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Chinese Grammar: Telling 的 / 得 / 地 apart

You’ve seen these three words before://. Perhaps you're having trouble keeping them straight. That’s understandable. When spoken, these three words // all sound the same: you pronounce them de. They all three have essential grammar functions, which is: in a sentence, they act on the different parts of the sentence by linking them together (if you want the official grammar word, they’re all called “structural particles”).

However, that’s where the similarities stop, because they don’t have the same meaning at all and cannot be used the same way in a sentence. So before they make you dizzy, here’s what you need to know to tell the three words apart!

Possession and description

This is the most common “de” particle. In fact; it’s said to have a frequent occurrence of 6% in written Chinese -- that’s once every 20 words!

indicates possession, as you’ve seen at the very beginning of your learning: it indicates possession and is equivalent to our “‘s” or “of” in English.

You also use to describe elements about a noun; you’re simply describing qualities that are attached to that element, or that the element possesses. The description always precedes the noun, and is linked to the noun with . Elements like “My cat”; “The neighbor’s cat”; “A brown cat”; “the cat that’s lying on the ground” will all use _.


Subject/Adjective + + Noun


My older sister.

This is my cat.

His book.

A red skirt.

A beautiful girl.

那个 睡觉 ?
Who is that person sleeping?


is placed directly after the main verb and is used to add more information about the verb. It doesn’t have a direct translation in English, but you’re used to its role without knowing it. See, when you’re saying to come out or to come over , you’re doing the exact same thing as what does: you’re adding information about the verb to come.

is followed by complements, which we’ll cover in more detail later. For now, these examples should be clear.


Subject + Verb + + information


You said it right.

She looks pretty.

I ate it all.

He arrived early.

正在 有意思
The book I'm reading is very interesting.

The third “de” particle to talk about is . is used to turn adjectives into adverbs, to modify the verb. It’s very close to adding “-ly” to an adjective in English, and functions similarly.


Adjective + + Verb


He’s reading seriously.

To talk happily

He cries sadly.

昨天 晚上 所以 睡觉
I was tired yesterday evening so I went to bed really early.

Don't worry! Take your time to eat.

A rule of thumb

As you’ve just seen, all three particles // have entirely different roles to play in a sentence.

  • marks possession
  • marks adverbs
  • appears in verbal complements

Here’s an easy way to keep in mind which you should use where:

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