If you missed our first post on the 3-3 tone change rule, be sure to check it out here.
Today we’re going to set the record straight on another common question we hear ALL the time from students: Why is 的 (de) sometimes omitted in Chinese?
If you’ve been learning Chinese, you probably know by now 我 (wǒ) is “I” or “me”, and 的 (de) is a possessive particle similar to “apostrophe s” in English, so 我的 (wǒ de) would be “my” or “mine”.
你 (nǐ) is “you”, so 你的 (nǐ de) is naturally .... “your” or “yours”.
Knowing that 朋友 (péng you) means “friend”, we can say phrases like 我的朋友 (wǒ de péng you) - “my friend” and 你的朋友 (nǐ de péng you) “your friend”.
A + 的 (de) + B
Pretty easy, right?
When to drop the 的 (de)
The place where students easily get tripped up is when 的 (de) is omitted when expressing “my”, “your” etc.
Here’s the basic rule: 的 (de) can be dropped when both A and B are people, and their relationship is close.
You’ll see this most often when talking about family members, your partner or spouse, friends, etc. You may also see it happen in school and work, like when talking about classmates, coworkers, or bosses, depending on the relationship.
On a related note, you’ll also find that many times when talking about family members, people will use the ‘short’ form of certain words that have the same character repeated - like 妈妈 (mā ma) as 妈 (mā), 姐姐 (jiě jie) as 姐 (jiě), and so on.
Here are some of the most common instances of this that you’ll come across:
- 我妈 (wǒ mā) - my mom
- 我爸 (wǒ bà) - my dad
- 我姐 (wǒ jiě) - my (older) sister
- 他妹 (tā mèi) - his (younger) sister
- 你哥 (nǐ gē) - your (older) brother
- 我弟 (wǒ dì) - my (younger) brother
- 她老公 (tā lǎo gōng) - her husband
- 我老婆 (wǒ lǎo po) - my wife
- 他儿子 (tā ér zi) - his son
- 我女儿 (wǒ nǚ ér) - my daughter
- 我朋友 (wǒ péng you) - my friend
- 你男朋友 (nǐ nán péng you) - your boyfriend
- 我女朋友 (wǒ nǚ péng you) - my girlfriend
- 我们老板 (wǒ men lǎo bǎn) - our boss
- 我们老师 (wǒ men lǎo shī) - our teacher
- 我同学 (wǒ tóng xué) - my classmate
- 我同事 (wǒ tóng shì) - my colleague
Note: 你妹 (nǐ mèi) is a phrase to be careful of. Although its original meaning is “your (younger) sister”, in recent years it has become a bit of a swear word. To avoid being impolite or making for an uncomfortable situation, it’s best to say 你的妹妹 (nǐ de mèi mei).
It’s best to omit 的 (de) for your own relationships as applicable. If you’re pretty sure the other party has a close relationship with the person in question, you can use it as well.
But when in doubt, you can just keep things less casual, with 你的老婆 (nǐ de lǎo po), 你的老板 (nǐ de lǎo bǎn), etc.
Want to see this rule in action?
Check this lesson out from our Beginner Conversational Course for an on-the-street conversation with a native Chinese speaker, showing this very omission!
People have also asked if you can omit 的 (de) when talking about your pet. The answer is … No, it’s just for people (not pets or objects)! :)
You can check out this FREE lesson from our Upper Intermediate Conversational Course to find out more about this!
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