Chinese Grammar Structures : Verb Complements

This is one topic that really tripped me up when I started learning Chinese — you often need to specify what state your verbs are in when you are speaking.

What does this mean in practice? Basically there are a handful of verb compliment words (some of which happen to be verbs themselves) that you need to add to end end of your verbs to make them fully intelligible to a Chinese speaker.

Generally they are separated into potential complements and result complements

Both can use the same set of pretty common complementary verbs. You have probably seen them around. The big ones are: dào 到 (arrive), jiàn 见(see), wan2 完 (finish), cuo4 错 (wrong), and hao3 好, (correct) ni4 腻 (bored), dong3 懂 (understand). A result complement describes how complete or incomplete an action is, while a potential complement describes ones ability to achieve some result.

Result Complements

A result complement describes how complete or incomplete an action is, and use this general grammar structure:

subj + V + complement + 了

Examples of result complements

你吃好了吗?Are you done eating?

你吃完了吗?Are you done eating?

你吃错了。You are eating wrong.

你吃腻了吗?Are you bored of eating?

衣服穿好了。 I finished getting dressed.

穿衣服错了。 You put your clothes on wrong.

你那看你到了吗?Did you see that?

我那可以看见。I can see that.

这个字你写错了。You wrote that character wrong.

这个词你说错了。You said that word wrong.

我记错了。I remembered wrong.

我记好了。I remembered correctly.

Potential Complements

Potential complements are used to express the possibility of achieving an expected result.

The grammar structure in this case is:

V + 得/不 + complement

Examples of potential complements

做得完。Were you able to finish doing it?

做不完。Weren’t you able to finish doing it?

听得懂。Can you understand?

听不懂。Can’t understand?

起得来。Can you get up?

起不来。Can you not get up?

Conclusion

This is a really important concept — there is a lot more specificity in verbs in Chinese. You can’t simply “not understand,” you need to not understand written or spoken content. You can’t simply “see,” you need to see fully or see clearly. If you do not specify both sides, source and result, then you will not be able to make yourself understood to a native speaker.

Product Manager + Software Developer. Interested in Travel, Culture, and the Internet.

Product Manager + Software Developer. Interested in Travel, Culture, and the Internet.