Describing Actions with “得(de)” in Chinese: Tips and Examples
In English, you can describe an action using an adverb, for example, “I run quickly” or “I get up early.” However, describing verbs with adverbs in Chinese is more complex. To do this, you need to use the particle “得 (de).” Let’s take a look at the basic structure:
1. Structure One – Sentences with no object
Subject + Verb + 得(de) + 很(hěn) + Adjective.
- 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).
To use this structure, simply add “得 (de)” and “很 (hěn)” after the verb.
(Check out this link for more HSK3-related grammar tutorials and a detailed explanation of the differences between 的 vs 地 vs 得.)
But what if we want to use an object with the verb? For example, what if I only eat fish slowly, not everything slowly? In that case, the sentence would be: 我吃鱼吃得很慢(wǒ chī yú chī de hěn màn).
2. Structure Two: Sentences with an object
Subject + Verb + Object + Verb(reduplication) + 得(de) + 很 (hěn) + Adjective.
- 我唱英语歌唱得很好(wǒ chàng yīngyǔ gē chàng de hěn hǎo)。I sing English songs well.
- 我说汉语说得很流利(wǒ shuō hànyǔ shuō de hěn liú lì)。I speak Chinese fluently.
- 我复习汉语复习得很好(wǒ fùxí hànyǔ fùxí de hěn hǎo)。I review Chinese well.
If you follow these two rules, you’ll be correct in most situations. However, there are still about 30% of cases where these rules don’t apply.
For example, the sentence “我睡觉睡得很好” (wǒ shuìjiào shuì de hěn hǎo) means “I sleep well.” Even though the word 睡觉(shuìjiào) means “to sleep,” there is no object in this sentence, so it doesn’t fit either of the rules we have already seen.
×“我睡觉得很好” – (wǒ shuì jiào de hěn hǎo).
3. Structure Three: Certain two-character verbs
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.
We only duplicate the first character of these two-character verbs because the first character represents the action while the second character represents the object of that action.
For instance, 跳舞(tiàowǔ) means “to dance” with 跳(tiào) meaning “to jump” and 舞(wǔ) meaning “a dance (noun).” Therefore, we only duplicate the “action” character, which is the first character.
There is no shortcut for learning which two-character verbs fall into this type. Unfortunately, memorization is the most common way to learn them. Here is a list of the most common ones to get you started:
- 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
A helpful tip is to not get discouraged if you can’t recall all the special verbs at first. Even if you just say “我跳舞得很好” (wǒ tiàowǔ de hěn hǎo), most Chinese people will still understand you. Take the leap and begin practicing describing actions with 得(de). The more you practice, the better you’ll become!
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Please, can you give an example of the:
Rule two: If there is an object in the sentence, always do this:
Subject + verb + object + verb(reduplication) + 得(de) + 很 (hěn) + adjective.
See above where this example is given: I only eat fish slowly? Then, the sentence turns into: 我吃鱼吃得很慢(wǒ chī yú chī de hěn màn)。