Would you like some sprinkles on your chocolate cake? Or maybe you want to add a personalized message? Wait, what does chocolate cake have anything to do with Mandarin? Nothing. A chocolate cake is a chocolate cake whether you add sprinkles or a personalized message.
The third 地 de that we are going to cover today is similar to the sprinkles or the personalized message. It does not make or break the cake, but it does add a decorative layer. This 地 is the least commonly used de out of the three important de in Mandarin. You probably will not use it as much in your daily life, but if you are a storyteller or want to add that additional flair, then you do not want to miss mastering this 地.
What does 地 do?
This 地 is also known as 土也地. 土 is the radical on the left and 也 is the component on the right. 地 turns our adjective into an adverb (forming something called an adverbial). It is like adding the -ly in English. For example, 慢慢 is slow. 慢慢地 is slowly.
Basic construction: adjective + 地
After the basic construction, we are going to need a verb so that we can actually use the adverb. For example, our 慢慢地 (mànmàn de), which means slowly, can be used to modify 走. Hence 慢慢地走 (mànmàn de zŏu), to walk slowly。
Basic structure: adjective + 地 + verb
Let’s add verbs to our original examples.
Wait… the translations sound like 双人得.
Avoid the Common Mistake: Turn off English Logic!
You are absolutely right! It does look similar to the 双人得. The key to differentiating between these two is the structure. Let’s put them side by side.
With 得, the basic structure is [verb] 得 [adjective]
With 地, the basic structure is [adjective] 地 [verb]
The order is reversed. This is the perfect exercise to practice thinking in Chinese! For example, how do we say “walk slowly” using both structures?
走得很慢 zŏu de hĕn màn
慢慢地走 mànmàn de zŏu
TIP: In conversation, you do not know which de is used, so it is much more beneficial as a learner to write the sentences down when you are practicing the three Mandarin de.
Ok, so far this 地 looks quite normal. It does not seem to add much “flair” as I proclaimed earlier. Here is the kicker. Are you ready? Let’s look at the following sentence.
他说，“你吃了我的蛋糕，对不对?” Tā shuō, “Nĭ chī le wŏ de dàngāo, duì bù duì?” He said, “You ate my cake, right?”
Based on that sentence, we do not know how the person said that sentence. Now look at the following sentence:
他小声地说，“你吃了我的蛋糕，对不对？” Tā xiăo shēng de shuō, “Nĭ chī le wŏ de dàngāo, duì bù duì?” He said quietly, “You ate my cake, right?”
By just adding 小声地 (xiăo shēng de), we can now paint a better image! We know for sure HOW he said it. Then if you want to take your imagination to the next level, maybe we can infer that he is talking to his baby.
Here is the fun part! What if I replace 小声 with 伤心 or maybe even 愤怒? What comes to your mind?
What came to your mind when you read 他伤心地说? What about 他愤怒地说? For 伤心地说, I thought of a crying toddler saying the sentence to his older brother. For 愤怒地说, I thought of an angry roommate (trust no roommate with your cake!)
See how this 地 might not be used as frequently as the other two de in a conversation, but it is perfect for storytelling and adding additional details?
Meet his Twin: di
Remember that 得 has two brothers? 地 has one brother. When you see 地’s brother, the pronunciation becomes di. It is a very commonly used character. You will see it in terms like 地图, 地理, 地球, and more.
Quick Exercise: Can you find de in the following sentences?
虽然我是地球人，但是我的地理不好。Suīrán wŏ shì dìqiú rén, dànshì wŏ de dìlĭ bù hăo. Although I am an Earthling, my geography is not good.
如果没有地图的话，我慢慢地走也会迷路的！Rúguŏ méiyŏu dìtú de huà, wŏ mànmàn de zŏu yĕ huì mílù de! If I don’t have a map, I will get lost even if I walk slowly!
认真地想想。。。我好像自己的地址也不知道啊。Rènzhēn de xiăngxiang…wŏ hăoxiàng zìjĭ de dìzhĭ yĕ bù zhīdào a. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I even know my address.
Note: 认真地想想 (rènzhēn de xiăngxiang) literally means to think carefully.
So what have we covered so far?
的: The most commonly used de. It expresses possession and attributes to objects.
得: Describes how well you can do something.
地: Describes how you do something.
These three de often intimidate learners initially, but they are not that scary if you examine them closely. In fact, they are fun and add their uniqueness to the Chinese language. So next time you see all of them in one paragraph, take a deep breath and appreciate their beauty (and if you have time, see if you can identify which one is which, like in the following paragraph).
Rúguŏ nĭ xiăng nĭ de zhōngwén shuō de liúlì, nĭ yào rènzhēn de xuéxí. Jìde bùyào tài xīnjí, yī bù yī bù de lái. Jíshĭ xuéxí lǚchéng zhōng shuāidăo dào dìshang, zhĭ yào zài zhàn qĭlai jiù hăo le! Jiāyóu!
If you want to speak Chinese Mandarin fluently, you need to study diligently. Don’t rush. Remember to take one step at a time. Even if you trip and fall, make sure to get back up. “Add oil”!