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Potential complement

Verbs can take potential complements that indicate whether or not the action is actually possible. They are useful in Chinese to say if an action can take place.

Affirmative Pattern

Structurally, potential complements are closely related to both result complements and direction complements, so it helps to be familiar with those first. The most important and commonly used potential complements are derived from other complements such as the following:

  • Verb + e.g. 看见, 听见 (result complements)
  • Verb + e.g. 看懂, 听懂 (result complements)
  • Verb + e.g. 吃完, 做完, 用完, 花完 (result complements)
  • Verb + Adj. e.g. 看清楚, 听明白, 洗干净 (result complements)
  • Verb + e.g. 找到, 买到, 收到 (result complements)
  • Verb + Direction e.g. 上来, 下去, 进去, 起来, 走过去, 爬上去 (direction complements)

Potential complements can be positive or negative. What this means is fairly intuitive - potential complements can be used to express that something can happen or that it can't.

Structure

Verb + 得 + Complement

Examples

  • 他 一个人 吃 完 这么 多 饭 吗 ?Tā yīgèrén chī de wán zhème duō fàn ma? Can he eat all the food by himself?
  • 我 找 到 我 的 手机 了 。Wǒ zhǎo bu dào wǒ de shǒujī le.I can't find my cellphone.
  • 在 上海 买 到 这 个 牌子 的 手表 吗 ?Zài Shànghǎi mǎi de dào zhè gè páizi de shǒubiǎo ma? Can you buy this brand of watch in Shanghai?
  • 早上 五点 出发 ,孩子们 起 来 吗 ?Zǎoshang wǔdiǎn chūfā, háizi men qǐ de lái ma? We're leaving at five a.m.; will the kids be able to come?
  • 这么 高 的 山 ,你 爬 上去 吗 ?Zhème gāo de shān, nǐ pá de shàngqù ma? The mountain is so high. Can you make it to the top?

Negative Pattern

Structure

Verb + 不 + Complement

Examples

  • 大家 都 看 懂 这 句 话 。Dàjiā dōu kàn bu dǒng zhè jù huà.Nobody can understand this sentence.
  • 你 的 声音 太 小 了 ,我们 听 见 。Nǐ de shēngyīn tài xiǎo le, wǒmen tīng bu jiàn.Your voice is too soft. We can't hear you.
  • 我 没 戴 眼镜 ,看 清楚 。Wǒ méi dài yǎnjìng, kàn bu qīngchu.When I don't wear glasses, I can't see clearly.
  • 这 件 衬衫 太 脏 了 ,我 洗 干净 。Zhè jiàn chènshān tài zāng le, wǒ xǐ bu gānjìng.This shirt is too dirty, I can't clean it.
  • 门 太 小 了 ,我 的 车 进 去 。Mén tài xiǎo le, wǒ de chē jìn bu qù.The door is too small. My car can't go through it.

Used with Objects

Objects in sentences with potential complements can occur either after the complement or at the beginning of a sentence.

A few examples:

  • 我 听 见 你 说 的 话 。Wǒ tīng bu jiàn nǐ shuō de huà.I can't hear what you said.
  • 你 说 的 话 我 听 见 。Nǐ shuō de huà wǒ tīng bu jiàn.I can't hear what you said.
  • 你 吃 完 这 一 大 碗 面 吗 ?Nǐ chī de wán zhè yī dà wǎn miàn ma?Can you finish eating this big bowl of noodles?
  • 这 一 大 碗 面 你 吃 完 吗 ?Zhè yī dà wǎn miàn nǐ chī de wán ma?Can you finish eating this big bowl of noodles?
  • 你 在 上海 吃 到 这样 的 小吃 。Nǐ zài Shànghǎi chī bu dào zhèyàng de xiǎochī.You can't eat this kind of street food in Shanghai.
  • 这样 的 小吃 你 在 上海 吃 到 。Zhèyàng de xiǎochī nǐ zài Shànghǎi chī bu dào.You can't eat this kind of street food in Shanghai.

Advanced Potential Complements

There are actually quite a few potential complements out there, and this article touches on some of the simplest and most common ones. Be aware that there are many more, but they all follow the same basic pattern outlined here. You can also see our article on advanced potential complements.

See also

Sources and and further reading

Books

Websites

Yale