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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 Form

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

Subj. + Verb + 得 + Complement

Examples

  • 你 没 戴 眼镜 ,看 清楚 吗 ?Nǐ méi dài yǎnjìng, kàn de qīngchu ma?You didn't wear glasses. Can you see things clearly?
  • 他 这么 粗心 ,做 吗 ?Tā zhème cūxīn, zuò de hǎo ma?He'a so careless. Can he do it well?
  • 你 这么 聪明 ,肯定 学 Nǐ zhème cōngming, kěndìng xué de huì.You're so smart. You can definitely learn this.
  • 早上 五点 出发 ,孩子们 起 吗 ?Zǎoshang wǔdiǎn chūfā, háizi men qǐ de lái ma? We're leaving at five a.m.. Will the kids be able to get up?
  • 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 Form

Structure

Subj. + Verb + 不 + Complement

Examples

  • 你 的 声音 太 小 了 ,我们 听 Nǐ de shēngyīn tài xiǎo le, wǒmen tīng bu jiàn.Your voice is too soft. We can't hear you.
  • 这里 太 暗 了 ,我 看 清楚Zhèlǐ tài àn le, wǒ kàn bu qīngchu.It's too dim here. I can't see clearly.
  • 这个 自行车 太 破 了 ,谁 都 修 Zhège zìxíngchē tài pò le, shéi dōu xiū bu hǎo .This bike is so broken. Nobody can fix it.
  • 她 的 腿 受伤 了 ,站 起来 了 。Tā de tuǐ shòushāng le, zhàn bu qǐlái le.Her leg is injured. She can't stand.
  • 包 太 小 了 ,手机 放 进去Bāo tài xiǎo le, shǒujī fàng bu jìnqù.The bag is too small. I can't fit the cell phone in it.

Potential Complement with Objects

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

A few examples:

  • 你 听 上海话 吗 ?Nǐ tīng de dǒng Shànghǎi-huà ma?Can you understand Shanghai dialect?
  • 她 这么 小 ,看 这 本 书 吗 ?Tā zhème xiǎo, kàn de dǒng zhè běn shū ma?She's so young. Can she really understand this book?
  • 我怕 我 做 这份 工作 。Wǒ pà wǒ zuò bu hǎo zhè fèn gōngzuò.I'm afraid that I can't do this job well.
  • 这 种 手机 现在 买 了 。Zhè zhǒng shǒujī xiànzài mǎi bu dào le.You can't buy this type of cell phone now.
  • 这本书 我 一个星期 肯定 看 Zhè běn shū wǒ yī gè xīngiqī kěndìng kàn de wán.I can definitely finish reading this book within one week.

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