Degree complement

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Also known as: 程度补语 (chéngdù bǔyǔ) and complement of degree.

While most complements follow verbs, degree complements can follow both verbs and adjectives. These complements intensify or modify the degree of expression of the verb or adjective.

When to use it

Until now, you may have been getting by just fine modifying your verbs with adverbs. You can use 非常 to say "very" and all that. Great. But once you learn to use degree complements, a whole new layer of expressiveness is infused into your language. You will be able to express degree of verbs and adjectives with much more precision and color. But how do you know when to use the degree complement? Here are the main reasons to use it:

1. To express how a verb happened or assess its quality

2. To express to what extent (or degree) an adjective is true

For the first case, the most typical examples would be describing how well an action is done, or in asking how well an action is done, which are sometimes also classified as descriptive complements and state complements.

  • 你们 觉得 我 画 得 怎么样The complement is used to ask "how well I draw."Nǐmen juéde wǒ huà de zěnmeyàng?
  • 我们 觉得 你 画 得 很 好The complement tells us that "you draw very well."Wǒmen juéde nǐ huà de hěn hǎo.
  • 他 英语 说 得 怎么样The complement is used to ask "how well he speaks English."Tā Yīngyǔ shuō de zěnmeyàng?
  • 他 英语 说 得 一般The complement tells us that "His English is average."Tā Yīngyǔ shuō de yībān.

Basic Pattern Following Verbs

We can use all kinds of degree complements to add some color to our verbs.

Structure

Verb + 得 + [Degree Complement]

Examples

  • 你 做 得 不错Nǐ zuò de bùcuò.You're doing a great job.
  • 孩子们 学 得 挺 快 的Háizi men xué de tǐng kuài de.The kids are learning fast.
  • 我 吃 得 太 饱了Wǒ chī de tài bǎo le.I'm stuffed.
  • 你们 谈 得 顺利 吗 ?Nǐmen tán de shùnlì ma?Did your conversation go well?
  • 她 长 得 还 可以Tā zhǎng de hái kěyǐ.She is all right-looking.

Degree Complements with Objects

Both adding a complement to a verb with an object and adding an objective to a verb with a complement complicate a sentence in Mandarin, because a single verb cannot be followed by both an object and a complement. In order to get all three pieces of information into a grammatically correct Chinese sentence, there are two approaches to take:

Approach #1: Repeat the Verb

  • 中文 得 很 好shuō Zhōngwén shuō de hěn hǎo.You speak Chinese well. (lit. You speak Chinese speak it well.)

Just like little kids, objects and complements don't know how to share. Make sure each gets its own (identical) verb. Also make sure that the object comes after the first instance of the verb, and the complement after the second.

Approach #2: Move the Object to the Front

  • 你 的 中文得 很 好Nǐ de Zhōngwén shuō de hěn hǎo.You speak Chinese well. (lit. You Chinese speak well.)

Note: the 你的中文 in the sentence above can also be 你中文 (without the 的). When it makes sense to include the 的, it often sounds better.

Just to be completely clear, the following sentences are both incorrect:

  • 中文 很 好Nǐ shuō Zhōngwén hěn hǎo.
  • 中文 得 很 好Nǐ shuō Zhōngwén de hěn hǎo.

A few more examples:

  • 得 很 好zuò cài zuò de hěn hǎo.You cook very well.
  • 你 的 得 很 好Nǐ de cài zuò de hěn hǎo.You cook very well.
  • 得 很 漂亮xiěxiě de hěn piàoliang.Your handwriting is beautiful.
  • 你 的 得 很 漂亮Nǐ de xiě de hěn piàoliang.Your handwriting is beautiful.

Degree Complements Following Adjectives

Common Patterns

There are three especially common degree complements which can follow adjectives immediately and are not preceded by a 得:

  1. 极了 often comes after adjectives with positive connotations (often 好), indicating an extremely high degree.
  2. 死了 usually comes after adjectives with negative connotations (like 忙, 累, 臭, 难看) and are commonly used to exaggerate the degree of how bad something is. In recent years, however, 死了 also comes after adjectives with positive connotations.
  3. 坏了 is a bit like the complement 死了 and can be used to mean "extremely" in either a positive or a negative sense.

Examples

  • 味道 极了Wèidào hǎo jíle.The taste is amazing.
  • 这里 的 天气 舒服 极了Zhèlǐ de tiānqì shūfu jíle.The weather here is so comfortable.
  • 他 的 袜子 死了Tā de wàzi chòu sǐle.His socks totally reek.
  • 小狗 可爱 死了Xiǎogǒu kě'ài sǐle.The puppy is so adorable!
  • 老师 说 今天 没有 作业 ,我们 都 高兴 坏了Lǎoshī shuō jīntiān méiyǒu zuòyè, wǒmen dōu gāoxìng huàile.The teacher said there's no homework for today, which thrilled us all.
  • 找 不 到 孩子 ,妈妈 坏了Zhǎo bu dào háizi, māma huàile.Having not found the child, the mother was an anxious wreck.

Note that 死 can also act as a result complement in verb phrases such as 打死 (literally, "beat to death"). In the examples above, however, it merely indicates an extreme degree (no actual deaths involved!).

Compared with Potential Complements

Some sentences that contain adjective complements may be indistinguishable as degree or potential complements when they are taken out of context. The following table explains different meanings that one complement phrase could have as either a degree complement or potential complement.

  • 她说得清楚tā shuō de qīngchushe speaks clearly (Degree Complement Translation)she is able to speak clearly (Potential Complement Translation)
  • 他们做得好tāmen zuò de hǎothey do it well (Degree Complement Translation)they are able to do it well (Potential Complement Translation)
  • 他跑得快tā pǎo de kuàihe runs fast (Degree Complement Translation)he is able to run fast (Potential Complement Translation)

Degree complements are commonly directly preceded by an adverb like 很. For example: 她说得很清楚. This serves to distinguish them from potential complements, which are never directly preceded by an adverb.

Descriptive and State Complements

Not every aspect of Chinese grammar is agreed upon in the world of academia, and this is the case with degree complements, descriptive complements, and state complements. Some scholars hold that the three are distinct, while others posit they're all just types of degree complements. Still, others maintain that degree complements are one, and descriptive complements and state complements are also one.

Here's how a professor of Chinese at Yale puts it<ref>See the article What is the complement of degree? by Ling Mu, Rongzhen Li, and Peisong Xu.</ref>:

Generally speaking, the complement of degree is a grammatical unit that describes the main verb of the sentence. Specifically, the complement of degree is an assessment of an action or a description of the consequential state of an action. It may also be a description of the degree of a state.

Okayyy, so it sounds like descriptions and states are all degree complements? That's one of the views on the issue.

None of these classifications truly matters though: the key is understanding them and using complements correctly to express yourself in Chinese. (This is already difficult without adding in unnecessary academic distinctions!)

References

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See also

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