In Chinese, we have what is known as the three “D’s” (的地得) and I know that they can sometimes drive you crazy. For this reason, we are going to have an in depth look at each one in this article, so that you can better understand the differences between them.
In order to indicate a possessive relationship, the particle 的 (de) appears between the “possessor” and the “possessed.” To that extent, it is the equivalent of the ‘s structure in English.
wǒ de lǎoshī
However, the particle 的 (de) is often omitted in colloquial speech after a personal pronoun and before a kinship term. Therefore, we prefer to say：
We use a 的 (de) structure when a noun, pronoun or adjective is followed by the structural particle 的 (de). Grammatically, the 的 (de) structure is equivalent to a noun.
Zhè běn shū shì lǎoshī de, nà běn shū shì wǒ de 。
This book is the teacher’s and that book is mine.
Wǒ xǐhuan hē rè de kāfēi, tā xǐhuan hē lěng de 。
I like to drink hot coffee, and he likes to drink cold coffee.
Zhège píngguǒ shì tián de, nàge shì suān de 。
This apple is sweet, and that one is sour.
When a disyllabic or polysyllabic adjective modifies a noun, the particle 的 (de) is usually inserted between the adjective and the noun.
piāoliang de dìfang
a beautiful place
yǒu yìsi de shū
an interesting book
However, with monosyllabic adjectives, 的 is often omitted.
a new textbook
hǎo lǎo shī
a good teacher
a big apple
If the adjective is preceded by 很, however, the 的 cannot be dropped.
hěn xīn de kèběn
a very new textbook
hěn hǎo de lǎo shī
a very good teacher
hěn dà de píngguǒ
a very big apple
Attributives are often followed by the particle 的 and always appear before the elements that they modify. Verbs, verbal phrases and subject-object phrases can all serve as attributives.
chī de dōngxi
things to eat
xīn mǎi de yīfu
wǒ māma zuò de cài
the dish that my mother made
qǐng nǐ chīfàn de nàge rén
that person who invited you to dinner
To understand this pattern, let’s start from a very similar, yet simple structure. This is something you should have seen when first learning Chinese:
Tā chī shuǐguǒ.
He eats fruits.
wǒ mǎi shū.
I buy books.
These two sentences are very simple and they have the same pattern as in English: Subject + Verb + Object.
Now, let’s try to add 的 after the verb. This then becomes:
Tā chī de shuǐguǒ
the fruits he ate
wǒ mǎi de shū
the books I bought
The examples above are actually clauses. However, we can use these clauses to make longer sentences.
Tā chī de shuǐguǒ hěn tián 。
The fruits he ate were very sweet.
Wǒ mǎi de shū tài guì le 。
The books I bought were too expensive.
地 (de) links an adverb or an adverbial to the verb that follows it. An adjective, an adverb or a set phrase can serve as an adverbial if followed by 地 (de).
However, in order to understand 地 (de) better, we need to know what an “adverbial” is in Chinese.
An adverbial is added to the predicate in a sentence. It is placed in front of it and it is used to modify or limit the predicate in terms of situation, time, place, form, condition, object, affirmation, negation, scope, degree, and so on. Adverbials have different functions in different languages. In Chinese, the adverbial is used to modify or restrict verbs and adjectives, and can indicate the state of an action, the time, the place or the degree. In fact, you have probably already seen adverbials at the very beginning of your Chinese studies. Let’s have a look at some examples.
Tā míngtiān qù gōngsī.
He will go to the company tomorrow.
明天 míngtiān is an adverbial that indicates time.
Tā chángcháng hē kāfēi.
He often drinks coffee.
常常 chángcháng is an adverbial that indicates frequency.
Tā zài fàndiàn chī Zhōngguó cài.
He eats Chinese food in a restaurant.
在饭店 zài fàndiàn is an adverbial that indicate place.
Now that we are clear about adverbials, let’s come back to see how 地 (de) is used to link an adverbial to the verb that follows it.
màn mān de shuō
to speak slowly
gāoxìng de chī
to eat happily
hǎo hāor de wánr
to have some real fun
In essence, in order to use 地 (de), we need to follow this pattern: Adverbial + 地 + Verb
The particle 得 (de) can be used after a verb or after an adjective. When 得 (de) is used after a verb, 得 (de) is followed by the construction known as the “descriptive complement,” which can be an adjective, adverb or even a verb phrase. These complements describe the actions expressed by the verb that precedes 得 (de).
Tā pǎobù pǎo de hěn kuài 。
He runs very fast.
Jīntiān zǎoshang tā qǐchuáng qǐ de hěn wǎn 。
This morning he got up very late.
Tā hànzì xiě de hěn hǎokàn 。
His character writing is very beautiful.
Tā xiào de hěn kěài 。
She smiled, and that smile was cute.
Tā shāngxīn de kū le qǐlai 。
He was sad, and he started to cry.
If the complement is an adjective, it is usually preceded by 很, as is the case when an adjective is used as a predicate. If the verb is followed by an object, the verb has to be repeated before it can be followed by the 得 (de) + complement structure, as in examples A and B. By repeating the verb, the verb + object combination preceding it becomes the “topic” and the complement that follows it is used to describe it. However, the first verb can be omitted if the meaning is clear from the context, as in example C.
In examples D and E, the verb 笑 and the adjective 伤心 provide the causes, while the complements 可爱 and 哭了起来 describe the effect on the subject.
To sum up, here is a quick reference list for 的 地 得:
Attributive + 的 + Noun
Adverbial + 地+ Verb
Verb/Adjective + 得 + Adjective/Verb
Now, let’s try to do some exercises:
The answers are as follows:
No matter what your score was on this short quiz, please remember that the ability to sense correct language is always more important than just memorizing grammar patterns. Thus, regularly reading and speaking in Chinese will help you to better understand 的, 地 and 得 in the future.