Huì (会) and Néng (能): Ability Words in Chinese
“能”(néng) and“会”(huì) in Chinese both translate into the English word ‘can’, indicating someone’s ability to do something. Many of my students get confused about how to properly use these Chinese words properly. Here are a few things you need to know about this Chinese grammar point.
Huì (会) and Néng (能) differences
Level of study
“会” emphasizes that you needed to study in order to obtain the skill, while “能” emphasizes the level of a specific ability.
- wǒ huì yóuyǒng.
- I can swim.
- Wǒ shíwǔ fēnzhōng néng yóu yìqiānmǐ.
- I can swim 1km in 15 minutes.
When talking about someone’s ability, “不会”(búhuì) means the person can’t do something because he or she doesn’t have the skill, while “不能”(bùnéng) indicates the person can’t do it regardless of his or her skill level.
- Wǒ búhuì yóuyǒng.
- I can’t swim, because I don’t know how to swim.
- Wǒ shēngbìng le, bùnéng yóuyǒng.
- I can’t swim, because I am sick.
“能” also can also describe regaining an ability. If for any reason, you lose the ability to do something and later retrieve it, you can use “能”.
- Wǒ de bìng hǎole, yòu néng yóuyǒng le.
- I have recovered. I can swim again.
Quantity versus quality
If you want to indicate someone is good at something, you can use both “能” and “会”. It is however important to remember “能” emphasizes quantity while“会” emphasizes quality.
- Tā hěn néng xiě, yìnián néng xiě wǔběn xiǎoshuō
- He is good at writing. He can write 5 novels in 1 year.
- Tā hěn huì xiě, tā de xiǎoshuō huòdé le nuòbèiěr wénxuéjiǎng
- He is good at writing. His novel won the Nobel Prize in literature.
We hope that explains Huì (会) and Néng (能) in Chinese! For further explanation, see our video on Huì (会) on YouTube.