Common Usages of 得 (de) in a Conversational Class

While the 白 radical 的 (de) allows us to describe the possessive and attribute qualities to our objects, the 彳radical 得 (de) is another multifunctional character in Chinese. Usually you will hear 得 in a first meeting, but the detailed usages actually come later. Today we are going to take a look at how we can master 得 and use it in a conversational class.

得 as a Potential Complement

There are various complements in Chinese. For the potential complement concept, I recommend students learn by memorizing the most common phrases and understanding the basic structure. Let’s take a look at the most common ones that you will hear in a conversational class.

Can you hear me?

Nobody likes technical issues when it comes to taking an online class, but it does offer a great opportunity to test whether the student knows how to use 得 as a potential complement. The two must know phrases are:

kàn dé dào ma?
Can you see (me)?
tīng dé dào ma?
Can you hear (me)?

Your answers can be:

kàn dé dào
I can see (you).
kàn bù dào
I cannot see (you).
tīng dé dào
I can hear (you).
tīng bu dào
I cannot hear (you).

Let’s take a closer look:

kàn dé dào
I can see (you).


verb + 得 + 到
verb + de + dào

For this construction, it might be easier to remember the phrases as:

verb + 得到 dē dào (able to accomplish the task)
verb + 不到 bú dào (unable to accomplish the task)

The Common Mistake

A common mistake that students make when it comes to translating “Can you see me?” is to say 你看我吗? (nĭ kàn wŏ ma?). While most beginner Mandarin grammar points are quite friendly, but we do have some troublemakers too!

Let’s remove the 吗 for the sake of simplification.

你看我。nĭ kàn wŏ.

Literally means, “you look me.” The translation is “Look at me.”

你看得到我。nĭ kàn dé dào wŏ.

It means, “You can see me.”

The first example means “to look” while the second means “to look and be able to see the object.”

For 看得到吗? and 听得到吗?, it is simpler to learn them as phrases instead of breaking them down. But as always, do whatever suits your learning style.

Can you do it?

Let’s take a look at the same construction but with different words.

zuò dé dào ma?
Can you do/accomplish it?

Following the concept introduced earlier, our answers can be:

zuò dé dào
I can do it.
zuò bù dào
I cannot do it.

Homework is great for reinforcing concepts, but what if the teacher asks you to complete 100 Chinese questions every day. Can you do it?

wŏ yào nĭ mĕitiān huídá 100 dào zhōngwén wèntí, nĭ zuò dé dào ma?
I want you to answer 100 Chinese questions every day. Can you do it?

zuò dé dào a, zhĭ shì bù xiăng zuò éryĭ.
I can do it. I just don't want to.

Maybe you are one of those students who loves this idea, but might not have enough time to finish the homework. Then we can switch out the 到 with 完 to indicate whether you can fully complete the task.

jīntiān de 100 dào zhōngwén wèntí, nĭ zuò de wán ma?
Can you finish today's 100 questions?

rúguŏ yŏu shíjiān de huà zuò de wán, dànshì gōngzuò tài máng suŏyĭ zuò bù wán.
If I have time, I will be able to. But I am too busy with work, so I can't finish them.

Key Phrases

zuò de wán ma?
Can you finish it?
zuò de wán
I can finish it.
zuò bù wán
I cannot finish it.

How well can you do it?

Maybe you love doing homework and have enough time to do 100 Chinese questions today. Then please scroll to the end of the article and find a list of 100 Chinese questions.

Just kidding.

See, even as a Mandarin teacher, I think 100 questions might be a bit too overwhelming. But if you do happen to have time to do 100 questions, how well can you answer the questions? This is where 得 shows off its other talent. 得 allows us to describe how well we can do something.

Staying on our homework topic, let’s take a look at this conversation:

我: 你喜欢做中文作业吗?
wŏ: nĭ xĭhuan zuò zhōngwén zuòyè ma?
Me: Do you like to do Chinese homework?
你: 嗯, 非常喜欢。
nĭ: ēn, fēicháng xĭhuan.
You: Yes, very much!
wŏ: jīntiān yŏu zhōngwén zuòyè ma?
Me: Do you have Chinese homework today?
你:有, 有 100 道问题。
nĭ: yŏu, yŏu 100 dào wèntí.
You: Yes, 100 questions.
我:这么多?! 你做得怎么样?
wŏ: zhè me duō?! nĭ zuò de zĕnmeyàng?
Me: That many?! How are you doing with the homework?
你:我做得很快! 不会的问题我直接选 C。
nĭ: wŏ zuò de hĕn kuài! bù huì de wèntí wŏ zhíjiē xuăn C.
You: I am doing it really quickly! Anything I don't know I just choose C.

The general structure is verb + 得 + adjective.

To use the 得 construction to describe how well one does something, we put the verb before 得 and then follow it with an adjective.

Additional examples:

chī de hĕn màn
Eat slowly
shuō de hĕn kuài
Speak very quickly
shuì de hĕn xiāng
Sleep soundly

Ok, the homework topic might not be your normal conversation, so let’s take a look at a more practical one: describing your skills.

nĭ xĭhuan chànggē ma?
Do you like to sing?
wŏ xĭhuan chànggē.
I like to sing.
nĭ chàng de zĕnmeyàng?
How well do you sing?
wŏ chàng de hĕn hăo.
I sing very well.

In here, our 唱得很好 follows the same concept from earlier. Another common construction repeats the action. For example:

nĭ chànggē chàngde zĕnmeyàng?
How well do you sing?

Here our verb is in the form of verb-object, so when we separate it to describe how well we do it, we only keep the verb component.


wŏ chànggē chàngde fēicháng hăo.
I sing very well.

subject + verb-object + verb + 得 + adjective

Additional verb-object examples:

to dance
to play soccer (content dependent)
to cook

Your turn!

Task A: Form verb-object questions using the three examples above.
Task B: Answer the questions that you have created in Task A.

Identical Triples!

This concludes the common usages of our multifunctional 得 in a conversational class. But you must not confuse this 得 with its brothers! They look exactly the same, but their sounds are different.

得 – de : This is the one that we learned in this article. See its usages above.
得 – dé : to receive/achieve


wèi le dédào mănfēn, wŏ yĭjīng sān tiān sān yè dōu méi shuì le.
In order to achieve the full score, I haven't slept for the last 3 days.

得 – dĕi : have to;


hĕn wăn le, wŏ dei qù shuìjiào le.
It is very late, I have to go to bed.

What do you think of our multifunctional 得? It is pretty handy when it comes to conversing and describing an activity, isn’t it? This 得 allows us to express whether we can accomplish something and how well we can do something. So 我这篇文章写得怎么样? 你的练习做得怎么样?

wŏ zhè piān wénzhāng xiĕde zĕnmeyàng?
How well did I write this essay?

nĭ de liànxí zuòde zĕnmeyàng?
How well did you do your exercises?

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