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Vietnamese Translation
Grammar Lesson: Plurals 
30th-Sep-2009 12:03 am
Vietnamese grammar lesson: plurals

Vietnamese has several ways of indicating plurals. The two most common are the indefinite plurals: “các” and “những”. They are both used before the noun.

“Các” indicates that there is more than one of a thing. For example, “book” is “sách”. The word “books” would be “các sách” in the sentence “I have books in my house.”
“Những” indicates more than one but less than all. This word is used to refer to one group of things which are part of a larger group. For example, the word “books” would be “những sách” in the sentence “I have read the books on the shelf but I haven’t read the books on the table yet”.

Another way to refer to plurals is to simply use the number of items: “two books” would simply be “hai sách” or “2 sách”. Instead of a number, a word that indicates a less specific amount can be used, such as the following:
(Một) vài sách: some books, a few (roughly 2 or 3) books
Nhiều sách: many books
Một số sách: a number of books
Mấy sách: several (less than 10) books
(Số) ít sách: few books, a small number of books

The word “những” can also be combined with a specific number to indicate that the number is large. In this way, it is like the opposite of “chỉ” (“only”) used to indicate that a number is small. For example:
“20 đô” is “twenty dollars”.
“chỉ 20 đô” is “only twenty dollars” meaning “20 dollars is cheap”.
“những 20 đô” is “twenty dollars” meaning “20 dollars is expensive”.
(Deleted comment)
30th-Sep-2009 04:06 am (UTC)

You cannot say "book" or "books" as "sách", especially when it comes with numbers. Either "quyển sách" or "cuốn sách". If not, nobody can understand what you're saying.

Book = sách, only when it stands alone.

About "những" and "các", i always think they have the same meaning. That is "a lot" or indicate something in general when i don't have time (or too lazy to count the amount). Like, i can say: "Ba quyển sách trên bàn là của tôi" or "Những quyển sách trên bàn là của tôi" or "Các quyển sách trên bàn là của tôi". They're all right.

When i read your list, it makes me laugh because i realize something weird that i cannot understand myself.

I use "vài quyển sách" but don't have to add "quyển" when i use "một số sách". And then, "một ít sách" but "mấy cuốn sách".

Why's that i wonder?

30th-Sep-2009 05:50 pm (UTC)
Classifiers will be another post. There are a lot of them and I'm sure I won't be able to cover most of them, but I'll try to put together a decent list. When I studied Chinese, I had a dictionary with a list of the most common classifiers, but I haven't encountered anything like that for Vietnamese yet. So far, all of the Vietnamese lessons and textbooks I've seen are very limited in that area. Some of them are little better than "Classifiers (such as 'cái' and 'con')are really important in Vietnamese. Use them." I've never seen a good list of them with an explanation of how to use them. I've seen several textbooks and lessons that included exercises about classifiers, but they didn't include enough explanation for a new student to do the exercises. I think some of them were designed for Việt Kiều who can understand or speak Vietnamese but not read and write it yet. For something so important, it's a definite weak point in the instruction of Vietnamese. Perhaps, the native speakers can help me to compile a list so we can make a more useful lesson on classifiers?
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