They all sound the same but don’t mean the same thing?!
The differences between 的, 得 and 地 in Chinese are like their, they’re and there.
They have completely different meanings, even though they sound the same.
Just like how we should use “they’re” when saying “they’re at the movies,” or “their” when expressing possession, there are specific times when 的 should be used over 得 or 地 over 的 etc.
Let’s unravel what’s up with the “de” particles in this post.
Most people have difficulty between 的 and 得. The main difference is 的 is used with nouns and 得 is used with verbs. The last one, 地, is mainly used to modify a verb, like giving it the “ly” in English.
First on our list: 的 (de, dí, dì)
This is only a particle in Chinese that has many different uses before a noun:
“tā shì yīng guó de guó wáng”
“He is the king of England”
- as a possessive particle
“nà gè shì wǒ de shǒu jī”
“That is my cell phone”
- Possessive words (my, your, her, his, our, their, etc.) don’t directly translate into one word in Chinese, you add 的 to the end of the pronoun (I – 我) to make it possessive (My – 我＋的）
- used after an attribute, before a noun to describe it
“měi lì de huā yuán”
“ beautiful garden”
- When 的 is used after an attribute, it doesn’t translate into a word in English.
- used at the end of a declarative sentence for emphasis
“jiù shì nǐ tōu de”
“It was you that stole”
- 的 here doesn’t translate into directly but would be like putting an exclamation point at the end of the sentence.
If you like this list, you might also like our vocab deck on Elementary Business words.
Second on our list: 得 (de, dé, děi)
This particle is used after a verb and is used to indicate effect, degree, possibility, etc.
- Example A:
“tā chàng de zhēn hǎo tīng”
“He sings really nice”
- Example B:
“nǐ hài dé dà jiā dōu bù kāi xīn”
“You caused everyone to be unhappy”
- Example C：
“nǐ mǎ shàng děi fù qián”
“You have to pay immediately”
- Here the pronunciation is “děi” not de. Make sure to say the difference when it’s used for “have to” or “must” scenarios!
Third on our list: 地 (de, dì)
Besides the obvious “ground” or “land” meaning, this particle is mainly used as an adverb, similar to “ly” in English. It is used before a verb. It can also be used to modify/qualify an adjective.
- Used to before a verb:
“tài yáng màn man de shēng le qǐ lái”
“The sun slowly rose up.”
- Used to modify an adjective:
“tè bié de zhēn guì”
- Used as the land:
“zhè kuài dì hǎo féi wò”
“This piece of land is very fertile”
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