The Potential Complement DE ~ Learning Chinese

There are three DE particles used in Mandarin Chinese: the possessive de (的), the adverbial , and the potential complement de (得). If you want more general information about how to use these three, check this overview: The three DE particles in Mandarin. In this article, we’re going to look at the potential complement, written 得.

The potential complement de is used to show the outcome of an action or event (what was the result), or to describe it in more detail (how was the action performed).

The action can be habitual (i.e. he walks slowly) or a particular event (i.e. he sang well last night).

The potential complement de is placed after a verb. This structure is followed by a phrase which shows the result of the preceding action:

Here is an example of how this can express a result:

wǒ tīng de dǒng
I understand (literally: I listen and understand as a result of that)

And here’s an example when 得 is used to describe how the verb was performed:

Tā shuō de hěn hǎo.
He speaks well.
In the example above, the de 得 particle comes after the verb shuō (speak), and the following phrase (hěn hǎo) describes how the speaking is done.

Pinyin English Traditional Characters Simplified Characters
Nǐ tīng dé dǒng ma ? Do you understand (what was said)? 你聽得懂嗎? 你听得懂吗?
Bàozhǐ wǒ kàn dé wán. I finished reading the newspaper. 報紙我看得完。 报纸我看得完。
Tā pǎo de chuǎnbúshàng qì lái. He was out of breath from running. 他跑得喘不上氣來。 他跑得喘不上气来。
Tā chàng gē chàng de hěn hǎo. He sings very well. 他唱歌唱得很好。 他唱歌唱得很好。
Xiāng Gǎng bǐ Běijīng de tiānqì rè dé duō. The weather in Hong Kong is much hotter than Beijing. 香港比北京的天氣熱得多。



Other uses of the character 得

Pleas note that the character 得 has other uses and can be pronounced in many different ways:

得 de (neutral tone) – potential complement or adverb marker as discussed in this article
得 dé (second tone) – to achieve, to reach, for example in: 得到 (to get, achieve)
得 děi (third tone) – to must, to have to, as in: 我得走了 (I have to go)

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