A study on deictic verbs COME ("lai" and "guolai") in Mandarin motion event expressions

Huichen S. Hsiao*, Yinling Wei

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The goal of this study is to investigate the similarities and differences between the deictic motion verbs COME, i.e., lai and guolai, used in Mandarin motion event descriptions. Previous studies have proposed that both lai and guolai indicate the subject is moving toward the deictic center and reflect the referential relationship between the speaker and the subject (Qi, 1996). However, the subtle differences between lai and guolai remain controversial. In contrast to previous studies, we adopted a corpus-based analysis supplemented by an on-line questionnaire. First, we extracted 500 sentences of lai and guolai respectively from the COCT corpus, and manually eliminated exceptional cases. Second, we classified, contrasted, and examined these data from cognitive, semantic and syntactic aspects. Next, we used a questionnaire to investigate the usage of lai and guolai under different conditions by 50 Chinese native speakers in order to study their tendencies in terms of usage and degree. The preliminary results show that lai and guolai highlight different cognitive concepts respectively. It is found that lai emphasizes the concept of "TOWARD-A-GOAL" or the meaning of appearance. Therefore, it can be used to describe abstract motion events under certain conditions, such as: an inanimate subject, non-real change-of-location, non-current motion events, and so on. By contrast, guolai highlights the concepts of "PROCESS" and "PATH". Therefore, the verb is often used to express motion events which denote real change-of-location, such as current motion events, emphasizing the meaning of movement, imperative sentences and so on. Limited to emphasizing PATH information, guolai can only be used in describing physical motion events. Thus, it can be inferred that lai is more widely used than guolai. Overall, the results of the study reveal that native speakers of Mandarin tend to use different verbs to highlight cognitive perspectives, such as references to GOAL or PATH. However, the level of each influencing factor still requires further research.

Original languageEnglish
JournalChinese as a Second Language Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Oct 1


  • Deictic verbs
  • Goal
  • Motion event
  • Path

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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