Chinese Grammar: 适合 & 合适
To talk about something suitable, two words you’ll often come across in Mandarin Chinese are 适合 (shìhé) & 合适 (héshì). When you look at the two words, don’t you think it’s hard to tell the difference between the two? They share the same characters, each looks like a mirror of the other, and they both mean similar things: that something suits or is suitable. To make things worse, in English, we tend to translate both as either to suit or suitable, depending on the context. In Chinese, however, the two are different: one’s an adjective, and the other one's a verb.
So why don’t we see which is which and when you should use one rather than the other, so you don’t mix the two up?
Let’s start with 适合.
适合 - the verb to suit
适合 is a verb that means “to suit”. An Object must always follow it. Therefore, it’s usually followed by a noun or a pronoun (you, me, him...).
Subject + 适合 + Object
More about 适合
合适 - the “suitable” adjective
合适 is an adjective and means “suitable”, “goes well (with)”, “well-fitting”.
Subject+ Adverb + 合适
More about 合适
A subtle difference in meaning
Grammatically speaking, the difference between 适合 and 合适 is pretty straightforward. But there’s also a subtle semantic difference between the two; you’ll come to recognize when to use which the more you use and hear those two words in conversations. But here’s an explanation of the difference; in some context, you’ll only be able to use one or the other; without being able to interchange the two.
Here’s a sentence that might give you an idea of the difference between the two:
Does that help? Here’s a story to explain this further: It’s a beautiful day and you’re out shopping for clothes. You see a shirt you like; you feel it would really 适合 you. But once you try it on, the fit, the color, ... nothing’s 合适. What a disappointment, that shirt really wasn’t the right one for you!
The main thing to remember
One’s a verb, and the other’s an adjective. 适合, the verb, must be followed by an object at all times. 合适, the adjective, behaves as an adjective does in Chinese. Treat each as the word type they are and you’ll be fine! Does that suit you? Let's go check!
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