Chinese Grammar: Differentiating De (的, 得, and 地)

Chinese Grammar: Differentiating De (的, 得, and 地)

What does “De” in Chinese mean?

If you’re learning Chinese, you’re going to see three (de)’s used quite often. What’s the difference between 的,得,and 地? There’s no simple English translation for these grammar particles, so we’ll need to walk through them step by step. Here they are:

  • 的 (de) – modifies a noun
  • 得 (de) – modifies a verb
  • 地 (de) – modifies an adjective into an adverb


的 – The Noun Modifier

When modifying a noun, 的 can be used to show possession or link an adjective (or adjective phrase) to a noun.


的 shows possession the same way (‘s) does in English. It will be placed between the owner and the object.

  • Mike的车

Mike de chē

Mike’s car

  • 我的车

Wǒ de chē

My car

Linking an adjective to a noun:

的 can link an adjective or adjective phrase to a noun the same way we might use (that, which, who) in English: “I want a car that is red”  or “My brother is a boy who likes to eat cake.”

For this function, 的 will be used in this structure:

(adjective)+    的    +    (noun)

  • 红色的车

Hóng sè de chē

Red car    (or “Car that is red”)

  • 喜欢吃蛋糕的男生

Xǐ huan chī dàn gāo de nán shēng

Boy who likes to eat cake

  • 不听话的孩子

Bù tīng huà de hái zi

Child that doesn’t listen

 – The Verb Modifier

得 helps tell us how a verb is carried out, and is placed between a verb and its outcome:

Verb   +   得    +   outcome

  • 她学得很努力。

Tā xué de hěn nǔ lì.

She studies very diligently.

  • 他唱歌唱得很不好听。

Tā chàng gē chàng de hěn bù hǎo tīng.

He sings very badly.

The two examples above tell the outcome of a verb by using an adjective to evaluate how the verb was carried out. We can also tell the outcome of a verb by stating whether or not the verb can be or was successful in being carried out. It can be used in the positive form like “can” or “able to”:

  • 我走得到。(I go 得 arrive)

Wǒ zǒu de dào.

I can get there.

  • 我看得见。(I look 得 see it)

Wǒ kàn de jiàn.

I’m able to see it.

  • 我听得懂。(I listen 得 understand)

Wǒ tīng de dǒng.

I can understand.

However, though 得 can be used to express “can” or “able to”, it cannot be used to express the negative form: “can” or “can’t”. For the negative form, 得 should be replaced with 不.

– The Adjective Modifier

In English we can often add (-ly) to the end of an adjective to make it an adverb. This is the same function of 地,but can only be used between an adjective and a verb:

Adjective   +   地   +   verb

  • 他慢慢地走过来。

Tā màn man de zǒu guò lái.

He slowly walked over.

  • 她开开心心地回答。

Tā kāi kāi xīn xīn de huí dá.

She joyfully answered.

Congratulations! You have solved the 的得地 mystery!

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