- Also known as: 补语 (bǔyǔ) and objective complement.
Complements are a a special type of structure found in modern Mandarin which follow verbs (or sometimes adjectives) and provide additional information. They can be as short as one character, or practically as long as a sentence. According to A Practical Chinese Grammar for Foreigners, complements "show the duration, quantity, degree, result, direction or possibility of an action; or to illustrate the state, number, degree of a thing".
Complements are not a form of flattery (those are compliments); they're much more versatile than that! But because complements have no exact counterpart in English, they can be a little bit difficult to get the hang of at first. As is often the case, plentiful examples will help clarify.
Summary of complement types
Below you'll find all the major complement types (as well as some of the minor ones), with representative examples of each. The first four (result complement, potential complement, direction complement, and degree complement) are the critical ones. Click on the complement names for more detailed explanations and plenty of additional examples.
|Type of Complement||Verb||Particle||Complement||English|
|Result complement||做||完||to finish doing|
|买||到||to buy (successfully)|
|计划||好||to plan (properly)|
|说||清楚||to speak clearly|
|Potential complement||去||不了||cannot go|
|听||不懂||to (listen but) not understand|
|看||得||懂||to be able to read and understand|
|吃||得||完||can finish eating|
|Direction complement||放||下||to put down|
|走||上去||to walk up|
|飞||回来||to fly back (here)|
|看||过来||to look (over) this way|
|Degree complement||说||得||很好||to speak (very) well|
|累*||死了||tired "to death"|
|State complement||想||得||很简单||to think very simply|
|搞||得||很乱||to make a mess (of things)|
|Quantity complement||去||一次||to go once|
|工作||十个小时||to work for 10 hours|
|Location complement||住||在北京||to live in Beijing|
|来||到中国||to come to China|
|Time complement||等||到明年||to wait until next year|
|生||于69年||to be born in '69|
* OK, these are adjectives, not verbs!
Composition of complements
You might be wondering: what is the complement, exactly? For example, is it another verb, or an adjective or what? The answer is that it varies. It can be a verb, an adjective, a prepositional phrase, a measure word phrase, or a long, complex phrase. The following chart breaks it down.
|Word Preceding Complement||Complement Content||Complement Types||Example|
|Verb||Verb||Result complement||做 完|
|Potential complement||看 得 懂|
|Direction complement||走 回来|
|Adjective||Result complement||做 好|
|State complement||想 得 很 简单|
|Prepositional phrase||Location complement||住 在 北京|
|Time complement||生 于 69 年|
|Measure word phrases||Quantity complement||去 一 次|
|Adjective||Adjective||Degree complement||做 完|
|Result complement||做 好|
|Adverb||Degree complement||好 极了|
|Result complement||做 好|
|Other phrase||State complement||响 得 让 人 发疯|
When to use complements
You might be wondering: when do I use a complement? That's a good question, because often there are non-complement ways to express what the complement expresses. For example, do you use the 不了 complement after a verb, or do you put 不能 before the verb? Do you use an adverb before the verb (快快地跑), or do you put the same information in a complement after the verb (跑得快)? The sad answer is that it depends. There are many factors involved.
As a learner, the best thing you can do is to memorize the complements you encounter the most often, and start using them. The longer you've been using them, the more natural they'll feel, and when to use them will become clearer and clearer. One good place to start is our list of common verbs with complements.
- A Practical Chinese Grammar for Foreigners, p. 271
- For more info on this common mistake, see this website.
Sources and further reading
- A Practical Chinese Grammar For Foreigners (外国人实用汉语语法) (pp. 242 - 243, pp. 271 - 329) →buy
- Chinese Grammar Without Tears (简明汉语语法学习手册) (Chapter 6: Complements) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 3 (新实用汉语课本3) (pp. 200 - 201) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 2 (新实用汉语课本2) (pp. 87 - 88) →buy
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 97-9) →buy
- Practicing HSK Grammar (语法精讲精炼) (pp, 186-187) →buy