The difference between 去 (qù), 走 (zǒu) and 离开 (líkāi) in Chinese grammar

The words 去 (qù), 走 (zǒu) and 离开 (líkāi) can all be used to express “to go” in Mandarin Chinese. Here's how to use them correctly for different purposes.

去 (qù)

去 is an extremely common word in Chinese, with a range of meanings. It is often used to express “to go somewhere”, or to express “leaving”.

Using 去 to express “going somewhere”

他刚去。

Tā gāng qù.

He's just gone.

我不要去那儿。

Wǒ bùyào qù nà'r.

I don't want to go there.

你哪儿都不要去。

Nǐ nǎ'r dōu bùyào qù.

Don't go anywhere.

You don't want to go anywhere.

我晚上要出去。

Wǒ wǎnshàng yào chūqù.

I'm going to go out this evening.

Using 去 to express “leaving”

他刚去。

Tā gāng qù.

He just left.

(Note that this is the same as the first example sentence above; the meaning depends on context.)

几点去?

Jǐ diǎn qù?

What time shall we leave?

她是前年去的。

Tā shì qiánnián qù de.

She left the year before last.

晚点去吧。

Wǎndiǎn qù ba.

Why don't you leave a bit later?

Notice how these might also be translated using “to go” in English; the meanings overlap in both languages.

去 compared to 走 and 离开

One grammatical difference between 去 and 走 is that 去 can take an object (it's a transitive verb), whereas 走 cannot. When 去 takes an object, it's always with the meaning of “to go”. 离开 can also take an object, but only to mean “to leave”.

In other words, 去 cannot take an object when it's used to talk about leaving somewhere, only going somewhere.

Some example sentences where 去 takes an object to express going somewhere:

你什么时候去西班牙?

Nǐ shénme shíhòu qù Xībānyá?

When are you going to Spain?

我去过那个地方。

Wǒ qùguò nàge dìfāng.

I've been to that place.

我每天去菜市场买蔬菜。

Wǒ měitiān qù cài shìchǎng mǎi shūcài.

I go to the market every day to buy vegetables.

Compare this to the usage of 走 and 离开, described below.

走 (zǒu)

The word 走 (zǒu) literally means “to walk”. From that base meaning, it can also be used to express “to leave”.

Unlike 去, 走 cannot take an object (it's intransitive).

Using 走 to express “walking”

The literal meaning of 走 is “to walk”. It is often paired with 路 (lù) as 走路 (zǒulù) for this. Some examples:

走路对身体好。

Zǒulù duì shēntǐ hǎo.

Walking is healthy.

他还不太会走路。

Tā hái bù tài huì zǒulù.

He can't walk very well yet.

他们走着走着,就累了。

Tāmen zǒuzhe zǒuzhe, jiù lèile.

They walked and walked, and got tired.

Using 走 to express “leaving”

Building of its literal meaning of “walking”, 走 can also express “leaving”:

咱们走吧。

Zánmen zǒu ba.

Let's go.

他刚走。

Tā gāng zǒu.

He just left.

不要走。

Bùyào zǒu.

Don't go.

Despite literally meaning “to walk”, when used to mean “leaving”, 走 does not have to refer to a person or something that actually walks. For example:

火车还没走呢。

Huǒchē hái méi zǒu ne.

The train hasn't left yet.

Note that 走 can be used together with 开 in a similar way to 离开. For example:

他送了这封信然后走开了。

Tā sòngle zhè fēng xìn ránhòu zǒu kāile.

He dropped off this letter and then walked off.

Or as a simple command:

走开!

Zǒu kāi!

Go away!

走 can also be combined with 去 to express “walking to somewhere”:

咱们走路去吧。

Zánmen zǒulù qù ba.

Let's walk there.

走 and 去 can also express “walking away”:

你干嘛走来走去?

Nǐ gàn ma zǒu lái zǒu qù?

Why do you keep walking around like that?

You can also “go and walk”:

你想去走一走吗?

Nǐ xiǎng qù zǒu yī zǒu ma?

Would you like to go for a walk?

As you can see above, one key difference with 走 compared to 去 and 离开 is that 走 cannot take an object.

离开 (líkāi)

Unlike 去 and 走, the word 离开 is only used to express “leaving” a place or a person. It does not have other meanings. This can be seen in the meaning of the character 离 (lí) alone: “to leave” or “to part from”.

离开 is a bit more formal than 去 or 走, but still common in everyday speech.

Some example sentences for 离开:

她刚离开办公室。

Tā gāng líkāi bàngōngshì.

She just left the office.

他们什么时候离开的?

Tāmen shénme shíhòu líkāi de?

When did they leave?

他不想离开家。

Tā bùxiǎng líkāi jiā.

He doesn't want to leave home.

Like 去, 离开 can take an object, but it always means “to leave”.

Some more examples of 离开 with an object:

不要离开我。

Bùyào líkāi wǒ.

Don't leave me.

飞船离开太阳系了。

Fēichuán líkāi tàiyángxì le.

The spacecraft has left the solar system.

他从来没离开过那里。

Tā cónglái méi líkāiguò nàlǐ.

He has never left that place.

When 去, 走 and 离开 are interchangeable

In some situations, 去, 走 and 离开 are all interchangeable with each other. This is when a sentence is expressing “to leave”. For example:

最好早点儿去。

Zuì hǎo zǎodiǎn'r qù.

It would be best to leave early.

This sentence suggests setting off early, with the implication of arriving somewhere else on time.

最好早点儿走。

Zuì hǎo zǎodiǎn'r zǒu.

It would be best to leave early.

This sentence suggests leaving early, with the focus on exiting some location or situation (and not necessarily going anywhere specific).

最好早点儿离开。

Zuì hǎo zǎodiǎn'r líkāi.

It would be best to leave early.

This sentence suggests leaving early, again with a focus on exiting. It is more formal, and might suggest some strong reason for “getting away” as opposed to simply leaving in good time.

去, 走 and 离开 summary

A quick recap of the using 去, 走 and 离开 in Chinese grammar:

  • 去: “going” or “leaving”, can take an object to mean “to go to”.
  • 走: “walking” or “leaving”, cannot take an object.
  • 离开: “leaving”, can take an object to mean “to leave somewhere / someone”.

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