In Chinese, we have what is known as the three “D’s” (的地得) and I know that they can sometimes drive you crazy. For this reason, we are going to have an in depth look at each one in this article, so that you can better understand the differences between them.


The particle 的


Use #1


In order to indicate a possessive relationship, the particle (de) appears between the “possessor” and the “possessed.” To that extent, it is the equivalent of the 's structure in English.




  • 我的老师

  • wǒ de lǎoshī

  • my teacher


However, the particle (de) is often omitted in colloquial speech after a personal pronoun and before a kinship term. Therefore, we prefer to say:




  • 我妈妈

  • wǒ māma  

  • my mother


  • 他爸爸

  • tā bàba

  • his father


Use # 2


We use a (de) structure when a noun, pronoun or adjective is followed by the structural particle (de). Grammatically, the (de) structure is equivalent to a noun.




  • 这本书是老师的,那本书是我的。

  • Zhè běn shū shì lǎoshī de, nà běn shū shì wǒ de 。

  • This book is the teacher’s and that book is mine.


  • 我喜欢喝热的咖啡,他喜欢喝冷的。

  • Wǒ xǐhuan hē rè de kāfēi, tā xǐhuan hē lěng de 。

  • I like to drink hot coffee, and he likes to drink cold coffee.


  • 这个苹果是甜的,那个是酸的。

  • Zhège píngguǒ shì tián de, nàge shì suān de 。

  • This apple is sweet, and that one is sour.


Use #3


When a disyllabic or polysyllabic adjective modifies a noun, the particle (de) is usually inserted between the adjective and the noun.




  • 漂亮的地方

  • piāoliang de dìfang

  • a beautiful place


  • 有意思的书

  • yǒu yìsi de shū

  • an interesting book


However, with monosyllabic adjectives, is often omitted.




  • 新课本

  • xīn kèběn

  • a new textbook


  • 好老师

  • hǎo lǎo shī

  • a good teacher


  • 大苹果

  • dà píngguǒ

  • a big apple


If the adjective is preceded by , however, the cannot be dropped.




  • 很新的课本

  • hěn xīn de kèběn

  • a very new textbook


  • 很好的老师

  • hěn hǎo de lǎo shī

  • a very good teacher


  • 很大的苹果

  • hěn dà de píngguǒ

  • a very big apple


Use #4


Attributives are often followed by the particle and always appear before the elements that they modify. Verbs, verbal phrases and subject-object phrases can all serve as attributives.




  • 吃的东西

  • chī de dōngxi

  • things to eat


  • 新买的衣服

  • xīn mǎi de yīfu

  • newly-bought clothes


  • 我妈妈做的菜

  • wǒ māma zuò de cài

  • the dish that my mother made


  • 请你吃饭的那个人

  • qǐng nǐ chīfàn de nàge rén

  • that person who invited you to dinner


To understand this pattern, let's start from a very similar, yet simple structure. This is something you should have seen when first learning Chinese:


  • 他吃水果。

  • Tā chī shuǐguǒ.

  • He eats fruits.


  • 我买书。

  • wǒ mǎi shū.

  • I buy books.


These two sentences are very simple and they have the same pattern as in English: Subject + Verb + Object.


Now, let's try to add after the verb. This then becomes:

  • 他吃的水果

  • Tā chī de shuǐguǒ

  • the fruits he ate


  • 我买的书

  • wǒ mǎi de shū

  • the books I bought


The examples above are actually clauses. However, we can use these clauses to make longer sentences.




  • 他吃的水果很甜。

  • Tā chī de shuǐguǒ hěn tián 。

  • The fruits he ate were very sweet.


  • 我买的书太贵了。

  • Wǒ mǎi de shū tài guì le 。

  • The books I bought were too expensive.


The particle 地


(de) links an adverb or an adverbial to the verb that follows it. An adjective, an adverb or a set phrase can serve as an adverbial if followed by (de).


However, in order to understand (de) better, we need to know what an “adverbial” is in Chinese.


