Describe Action with “得(de)”

In English, when you want to describe an action, you can simply use an adverb. For example, I run quickly. I get up early. Unfortunately, though, using this “verb + adverb” structure in Chinese is much more complicated. Today, we will focus on getting the hang of how to describe verbs with an adverb in Chinese.

The key word for this structure is the particle word “得(de)”. Look at the following sentence:

我吃得很慢(wǒ chī de hěn màn)。I eat slowly.

我唱得很好(wǒ chàng de hěn hǎo)。I sing well.

我说得很流利(wǒ shuō de hěn liú lì)。I speak fluently.

我运动得很多(wǒ yùndòng de hěn duō)。I work out often (a lot).

In these situations, it appears quite similar to English. All we have to do is use “得(de)” and “很(hěn) after the verb.

  1. Rule one: If there is no object in the sentence, the structure is:
  • Subject + verb + 得(de) + 很(hěn) + adjective.

But what if we would like to use object with our verb? After all, I don’t eat slowly all the time – what if I only eat fish slowly? Then, the sentence turns into: 我得很慢(wǒ chī yú chī de hěn màn)。 Let’s take a look at a few more examples,

英语歌得很好(wǒ chàng yīngyǔ gē chàng de hěn hǎo)。I sing English songs well.

汉语得很流利(wǒ shuō hànyǔ shuō de hěn liú lì)。I speak Chinese fluently.

复习汉语复习得很好(wǒ fùxí hànyǔ fùxí de hěn hǎo)。I review Chinese well.

  1. Rule two: If there is an object in the sentence, always do this:
  • Subject + verb + object + verb(reduplication) + 得(de) + 很 (hěn) + adjective.

So far, so good, right? Congratulations! If you master these two rules you’ll be correct in 70% of situations! But what about the other 30% ? Read on.

我睡觉睡得很好(wǒ shuìjiào shuì de hěn hǎo)。I sleep well. If you look at this sentence, you will find although 睡觉(shuìjiào) is known as one word “to sleep” and there is no object in it, it doesn’t fit the first rule: it’s not 我睡觉得很好(wǒ shuì jiào de hěn hǎo) . This is because we have one final rule to learn:

  1. Rule three: For some two-character verbs, the structure is:
  • Subject + verb + first character of the verb + 得(de) + 很(hěn) + adjective.

我洗澡洗得很快(wǒ xǐzǎo xǐ de hěn kuài)。 I take a shower quickly.

我跳舞跳得很好(wǒ tiàowǔ tiào de hěn hǎo)。 I dance well.

我开车开得很慢(wǒ kāichē kāi de hěn màn)。 I drive slowly.

The reason why we only duplicate the first character, and not the whole word, is that this kind of verb is composed of two characters; the first character refers to an action, and the second character to the object of that action. For example, in the verb 跳舞(tiàowǔ), 跳(tiào) means “to jump,” and 舞(wǔ) means “a dance (noun)”. So in this case, we only duplicate the “action” character – the first character.

Though this rule is not hard to understand, there’s no shortcut to learn which verbs are in this special type of 2-character verb. My best suggestion is learn them one by one. Here are some common ones:

跳舞(tiào wǔ) to dance

唱歌(chàng gē) to sing

睡觉(shuìjiào) to sleep

开车(kāi chē) to drive

帮忙 (bāng máng) to help

见面(jiàn miàn) to meet (someone)

结婚(jié hūn) to get married

生气(shēng qì) to be angry

One tip: Don’t be upset if you can’t remember them all at first. Even if you just use 我跳舞得很好(wǒ tiàowǔ dé hěn hǎo), most Chinese people will still understand. Be brave, and start practicing describe actions with 得(de). The more you practice, the better you will be!

Vera Zhang

After graduating from East China Normal University in 2005, Vera Zhang (张晓丽) started her career in teaching Chinese as a second language. Her first teaching job was teaching high school Chinese in Philippines and realized how much she loved this job. In 2007, she came back Shanghai and spent 7 years in ChinesePod. During that, she also went to America to learn language learning knowledge and curriculum editing by teaching in a high school. Now she works in a start-up company and has developed a new Chinese learning app-HelloChinese. She hopes she can share her knowledge in Chinese and make Chinese learning easy and fun.