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 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”
Using 去 to express “leaving”
(Note that this is the same as the first example sentence above; the meaning depends on context.)
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:
Compare this to the usage of 走 and 离开, described below.
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:
Using 走 to express “leaving”
Building of its literal meaning of “walking”, 走 can also express “leaving”:
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:
Note that 走 can be used together with 开 in a similar way to 离开. For example:
Or as a simple command:
走 can also be combined with 去 to express “walking to somewhere”:
走 and 去 can also express “walking away”:
You can also “go and walk”:
As you can see above, one key difference with 走 compared to 去 and 离开 is that 走 cannot take an object.
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:
Like 去, 离开 can take an object, but it always means “to leave”.
Some more examples of 离开 with an object:
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:
This sentence suggests setting off early, with the implication of arriving somewhere else on time.
This sentence suggests leaving early, with the focus on exiting some location or situation (and not necessarily going anywhere specific).
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”.
More A2 articles
- The 是…的 (shì…de) construction vs 了 (le) in Chinese grammar A2
- How to use 长 (cháng) and 久 (jiǔ) correctly in Chinese grammar A2
- The difference between 去 (qù), 走 (zǒu) and 离开 (líkāi) in Chinese grammar A2