An adverbial is added to the predicate in a sentence. It is placed in front of it and it is used to modify or limit the predicate in terms of situation, time, place, form, condition, object, affirmation, negation, scope, degree, and so on. Adverbials have different functions in different languages. In Chinese, the adverbial is used to modify or restrict verbs and adjectives, and can indicate the state of an action, the time, the place or the degree. In fact, you have probably already seen adverbials at the very beginning of your Chinese studies. Let’s have a look at some examples.


Example #1:


  • 他明天去公司。

  • Tā míngtiān qù gōngsī.

  • He will go to the company tomorrow.


明天 míngtiān is an adverbial that indicates time.


Example #2:


  • 他常常喝咖啡。

  • Tā chángcháng hē kāfēi.

  • He often drinks coffee.


常常 chángcháng is an adverbial that indicates frequency.


Example #3:


  • 他在饭店吃中国菜。

  • Tā zài fàndiàn chī Zhōngguó cài.

  • He eats Chinese food in a restaurant.


在饭店 zài fàndiàn is an adverbial that indicate place.


Now that we are clear about adverbials, let’s come back to see how (de) is used to link an adverbial to the verb that follows it.


Example A:


  • 慢慢地说

  • màn mān de shuō

  • to speak slowly


Example B:


  • 高兴地吃

  • gāoxìng de chī

  • to eat happily


Example C:


  • 好好儿地玩儿

  • hǎo hāor de wánr

  • to have some real fun


In essence, in order to use (de), we need to follow this pattern: Adverbial + 地 + Verb


The particle 得


The particle (de) can be used after a verb or after an adjective. When (de) is used after a verb, (de) is followed by the construction known as the “descriptive complement,” which can be an adjective, adverb or even a verb phrase. These complements describe the actions expressed by the verb that precedes (de).


Example A:


  • 他跑步跑得很快。

  • Tā pǎobù pǎo de hěn kuài 。

  • He runs very fast.


Example B:


  • 今天早上他起床起得很晚。

  • Jīntiān zǎoshang tā qǐchuáng qǐ de hěn wǎn 。

  • This morning he got up very late.


Example C:


  • 他汉字写得很好看。

  • Tā hànzì xiě de hěn hǎokàn 。

  • His character writing is very beautiful.


Example D:


  • 她笑得很可爱。

  • Tā xiào de hěn kěài 。

  • She smiled, and that smile was cute.


Example E:


  • 他伤心得哭了起来。

  • Tā shāngxīn de kū le qǐlai 。

  • He was sad, and he started to cry.


If the complement is an adjective, it is usually preceded by , as is the case when an adjective is used as a predicate. If the verb is followed by an object, the verb has to be repeated before it can be followed by the 得 (de) + complement structure, as in examples A and B. By repeating the verb, the verb + object combination preceding it becomes the “topic” and the complement that follows it is used to describe it. However, the first verb can be omitted if the meaning is clear from the context, as in example C.


In examples D and E, the verb and the adjective 伤心 provide the causes, while the complements 可爱 and 哭了起来 describe the effect on the subject.


To sum up, here is a quick reference list for 的 地 得:


  • Attributive + 的 + Noun

  • Adverbial + 地+ Verb

  • Verb/Adjective + 得 + Adjective/Verb


Now, let’s try to do some exercises:


  1. 这是我____书,不是你____。
  2. 他跑步跑____很快。
  3. 姐姐买____水果很好吃。
  4. 孩子高兴____笑了。
  5. 他慢慢____拿起一本书。
  6. 听说你____汉语说____挺好____,是真____吗?
  7. 他高兴____唱着歌走回家了。
  8. 他高兴____唱起歌来了。


The answers are as follows:


  1. 的,的
  2. 的,得,的,的


No matter what your score was on this short quiz, please remember that the ability to sense correct language is always more important than just memorizing grammar patterns. Thus, regularly reading and speaking in Chinese will help you to better understand 的, 地 and in the future.