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的, 得 & 地: Three characters, three meanings, one tone
If you’re still riding the Pinyin wave, the ‘de’ particles are pretty difficult to learn as they all have the same 5th ‘neutral’ tone.
Once upon a time, my method was to stick a ‘de’ in every sentence just in case it was necessary (not the right way to go about it, that’s for sure!). And for a long time I assumed they were all the same character. Finding out otherwise was a surprise, but just another leg of my journey to conquering the Chinese language!
The three ‘de’ particles work as ‘connectors’ between other characters or clauses. As with many Chinese characters, all three of these characters have other meanings and tones.
Click the links below to see more details about these characters:
Here are some examples of the three ‘de’ particles in use:
1. One of the ways that 的 (de) is used is to mark a feature or quality of a noun known as an attributive. It often connects an adjective with a noun.
Sentence pattern: adj + 的 + noun
蓝色的衣服。 (lán sè de yī fu) = blue clothes (the clothes are blue)
adj + 的 + noun
他是一个很优秀的作家。 (tā shì yī gè hěn yōu xiù de zuò jiā.) = He is an excellent writer.
adj + 的 + noun
2. 的 is also used as a possessive particle or to be ‘of’ something.
Sentence pattern: noun + 的
四川的小吃很有名。 (sì chuān de xiǎo chī hěn yǒu míng.) = Food of Sichuan is very famous.
noun + 的 + subject
Imagine that in this instance, 的 can be used in the same way that an apostrophe is in English ( ‘s): Sichuan’s food is very famous.
You can also see the 的 character in relation to possessive pronouns:
我的手机。 (wǒ de shǒu jī) = My mobile.
他的杯子。 (tā de bēi zi) = His cup.
This ‘de’ particle is known as the adverbial, meaning it changes an adjective into an adverb. You can think of it as most often being the equivalent of ‘-ly’ in English.
Sentence pattern: adv + 地 + adj / verb
她伤心地离开了学校。(tā shāng xīn de lí kāi le xué xiào.) = She sadly left school.
adv + 地 + verb
天渐渐地冷起来了。(tiān jiàn jiàn de lěng qǐ lai le.) = The day’s are gradually getting colder.
time adv + 地 + adj
地 is also a character meaning ground or earth and has the Pinyin dì. You can see that on the left side, the radical 土 can be seen. 地 (dì), is used in words such as 地方 (dì fang) = place and 地铁 (dì tiě) = metro)
The final ‘de’ is commonly used to mark a complement. A complement is a word that follows a verb to make a sentence complete.
Sentence pattern: adj / verb + 得
今天我们聊得很开心。(jīn tiān wǒ men liáo de hěn kāi xīn.) = Today we chatted happily.
verb + 得 + complement
这几天热得很。(zhè jǐ tiān rè de hěn) = The past few days have been very hot.
adj + 得 + complement