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Tricky uses of "dao"

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You probably learned the result complement 到 a long time ago, as part of words like 看到 ("to see") and 听到 ("to hear"). But other times it's less clear what the 到 really means. Like the difference between 买 and 买到 or 做 and 做到. What 到 adds is a clearer sense that something has really been achieved.

The difference 到 makes

Adding 到 after a verb makes it very clear that the desired result was achieved. If you looked and you saw, then 到 indicates that. On the other hand, not adding 到 makes it unclear whether or not the desired result was achieved. It can have the effect of making a verb mean "try to verb." So 做 without 到 is kind of like "try to do," but when you want to make it very clear that results were achieved or must be achieved, that's when you want to add 到.

Let's look at another example. The difference between 找 and 找到 is that 找 means "to search" (in other words, "to try to find"), whereas 找到 means "to find," that the search was successful, and results were achieved. So if one were to say "你一定要找," it would mean "you must try to find it" and "你一定要找到" means "you must find it."

Illustrative Examples

做 vs. 做到

  • 我 还 没有 做。Wǒ hái méiyǒu zuò.I haven‘t done it.
  • 我 下 个 星期 可以 做。Wǒ xià gè xīngqī kěyǐ zuò.I can do it next week.
  • 我 相信 你 一定 能 做Wǒ xiāngxìn nǐ yīdìng néng zuòdào.I believe you will be able to do it.

买 vs. 买到

  • 我 还 没有 买 。Wǒ hái méiyǒu mǎi.I haven't bought it yet.
  • 我 没 买Wǒ méi mǎidào.I didn't buy it.
  • 这里 买 不 进口 食品 。Zhèlǐ mǎi bu dào jìnkǒu shípǐn.You can't buy imported good here.

学 vs. 学到

  • 我 想 学 中文 。Wǒ xiǎng xué Zhōngwén.I want to study Chinese.
  • 我们 今天 学 了 很 多 生词 。Wǒmen jīntiān xué le hěn duō shēngcí.Today we learned many new words.
  • 在 这个 公司 工作 ,我 学 了 很 多 东西。Zài zhège gōngsī gōngzuò, wǒ xuédào le hěn duō dōngxi.Working for this company, I learned a lot of things.

拿 vs. 拿到

  • 你 拿 小包 ,我 拿 大包 。Nǐ ná xiǎo bāo, wǒ ná dà bāo.You take the small bag, I'll take the big bag.
  • 不 知道 什么 时候 能 拿 我 的 工作 签证 。Bù zhīdào shénme shíhou néng ná dào wǒ de gōngzuò qiānzhèng.I'm not sure when I'll be able to get my work visa.
  • 如果 他 拿 不 绿卡 ,我 就 跟 他 分手 。Rúguǒ tā ná bu dào lǜkǎ, wǒ jiù gēn tā fēnshǒu.If he can't get a green card, I will break up with him.

想 vs. 想到

  • 一定 要 想 一 个办法 。Yīdìng yào xiǎng yī gè bànfǎ.You have to think of a method.
  • 你 想 了 什么好办法 ?Nǐ xiǎngdào le shénme hǎo bànfǎ?Have you thought of any good methods yet?
  • 我们 都 没 想 他 这么 生气 。Wǒmen dōu méi xiǎngdào tā zhème shēngqì.None of us thought that he would be so mad.

看 vs. 看到

  • 我 在 看 一些 老 照片 。Wǒ zài kàn yīxiē lǎo zhàopiàn.I'm looking at some old photos.
  • 这 张 照片 ,我 想 了 我 的 女儿 。Kàndào zhè zhāng zhàopiàn, wǒ xiǎngdào le wǒ de nǚ'ér.After seeing this photo, I thought of my daughter.
  • 我 看 他 了,在 那里 !Wǒ kàndào tā le, zài nàlǐ!I see him, over there!

追 vs. 追到

  • 怎么 追 女孩子 ?Zěnme zhuī nǚ háizi?How do you chase girls?
  • 那 个 女孩子 ,你 追了吗 ?Nàge nǚháizi, nǐ zhuīdào le ma? That girl, did you catch her yet?
  • 如果 你 追她了 ,我 就 请 你 喝酒 。Rúguǒ nǐ zhuīdào tā le, wǒ jiù qǐng nǐ hējiǔ.If you can really catch her, I'll treat you to a drink.

了解 vs. 了解到

  • 我 不 太 了解 这个 人 。Wǒ bù tài liǎojiě zhège rén.I don't really understand this person.
  • 我们 刚刚 了解 一些 新 的 消息 。Wǒmen gānggāng liǎojiědào yīxiē xīn de xī.We just understood the new information.
  • 从 他 那里,我 了解 了 真相 。Cóng tā nàlǐ, wǒ liǎojiědào le .I learned the truth from him.

联系 vs. 联系到

  • 我们 怎么 联系 ?Wǒmen zěnme liánxì?How do we get in contact?
  • 你 知道 他 的 联系 方式 吗 ?Nǐ zhīdào tā de liánxì fāngshì ma?Do you have his contact information?
  • 我 想 跟 你 联系 ,但是 一直 联系 不 你 。Wǒ xiǎng gēn nǐ liánxì, dànshì yīzhí liánxì bu dào nǐ.I always wanted to get in touch with you, but hasn't got a hold of you.