Advanced potential complements

You may have a handle on the typical potential complements, but there are a few other fairly common ones that you still need to master. Each is addressed separately here.

Verbs with -不了 and -得了


This pattern is used to talk about whether or not you are able to do something. It is subtly different from using 不能 because -不了 usually suggests some external factor out of one's control.

Verb + 得 / 不 + 了


  • 他 那么 老 ,走 了 那么 多 路 吗 ?He's so old. Will he be able to walk that far?
  • 今晚 我 有 事 ,去 了 。I have things to do tonight. I won't be able to go.
  • 这 件 衣服 太 小 了 ,我 穿 了 。This piece of clothing is too small. I won't be able to wear it.
  • 这 件 事情 只 有 你 帮 了 我 。You're the only one who is able to help me with this.
  • 他 没 什么 经验 ,处理 了 这样 的 问题 。He doesn't have much experience. He is not able deal with this kind of problem.

Verbs with -不下 and -得下


This is used to talk about whether or not something will fit or go somewhere. 常见的动词:放、坐、住、装、吃。

Verb + 得 / 不 + 下


  • 我 吃 饱 了 ,真的 吃 不 下 了 。I'm full. I don't feel like eating more.
  • 你 包 里 放 得 下 那么 多 东西 吗 ?Can your bag hold that many things?
  • 我 的 车 太 小 ,坐 不 下 五 个 人 。 My car is too small. Five people will not fit in it.
  • 我 的 箱子 这么 大 ,肯定 装 得 下 这些 衣服 。I'm sure my suitcase is big enough for these clothes.
  • 你 一个人 拿 得 下 这么 多 东西 吗 ?Can you carry all these thing?

Verbs with -不起 and -得起


Verb + 得 / 不 + 起 + Obj.


  • 那 件 衣服 是 你 两 个 月 的 工资 ,买 得 起 吗?That piece of clothing is worth two months of your salary. Can you afford to buy it?
  • 这 家 餐厅 太 贵 了 ,我们 吃 不 起This restaurant is too expensive. We can't afford to eat here.
  • 这些 化妆品 很 贵 ,我 用 不 起This makeup is very expensive. I can't afford it.
  • 这里 房子 的 租金 最少 也 要 一 万 块 ,你 租 得 起 吗 ?This apartment's rent is at least 10,000 RMB. Can you afford to rent it?
  • 很 多 人 不 生 二胎 不是 因为 不 想 要 ,是 因为 成本 太 高 ,养 不 起Many people don't get pregnant twice not because they don't want to. It's because the cost is too high, they can't afford to raise more kids.

Verbs with -不动 and -得动


The potential complement -不动 is used to express lack of physical ability to do something. This can be used not only with actions like walking, running or climbing, but even actions like eating and chewing.

Verb + 得 / 不 + 动


  • 我 走 不 动 了,我们 休息 一下 吧 !I can't keep going. I need to rest a bit.
  • 等等 我,我 跑 不 动 了!Wait for me. I can't keep running.
  • 你 才 一百 斤 ,我 背 得 动 你 。You are only 50 kilograms. I can carry you.
  • 孩子 真的 长大 了,妈妈 都 抱 不 动 了 。The child is all grown up. His mother can't hold him anymore.
  • 这么 重 ,他 一个人 搬 得 动 吗 ?It's so heavy. Can he move it by himself?

Verbs with -不着 and -得着



Verb + 得 / 不 + 着


  • 太 高 了 ,我 够 不 着It's too high. I can't reach it.
  • 这么 吵 ,你 睡 得 着 吗 ?It's so noisy. Can you sleep?
  • 太 难 了 ,我 猜 不 着It's too hard. I can't guess.

See also

Sources and further reading