This next “de” that we’ll go over in this post is a bit more complex in Chinese grammar, as it’s used with verbs and doesn’t really have a true equivalent in English. But DON’T worry - we’ll go over it in depth with lots of examples to help you grasp these concepts!
Make sure you check out this helpful infographic that lays out all three “de”s and their basic functions, and save it to your phone or computer for reference! You can download it as a pdf here.
“De” Number 2: 得 (de)
This “de” is used with verbs and adjectives, rather than nouns.
To differentiate 得 (de) from other “de”s, it’s often referred to as the 双人得 (shuāng rén dé). 双 (shuāng) means “double” or “pair”, and 人 (rén) means “person”, so we call it 双人得 (shuāng rén dé) since the character 得 (de) has the 彳radical, and in Chinese, people call the left part “彳” 双人旁 (shuāng rén páng).
If it’s easier for you, you can also just remember it as the same character as the verb “must” in Chinese, which is pronounced 得 (děi), or the verb “to get”, which is 得 (dé), so you can remember it as “得 (děi) 得 (de)” - the “must” de.
This use of 得 (de) comments on how a verb is done. This in particular is difficult for English speakers, so pay close attention to it, especially since it’s used ALL the time in Chinese.
In English, we just say “You speak well.”, but in Chinese, we CANNOT translate this to 你 (nǐ) + 说 (shuō) + 好 (hǎo). We NEED to use a special structure, to comment on the action - it’s called a “Complement of Degree”.
The basic structure is:
Verb + 得 (de) (+ 很 (hěn)) + Adj
你 (nǐ) + 说 (shuō) + 得 (de) + 很 (hěn) + 好 (hǎo)You speak well. (lit. You speak “de” well.)
OK, so now let’s say you want to complement your Chinese friend, so you want to say “You speak English well”.
This is where things get a little more complicated. We CANNOT add 英文 (yīng wén) between 说 (shuō) and 得 (de)!
The GOLDEN rule that you should always remember, is “verb noun verb 得 (de)”.
The complex structure, with a noun, is:
Verb + Noun + Verb + 得 (de) + 很 (hěn) + Adj
你 (nǐ) + 说 (shuō) + 英文 (yīng wén) + 说 (shuō) + 得 (de) + 很好 (hěn hǎo)
You speak English well. (lit. You speak English speak “de” well.)
So you’d say: 你说英文说得很好 (nǐ shuō yīng wén shuō de hěn hǎo). As you can see, we repeat the verb twice, and then the noun goes after the first verb, and 得 (de) stays after the second one.
Sometimes learning through Chinglish, as above, can really help you commit it to memory - try to remember this sentence: You speak English speak de well.
- 你的英文说得很好。 (nǐ de yīng wén shuō de hěn hǎo) - You speak English well.
- 你英文说得很好。 (nǐ yīng wén shuō de hěn hǎo) - You speak English well.
- 你的英文很好。 (nǐ de yīng wén hěn hǎo) - Your English is good.
- 你英文很好。 (nǐ yīng wén hěn hǎo) - Your English is good.
You can learn more about the simple structure for complements of degree here, and for the variations, check this lesson out.
Type 2: Potential Complement “得 (de)”
得 (de) can also be used to express that one is able to do something - it's called a "Potential Complement".
With a potential complement, we have a verb, like 看 (kàn) - to look at, and a result, like 见 (jiàn) - to see. If you say 看见 (kàn jiàn), it means “to see” something successfully - you’re trying to do an action, and achieving it since the result 见 (jiàn) is included. Now, the word 得 (de) is used to indicate someone ‘can’ or ‘is able to’ do something. So if we wanted to express ‘able to see’ something, we’d say 看得见 (kàn de jiàn).
The structure is:
You’ll hear Chinese people use potential complements A LOT, particularly in questions, and this concept can be quite challenging for native English speakers to grasp, so let’s see some more useful examples!
- 你听得到吗？(nǐ tīng de dào ma) - Can you hear (it/me)?
- 你看得见吗？(nǐ kàn de jiàn ma) - Can you see (it/me)?
- 你听得懂吗？ (nǐ tīng de dǒng ma) - Do you understand (by hearing)?
- 你看得懂吗？(nǐ kàn de dǒng ma) - Do you understand (by reading)?
- 我听得到。 (wǒ tīng de dào) - I can hear (it/you).
- 我看得见。(wǒ kàn de jiàn) - I can see (it/you).
- 我听得懂。 (wǒ tīng de dǒng) - I can understand (by hearing).
- 我看得懂。(wǒ kàn de dǒng) - I can understand (by reading).
This is some pretty advanced stuff - don’t worry if you’re having trouble with it, the more you see it the more it’ll make sense!
We cover the potential complement in DEPTH in our “Chinese Grammar” Mini Series, so if you’re just starting out, check out the first lesson on it here.
Wondering how to express “cannot” rather than “can” using potential complements? Check out this lesson from our supplemental Grammar Series.
Type 3: Comparison “得 (de)”
Finally, 得 (de) can be used in comparisons. This is a bit related to the first 得 (de) we discussed above, which is the Verb Modifier 得 (de).
With the Verb Modifier 得 (de), we’re commenting on how an action is done. For example, 你说得很好 (nǐ shuō de hěn hǎo)。You speak well.
A + verb + 得 (de) + 很 (hěn) + adjective
With the Comparison 得 (de), there’s a similar logic here. We’re talking about HOW an action is done, when making the comparison.
Let’s see an example:
If we say 你说得很好 (nǐ shuō de hěn hǎo), it means “You speak well”, so if we want to say “You speak better than me”, we just drop the 很 (hěn) and add the comparison word 比 (bǐ), which means “than” here, plus the second person or thing, which here is 我 (wǒ) - I.
So it’s 你比我说得好 (nǐ bǐ wǒ shuō de hǎo)。You speak better than me.
The structure is:
A + 比 (bǐ) + B + verb/adjective + 得 (de) + adjective
Please note, when we’re using an adjective rather than a verb, the second adjective is usually 多 (duō), meaning “more”. Let’s see some more examples:
- 你比我走得快 。(nǐ bǐ wǒ zǒu de kuài) - You walk faster than me.
- 我比你来得晚 。(wǒ bǐ nǐ lái de wǎn) - I came later than you.
- 他比你高得多 。(tā bǐ nǐ gāo de duō) - He is a lot taller than you.
- 今天比昨天冷得多 。(jīn tiān bǐ zuó tiān lěng de duō) - Today is a lot colder than yesterday.
In our final post in this three-post series on the three “de”s, we’ll check out the final “de” and how to use it!