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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


这个 发型 适合
This hairstyle really suits you.

这种 工作 十分适合
This job completely suits him.

食物 适合
This food doesn’t really suit me (doesn’t really agree with me)

使 特别适合山区 使用
This makes it particularly suited for mountain use.

This shirt really suits you (this shirt really becomes you).

认为 适合这个 职位
Do you think he’s the right person for the job?

More about 适合

The verb 适合 can: Be used with adverbs like //十分/ 极了, as you can see in the examples above. Be used in a phrasal verb, as long as you don’t forget to include an Object.


选择 适合 颜色
Pick the color that suits you the best.

适合 自己 工作
Coming across a job that suits you really isn’t easy.

In spoken Chinese, the object of 适合 can be omitted when the context is clear; but in those circumstances aside; keep in mind 适合 is a verb and is always followed by an object.

合适 - the “suitable” adjective

合适 is an adjective and means “suitable”, “goes well (with)”, “well-fitting”.


Something is (//...) 合适 ()

Subject+ Adverb + 合适


穿 合适
These shoes fit me just right.

这么 说话 合适
This way of speaking is not suitable.

什么 时间合适? What time is suitable for you? What time is convenient for you?

觉得 地方 合适
I don’t think this area is particularly suitable.

More about 合适

Being an adjective, 合适 can be used to modify nouns. Simply add after it:


那是 合适 衬衫
This is a very suitable shirt.

应该 合适 工作
You should find a more suitable job to do.

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.

How to know when to use 适合 vs. 合适

Here’s a sentence that might give you an idea of the difference between the two:

适合 不一定合适 合适 一定 适合

Or, in a mix of English and Chinese: Something 适合 for you might not end up being 合适, but something that 合适 will absolutely 适合 you.

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!

  • 合适 carries more a sense of things that are (physically) well-fitting, proper; or go well with something.
  • 适合 carries more a meaning of compatible, appropriate, suitable (to your liking).

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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