When 来 doesn’t just mean come…


Since I’ve finished my Heisig book, I’ve had more time to give my listening skills some practice. This has been great for me – in particular I’ve been focused on lessons all related to food in some way or another. I’ve stumbled upon a few interesting discoveries – the most important discovery being that 来 doesn’t always mean come in Mandarin. I’m specifically talking about 来 (lai2 / to come) as a substitute for other verbs.

See point 3 here on nciku.com if you need an example, else please read on.

I discovered this as I was listening to a ChinesePod podcast about ordering food for the group. It happened early on in the conversation when people were “arguing” about who should be doing the ordering and one person finally said that they’d order. (Please forgive my mind’s thinking – but if this conversation had been in English and this line been said a bit later perhaps while enjoying a very delicious dish and if the sentence was shorter with 我 as a pronoun, then there may have been some raised eyebrows around the table… if you know what I mean…)

Anyways, I give you two examples of how 来 replaces another verb from that dialogue:

bù bù bù, wǒ bùhuì diǎn, háishì nǐmen lái ba.
No, no, no… I’m no good at ordering. You guys better do it.

wǒmen lái ge gālíjī, zěnmeyàng?
How about we order curry chicken?

Now anyway, it made me wonder why I never came across this before in three semesters of study in 2006 / 2007. (I may have mentioned that the lecturers were all from Taiwan.) Well it turns out that this is colloquial speech (colloquial to China I’m assuming…)

See this lesson prepared by someone at the University of Hawaii – scroll to the last page if you wish but essentially this is what they’re teaching:

  • In colloquial expressions, the verb 來 (lái) can serve as a substitute for some other verbs,
    mostly in imperative sentences
  • It is usually used in restaurants and stores, especially when buying small things, or coaxing someone to sing a song.

The latter would explain why I’ve seen it not once, but a few times over the last month.

Anyways, time for a drink:

Zài lái yī bēi!
Give me another glass!

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