Using 很 in Chinese

“I Love You!” – “I Really Love You!”


During our discussion of nasal final EN & the adjective “笨 bèn – “dumb,” we emphasized that when saying 我很笨 wó hěn bèn, the “很 hěn” does NOT mean “very.” Dictionaries translate 很 most often this way, but in the context of “Noun + 很 + Adj” (e.g., 我很笨), it’s better translated as “is.”

So why do dictionaries, Chinese teachers, and Chinese people speaking English often translate “很 hěn” as “very”? Well, it’s because there is a context where “very” is indeed the correct translation, and that is when 很 comes before a psychological verb. A regular old action verb like “run” (跑 pǎo) or “eat” (吃 chī) cannot have “很” in front of it, but psychological verbs like “to love” (爱 ài), “to like” (喜欢 xǐhuan) or “to fear” (怕 pà) are all special in Mandarin and can have 很 placed in front of them.


Consider that without “很”, these three sentences would all be correct:

他爱我 ài– He loves me

他喜欢我 huan– He likes me

他怕我 – He fears me

If we add “很” in front of these verbs, we are expressing that the degree of “love”, “like” or “fear” has increased. Consequently, it is reasonable to translate 很 as “very” or “really”:

他很爱我 hěn ài – He really loves me

他很喜欢我 hénhuan– He really likes me

他很怕我 hěn – He really fears me

Take note of this change, and remember that “很” will translate as “is” much more often. 

using 很 in Chinese, Using 很 in Chinese


As always, be sure to remember that knowing this type of grammatical point has far more utility from the perspective of noticing. You are going to hear and read Chinese that utilizing 很 either as “is” or as “very.” If you notice it in those moments, you will naturally start to apply it to your speech. Many people (including us in the early days) see learning grammar points as filters for our speech. Because you are asking yourself “am I using this grammar rule correctly?”, you end up with stammered and otherwise non-fluent speech. The real process is as follows:

Learn grammar point —>Use said knowledge to notice it in real Chinese more often —> Naturally start to say it oneself.

Chinese Verbs
3 January , 2019
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