Login Sign up

Chinese Grammar: 肯定/一定/确定 - One's thing for certain: these three words can all mean certain!

Lupishu’s talking to Nincha, and he’s sure about one thing: he prefers chicken claws to catnip. He wants to convince Nincha and show him he’s certain of his choice. Lupishu’s not sure though: which word should he use for “certain”? Is it 肯定, 一定 or 确定? Suddenly, he’s not so sure.

Lupishu’s not to blame: it’s easy to get these three words mixed up in Chinese! 肯定 /一定/ 确定 all share a common character, and have similar meanings of “certainty”. However, you don’t use these three words the same in Mandarin Chinese, so here’s how to tell them apart.

- the Head of the Family

First, let’s look at as it’s the common character in all three words. On its own, the character means “to set; to fix; to determine; to decide; to order”, which is why you can be sure all three words have to do with being certain, of being determined and decided.

How to tell them apart

The good news is that 肯定/一定/确定 all have different word types, so they get used differently in a sentence. Isn’t that lucky? Once you know what type each word is, you’ll know where to place it in the sentence.

The biggest difference lies in their nuance in meaning and significance.

Out of the three words, 确定 carries a meaning that is the furthest apart from the others, so let’s start with that one.

确定 used as verb/adjective

If you’ve browsed Chinese internet sites and used Chinese software before, chances are you’re already familiar with 确定: it’s written on the “ok” button, so you click on it to confirm your action.

确定 carries a meaning of “to confirm, to decide; to resolve”. It is often used to describe a situation objectively It can either be a verb or an adjective. (You’ll also sometimes find it used as a way to emphasize an idea or an opinion)

Structure as a verb

确定 + a noun / a verb / sentences

As a verb, 确定 can be followed by a noun, another verb or a sentence. When it is placed before a verb, it brings a meaning of something being “already set” or in a “progressing condition”.


我们 确定 周日
We have decided to come on Sunday.

(In this sentence, 确定 is placed before the verb , which means the action “to come” is confirmed.)

确定 这个 东西
Can you confirm this is the person that stole your things?

(确定 is followed by a sentence in this example, and it is used to confirm the situation expressed by the sentence.)

进球 确定 他们 胜利
That goal confirms/ assured / their victory.

(确定 is placed before the noun 胜利 in here. In this case, it is used to express that the victory is definite thanks to the goal.)

When 确定 is used as an adjective, it also means “affirmative,” something that is sure.

Structure as an adjective

确定)+ Noun


他们 未来 确定 计划
They have definite plans for the future.

后天 一定要 确定 答复
You must give me an affirmative answer by the day after tomorrow.

确定 is the easiest to tell apart from the others, even if it can sometimes be interchanged with 肯定. We’ll talk about that a bit later, for now, let’s move on to 一定 and 肯定 and learn each’s word’s nuances so you can use them properly in the right context.

肯定 used as verb/adjective/adverb

肯定 is composed of the character and the character . means “to agree; to consent; to be ready; willing” so it adds a tone of approval to ’s certainty.

肯定 often has a subjective, energetic feel to it. It carries meanings close to 认可 (approval), 同意 (agreement), and 保证 (guarantee).

肯定 can either be a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.

肯定 used as verb/adjective

When 肯定 is used as a verb, it has two meanings: “to affirm” or “to be sure” and “to approve”. In this case, 肯定 is placed before a noun or a sentence.

Verb Structure

S+ 肯定 + Noun/Sentence


经理 肯定 工作
The manager approved her work.

肯定 假货
I'm sure this is fake.

十分 肯定 撒谎
She’s sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that he’s lying.

面对 困难 积极 态度 得到 大家 肯定
His positive attitude when facing difficulties is approved by everyone.

You might notice that as a verb, 肯定 has a meaning close to 确定’s: both of them has the meaning of “to affirm” “to confirm”. That’s true. Even though 确定 carries more certainty in general, these two words are interchangeable on condition that they both work as a verb and they are placed between a subject and a sentence.

These examples can help you to understand better the close relationship between these two words.


确定/肯定 昨天 晚上 回家
I’m sure that he didn’t come home last night.

确定/肯定 不是 二手车
Can you confirm that this car is not a second-hand one?

We have already learned about how 肯定 works as a verb. Let’s move on to the second identity of this word: the adjective 肯定 ()!

As an adjective, 肯定 () often means “affirmative” or “certain”.

Adjective Structure

肯定)+ Noun


记者 肯定 回答
He gave the reporter an affirmative answer.

态度 肯定
His attitude is affirmative.

肯定 Used with an adverb

Different from 确定 which can only be used as a verb and an adjective, 肯定 also works as an adverb in sentences. As an adverb, 肯定 denotes a subjective judgment and has an energetic feel to it.

肯定 emphasizes more of subjective judgment or promise.


肯定 + Adjective / Verb


肯定 骗子
He must be a liar for sure.

肯定 知道
He definitely doesn't know yet.

一定 used as adjective/adverb

As we have already said at the beginning of this lesson, the key to figuring out the nuances between these three words is to know which types each word is and how they work in different types.

确定 can be used as a verb and an adjective. 肯定 can either be a verb, an adjective, or an adverb. How about the last one 一定? Which types it is and where should it be placed in a sentence. Let’s meet the last brother of family!

Same as his brothers 确定 and 肯定, 一定 can also be used as an adjective. In this case, it means “particular” or “certain”.


一定) + Noun


保持 一定 距离
Keep a certain distance from him, please.

一定 难度
This question has certain difficulty to it.

Apart from working as an adjective, 一定 can also be an adverb which means either “definitely” or “must do something”. A little bit confused? No worries! Let’s learn it step by step!

First of all, when 一定 is placed before an adjective or a verb, it might carry the meaning of “definitely” and “certainly”. If you feel no doubt about something or you think something must happen in the future, you can use 一定 to highlight your certainty. In this case, you can also use the adverb 肯定 to express the same meaning.

However, as an adverb, 一定 has another meaning: the meaning of force, which always brings out an obligation or means that something must be done. In this case, 一定 is often followed by a verb indicating the content of the obligation.


一定 + Adjective / Verb


过去 一定(肯定) 足球
He definitely played soccer in the past.

一定 按时 登机
You must board the plane on time.

过马路 一定 小心
You have to be careful when crossing a street.

明天 一定(肯定) 下雨 出门 一定 记得
It will be definitely raining tomorrow. You must take an umbrella when going out.

In the fourth sentence, 一定 is used as an adverb twice but with different meanings. Can you distinguish the one from another?

一定 "一定 adj = really broad uses You need to pay attention to the specific times it's used in" "as an adjective = something particular, a certain 一定 + ( +) Noun" "As an adverb, it is often used to give a reinforcing tone. It sometimes carries an air of forcing something or issuing a command. (definitely) 一定 + Adjective / Verb"

Oh noes!

An error occured, please reload the page.
Don't hesitate to report a feedback if you have internet!

You are disconnected!

We have not been able to load the page.
Please check your internet connection and retry.