Chinese Language Blog

Chinese Directional Complements (Part One) Posted by on Mar 9, 2016 in Vocabulary

Today I’d like to talk about two very important verbs in Chinese related to direction and how to properly use them in directional complements:

go (去 – qù)
come (来 – lái)

The first thing you’ll want to remember about these two characters is this:

  • If the action is moving towards the speaker, use 来.

  • If the action is moving away from the speaker, use 去.

Here are two examples of these words in action, which both happen to be very common questions you’ll hear as a foreigner in China:

  • Where do you want to go?

    你要什么地方? (nǐ yào qù shén me dì fāng)

  • Why did you come to China?

    你为什么中国? (nǐ wèi shén me lái zhōng guó)

The first question might come from someone on the street who sees you are lost, or it may come from a taxi driver. In either case, you’re eventually moving away from the speaker. The second one could come from anybody. Since you’ve left your home country to visit China, you’ve moved towards the speaker. If you’re talking about yourself moving, just think about the context:

China English Teaching

I came to China to teach English.
我来中国教英文 (wǒ lái zhōng guó jiào yīng wén)


Bali Island

I want to go to Bali.
我想去巴厘岛 (wǒ xiǎng qù bālí dǎo)


Here are a few more examples for you to study:

  • Yesterday I went to the Forbidden City.

    昨天我去故宫了. (zuó tiān wǒ qù gù gōng le)

  • Do you want to go to a cafe?

    你们想去咖啡馆吗? (nǐ men xiǎng qù kā fēi guǎn ma)

  • He came here for an interview.

    他来这里面试. (tā lái zhè lǐ miàn shì)

  • Will you come to the office today?

    今天你来办公室吗? (jīn tiān nǐ lái bàn gōng shì ma)

Now that you have a basic understand of how to use these verbs, let’s expand on them a bit by adding other characters to form directional complements. These are used – not surprisingly – to describe the direction of the verb. Think about some of them in English – go away, come here, go down, come back, etc. Here are the words we’ll be adding on to form these directional complements:

  • to go down (下 – xià)

  • to go up (上 – shàng)

  • to enter (进 – jìn)

  • to exit/go out (出 – chū)

  • to return (回 – huí)

  • to cross (过 – guò)

  • to rise/get up (起 – qǐ)

Now, we can add 来 or 去 to each one of these to describe the direction of the verb. Let’s take a look at them one by one:

下 (xià)

to come down (下来 – xià lái)
to go down (下去 – xià qù)

上 (shàng)

to come up (上来 – shàng lái)
to go up (上去 – shàng qù)

进 (jìn)

to come in (进来 – jìn lái)
to go in (进去 – jìn qù)

出 (chū)

to come out (出来 – chū lái)
to go out (出去 – chū qù)

回 (huí)

to come back (回来 – huí lái)
to go back (回去 – huí qù)

过 (guò)

to come over (过来 – guò lái)
to go over (过去 – guò qù)

起 (qǐ)

to get up/to rise (起来 – qǐ lái)

Note that there is not a word 起过 – it just wouldn’t make sense.

If you’d like to, feel free to save this table to help you study all of these directional complements:

Chinese directional complements

In the next lesson, I’ll dive into these a bit more and provide some more examples for you to study. For now, let’s review a bit – answer the following questions simply with the directional complement that is most appropriate for the situation:

  1. Your friend is outside of your door and you invite them in.

  2. You are at the bottom of the hill but your friend is already on top.

  3. Your cat is up on the closet where he shouldn’t be.

  4. Your father has returned from his business trip.

  5. Your friend is not at the party and you’re talking on the phone.

If you want to challenge yourself, try to make a sentence you would use in each situation. I’ll give you the answers and many more examples that will hopefully have you using these directional complements like a pro in the next lesson.

Click here to continue to Part Two.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. CHad:

    This is a great post, and extremely helpful! Thanks!

  2. Butt:

    I want to go Bali.. Wo xiang qu Bali dao… I don’t understand dao here and I don’t understand compliments with verbs like dailai and daiqu.. Pls help me

    • sasha:

      @Butt In Chinese, they call Bali 巴厘岛 (Bali Island)… probably to help differentiate it from Paris, which is 巴黎. Whenever I told people in China I was going to Bali, they’d say “Oh that’s great you’re going to France!”

  3. sukhminder singh:

    i have taken the guidelines to learn the compliments. thanks

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