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The linking verb là

You may have noticed the word là appears in the phrases Tên tôi là… (My name is…) and Tôi là … (I am…). In Vietnamese là is called a linking verb and can be roughly translated as to be. However, its use differs a bit from the use of to be in English in that it appears only between subjects and noun predicates, such as:

Tôi là Peter.
I am Peter.

Tên tôi là Peter.
My name is Peter.

Tôi là sinh viên.
I am a student.

Là is not used when the predicate is an attribute, i.e. when it contains an adjective. Let’s have a look at some examples:

Tôi khỏe.
I am fine.

Chị đói.
You (to a somewhat older/similarly-aged woman) are hungry.

Toán khó.
Mathematics is difficult.