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Chinese Grammar: Part II - Talking about results with Result complements

This is part II of our series on Complements: talking about results with result complements.

In English, to talk about results, we use different words to distinguish the state of an object. For instance, to look and see, to listen and hear. In Chinese, result complements are added to the action verb to indicate whether the action was done or not. Result complements are extremely frequent and useful in Mandarin Chinese, so it’s only natural to move on to these complements! Let’s explore!

Why do we use result complements in Chinese?

As their name indicates, result Complements are about the result of the verb. A lot of verbs in Chinese don’t include their result. For instance,

  • is to look, but it doesn’t indicate to see.
  • is to listen, but it doesn’t mean it’s heard.
  • is an attempt to remember, but it doesn’t indicate whether it was memorized or not.

Because verbs don’t indicate their result, they, therefore, need an additional word to describe it: these words are called result complements. Just like direction complements, you attach result complements to the action verb; they indicate its result.

As you can imagine, result complements are therefore very frequently used in Chinese. Some super common result complements are:

  • indicates an action is finished or completed (做完 to finish, to complete the task)
  • indicates to see (看见 to see, to catch sight of)
  • this directional complement also can be a result complement (关上 to close [a door])
  • indicates the action achieved its purpose (听到 to [manage to] hear)
  • indicates something is right, correct ( to say correctly)
  • indicates a mistake, something wrong or incorrect ( to write incorrectly)
  • indicates something is complete or done well ( to have finished doing)
  • indicates firmness, steadiness, or the coming to a halt (记住 to remember; to bear in mind; to remember by heart)
  • indicates something is broken, damaged, destroyed (打破 to break, to smash)

Results in result components can either be intentional or unintentional. As you can see from the list, things can be found, and things can be smashed with result components.

Structure

Subject + Verb + Result complement + (Object)

Together with result complements, verbs form a new verb compound. You can't separate this new verb compound into separate units. To make complements of result easier to understand, here’s a table of some common “verb + result complement” compounds:

Verb Result Complement Compound Verb
to look 看见 to see (to look + see)
to look for 找到 to find (to look + achievement)
to listen 听懂 to understand what you hear
to listen 听到 to hear (to succeed in hearing)
to listen 听见 to hear (to be in the process of hearing)
to write 写完 to finish writing
to eat 吃饱 to eat till full
to study 学会 to master

Result complements in Mandarin Chinese distinguish a full bowl of rice from an empty bowl and a full stomach (presumably, if said stomach ate rice in the now finished bowl.)

Examples

吃饱
I'm full, I can't eat anymore.

昨天 看见
I saw him yesterday.

晚饭 差不多
Dinner is almost ready.

昨天 看见
I saw him yesterday.

晚饭 差不多
Dinner is almost ready.

What about sentences with objects?

Since these new verb compounds are inseparable, where do you place your object, when you have one in your sentence? Good question! Here's the general structure:

Structure

Subject + Verb+ Result complement + (Object)

Examples

我们 吃完
We just finished eating.

地址
Write down your address on it.

课文
I finished reading this text.

做完 作业
Did you finish your homework?

很多
He wrote many characters incorrectly.

Objects, as you can see, are placed after the compound.
Unless you're dealing with a sentence, that is. As you may remember, sentences have a different order, and this too affects sentences with result complements.

Result complements in sentences

Result complements and sentences get along really well. It's no wonder really. Both are all about the results of actions and how the actions were performed. So, naturally, you'll come across many sentences containing both grammar structures.

How do result complements fit together with sentences? First, you need to have in mind that sentences work the other way around.
Here, goes first, followed by the object. Then comes the verb and the result complement, like so:

Structure

Subject + + Object + [Verb + Result Complement Compound]

Examples


Did you put your money away safely?

这个 被子 打破
He broke this glass.

Negations and

You can also use result complements to talk about things that didn’t happen or didn't go as planned. Add or 没有 before the compound verb to do so. Depending on the negation word you use, it'll go to a different place in the sentence.

没有 and negative result complements

Use 没有for results that didn't happen at all.

Subject + Negative 没有 + Compound Verb* + (Object)

*Remember, compound verb = verb + result complement.

Example

听懂
She didn't understand.

As the sentences talk about incomplete or unfinished results, you won't find a at the end.

and negative result complements

Use to talk about an unsuccessful result. And do you know what an unsuccessful result really is? A potential complement! So it follows this structure:

Subject + Verb + Negative + Result Complement + (Object)

Examples

裤子 穿
These pants, I can't fit into (them) anymore.

小说 没意思
This novel is so uninteresting, I couldn't read it.

You add because there is an outcome, only negative.

Result complements are called 结果 补语 (jiéguǒ bǔyǔ) in Chinese. They are also sometimes referred to as complement of result, resultative complement, and result compound.

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