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Structural particle "de"

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The structural particle "de" has three written forms in modern Chinese, each with its own uses:

There is also a modal particle 的 (de), not covered in this grammar point.

的 (de) Before Nouns

Before nouns, 的 (de) is used to mark possession or modification. One way to think about 的 (de) is that it works like apostrophe-"s" in English. Think of this one as the "possessive de" or "noun-modifying de."

  • 小李 房子 Xiǎo Lǐ de fángziXiao Li's house

This comparison works very well for possession, as it shows how English and Chinese handle possession in a similar way. Just remember that Chinese uses this "possession" far more widely than English. Modifying, describing qualities, and assigning attributes are all handled in the same way as possession, by using 的 (de).

Another way to use 的 (de) is as an attributive. It's just a way of connecting adjectives or other words with a noun. It gives us more information about the noun, and the 的 (de) makes it clear that the extra information is connected to the noun. Here's an example:

  • 红色 自行车 hóngsè de zìxíngchēred bicycle

Here 的 (de) is used to modify "bicycle" with the color "red." It attributes the color "red" to the "bicycle."

Structure

Although certainly not complete for all uses, this simple structure should help as a general guideline:

的 + Noun

Examples

  • 手机de shǒujīmy cell phone
  • 我们 老师wǒmen de lǎoshīour teacher
  • 漂亮 衣服piàoliang de yīfubeautiful clothes
  • 热闹 酒吧 rènao de jiǔbāa boisterous bar
  • 我 女朋友 公司 wǒ nǚpéngyou de gōngsīmy girlfriend's company

For you nerdier learners, 的 (de) is known to the Chinese as 白勺的 (bái-sháo de) as it's composed of the characters 白 (bái) and 勺 (sháo).

得 (de) After Verbs

This de is probably the trickiest to crack for English speakers as it has no obvious equivalent in English. 得 (de) is used to construct various kinds of complements and is usually associated with verbs. You can think of it as the "complement de."

Structure

Although certainly not complete for all uses, this simple structure should help:

Verb + 得

Examples

  • 很 好 zuò de hěn hǎodo very well
  • 太 快 shuō de tài kuàispeak too fast
  • 很 开心 wán de hěn kāixīnplay very happily
  • 很 快 kāi de hěn kuài drive very fast
  • 很 舒服 zhù de hěn shūfu live very comfortably

For you nerdier learners, 得 (de) is known as 双人得 (shuāngrén de), as the character component 彳 is often referred to as 双人 (shuāngrén), or the "double person" component.

Not an Adverb?

You might be wondering how the examples using 得 (de) above are different from adverbs. That's actually a really good question, but it's one that you should defer until later in your studies. Complements are a bit tricky, and you'll be learning a lot more about them at the intermediate level, so be patient!

地 (de) Before Verbs

地 (de) is used to turn adjectives into adverbs, and can be thought of as equivalent to the suffix -ly in English. You could call it the "adverb de" or "adverbial de," since it precedes verbs like adverbs do.

Structure

Although not complete for all uses, this simple structure should help:

Adj. + 地 + Verb

Note that it's the "adjective + 地 (de)" structure that makes the adjective into an "adverb phrase" (called an adverbial). If it's a straight-up adverb you're using (instead of an adjective), then you don't need 地 (de) at all.

This pattern is also the least common of the three; you'll be using 的 (de) and 得 (de) a lot more in everyday communication than this one.

Examples

  • 生气 shēngqì de shuōangrily say
  • 开心 kāixīn de xiàohappily laugh
  • 慢慢 mànmàn de zǒu slowly walk
  • 伤心 shāngxīn desadly cry
  • 认真 rènzhēn de tīngcarefully listen

Again, you don't have to know this, but this 地 (de) is known in Chinese as 土也地 (tǔ-yě de), as it's composed of the 土 (tǔ) component on the left with a 也 (yě) on the right.

Using All Three "de"s

This example is naturally going to be a little more difficult than the ones above, since we're cramming all three usages into one sentence, but you may find this useful.

  • 今天 作业 你 做 不好,因为 你 没 认真 听课。Jīntiān de zuòyè nǐ zuò de bù hǎo, yīnwèi nǐ méi rènzhēn de tīngkè.You didn't do today's homework well because you didn't listen attentively in class.

Sources and further reading

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