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, but for all of them, the preceding character 得 (de) or 不 (bu) is pronounced in the neutral tone.
- 1 Verbs with -不了 and -得了
- 2 Verbs with -不下 and -得下
- 3 Verbs with -不起 and -得起
- 4 Verbs with -不动 and -得动
- 5 Verbs with -不着 and -得着
- 6 See also
- 7 Sources and further reading
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 + Verb" because "Verb + 不了" usually suggests some external factor out of one's control.
Verb + 得了 / 不了
Note that the character 了 here is pronounced "liǎo."
- 他 那么 老 ，走 得 了 那么 多 路 吗 ？He's so old. Will he be able to walk that far?
- 今晚 我 有 事 ，去 不 了 。I have things to do tonight. I won't be able to go.
- 这 件 衣服 太 小 了 ，我 穿 不 了 。This piece of clothing is too small. I won't be able to wear it.
- 这 件 事情 只 有 你 帮 得 了 我 。You're the only one who is able to help me with this.
Verbs with -不下 and -得下
This is used to talk about whether or not something will fit or go somewhere. Commonly used with the verbs 放, 坐, 住, 装, 吃.
Verb + 得下 / 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.
Verbs with -不起 and -得起
This complement is related to being "able to afford" something or some cost. So -不起 means "can't afford to," and -得起 means "can afford to."
Verb + 得起 / 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 have a second child not because they don't want to, but because costs are too high. They can't afford to raise another kid.
Verbs with -不动 and -得动
The potential complement -不动 is used to indicate the lack of energy or physical strength required to do something. This can be used not only with actions like walking, running or climbing, but even actions like eating and chewing.
Verb + 得动 / 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.
- 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
Similar to -到, the complement -着 (zháo) can denote that someone's one's ability is up (or not) to the task in question.
Verb + 得着 / 不着
Note that the character 着 here is pronounced "zháo."
- 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.
This one is a little tricky, so find more examples in -着's dedicated grammar point.
Sources and further reading