verbs & can also be used as directional complements and are in fact two of the most commonly used. They indicate the speaker’s position. is for used for actions coming up and for actions going down.


Verb + /

To know when to use & , you need to pay attention to the position of the speaker. Use if the action is moving closer to the speaker and if it's the opposite: the action is moving far away from the speaker.


拿来 护照
He brought (out, literally, up) his passport.

She walked over in direction of the metro station.

报告经理 办公室
I have to send the report off to the manager’s office.

I’ll drive you to the airport.

Direction verb + /

Directional words are also verbs of movement, so they can be used on their own in a sentence in combination with / when the main action is a movement and when you want to indicate the speaker’s position in relation with the movement.

/ and /

Here's what / mean combined with / , respectively.

  • 上去 goes up (up and away from the speaker)
  • 上来 comes up (up towards the speaker)

  • 下去 goes down (down and away from the speaker)

  • 下来 comes down (down towards the speaker)


Come up and drink some tea!

听说 风景 不想上去看看
I heard the view at the top of the mountain is beautiful. Want to go up take a look?

下去 咖啡
Can you please go down and bring me a coffee?

楼上 下来
She’s upstairs. I’ll go tell her to come down.

/ and /

  • 出去 goes out (out and away from the speaker)
  • 出来 comes out (out towards the speaker)
  • 进去 goes in (in and away from the speaker)
  • 进来 comes in (in towards the speaker)


我们出去 透气
Let’s go out and breath the fresh air!

兔子 突然出来
The small rabbit suddenly came out.

进来 时候 关上
Please shut the door when you come in.

天气 我们快进
It’s too cold outside. Let’s quickly go back inside.

and /

  • 过去 goes over/there (over and away from the speaker)
  • 过来 comes over/here (over towards the speaker)


Please come as soon as possible.

听说 那边 我们过去看看
I heard there’s a small lake over there. Let’s go over and take a look.

(过去 also means the past, and to pass by, so make sure your sentence is clear in the context!)

and /

  • 回去 goes back (back and away from the speaker)
  • 回来 comes back (back towards the speaker)


天黑 回来!
The day is getting dark, come back quickly!

Let’s go back!

记得回去 时候
Remember to buy a bag of rice when you go back.


  • 起来 comes up (up towards the speaker)

is an exception: it can only be combined with .


恐怕 迟到一早 起来
He got up earlier for fear of being late.

and /

You can also use directional complements to talk about arriving at destinations. The structure is a little different as you separate the verb from its direction complement and place the location in between the two:


+ place + or


他们 前天我们
They arrived at our house the day before yesterday.

明天 飞机场
She has to go to the airport tomorrow.

As you can see in the examples, these simple directional complements are used in a huge variety of situations, so once you’ve gotten these direction down pat, you’ll be able to accurately describe a lot of movement actions in Chinese! Let’s go practice and then you’ll be ready for the next step, what happens when you mix a verb, a direction word and or !

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