One of the first verbs we learn in Chinese is 去, “to go”. This covers a great many everyday situations, such as “I’m going to Beijing”, “I went to eat lunch” etc. etc. But how about when the focus is more on the departure itself?
This post covers the differences between the Chinese words 去, 走, 离开, 出发 and 出国, all of which can be used when you’re taking leave of one sort or another, from exiting a room to leaving the country.
Learn these and you’ll really be going places with your Chinese (pun intended. sorry…)
去 / qù
As the below examples show, with the verb 去 (to go) you can specify a noun or another verb afterward, to explain where you’ll be going or what you’ll be doing when you go. Example sentences:
Míngtiān wǒ huì qù guǎngzhōu
I will go to Guangzhou tomorrow
Shàng ge zhōumò wǒ qù kànwàng wǒ māmā le.
Last weekend I went to visit my mother.
Wǒ yào qù shítáng chī wǔfàn.
I’m going to the canteen to eat lunch.
走 / zǒu
走 means “to leave” and places emphasis on the actual departure. It’s about generally making your exit, so unlike 去 you cannot specify a place or person after this verb. Example sentences:
Women zǒu ba.
Let’s leave (i.e. let’s get out of here; often used in offices at around lunchtime!)
Tā gāng zǒu.
He just left.
Wǒ xiān zǒu le.
I’m leaving (literally “I go first”, say this when making a polite exit while others remain).
离开 / líkāi
离开 also means “to leave”, but unlike 走 this verb implies permanence. You can 离开 a job, leave a person (i.e. a spouse), or leave a city to move elsewhere. With 离开 you can specify a place, person, company/job after this verb. Example sentences:
Bùyào líkāi wǒ. Wǒ ài nǐ!
Don’t leave me. I love you!
Yuèmò wǒ huì líkāi gōngsī.
I’m leaving the company at the end of the month.
Zìcóng tā líkāi Běijīng, wǒ zài yě méiyǒu jiànguò tā.
I haven’t seen him since he left Beijing.
出发 means to start out or set off. It’s another verb that emphasizes the departure, but only in the context of going on a trip or journey etc.
Nǐ zhěnglǐ hǎole ma? Míngtiān wǒ yào zǎo xiē chūfā.
Are you all packed? I want to start out early tomorrow.
Zhè cì lǚxíng wǒmen jìhuàle hěnjiǔ. Zhōngyú dàoliao chūfā de shíjiānle.
We’ve been planning this trip for so long. Finally it’s time to set off.
Wǒmen chūfā shí bìng méiyǒu yùjì dào zhème duō wèntí.
When we set off, we didn’t anticipate so many problems.
出国 / chūguó
This means to leave a country, go abroad or emigrate. There is definitely a sense of permanence here too. Example sentences:
Wǒ dǎsuàn chūguó liúxué
我 打算 出国 留学
I intend to study abroad.
Tā hé tā zhàngfū chūguóle
She and her husband left the country.
We hope this clarifies matters, so next time you can articulate exactly which kind of departure you’re making in Mandarin! Feel free to leave questions in the comments section.