I. ‘的’ – possessive particle
‘的’(de) is the character that we will learn at the very beginning of learning Chinese Mandarin. The most common usage of ‘的’（de） is used as a possessive particle, like apostrophe ’s’ in English, it is always placed after the ‘owner’ noun or a pronoun.
爸爸的车 Bàba de chē
我的学生 Wǒ de xuésheng.
林娜的书 Línnà de shū.
*Be careful, Chinese people tend to omit ‘的‘(de) in the following cases:
1/To address a person who has a close relationship with you, such as family members, girlfriend/boyfriend, friends, relatives, etc. For instance:
我妈妈(nǐ māma) – my mom
你哥哥(nǐ gēge) – your older brother
他女朋友(tā nǚpéngyou) – his girlfriend
她叔叔(tā shūshu) – her uncle
However, it’s also correct if you keep the ‘de’ into your phrases.
2/When we are talking about some places such as company, school, home, we can also omit ‘de’ in these cases. For examples,
欢迎来我家(huānyíng lái wǒ jiā) – welcome to my home
他回他公司(tā huí tā gōngsi) – he returned to his company
这是我们学校(zhèshi wǒmen xuéxiào) – this is our school
Those forms are quite often used in our daily life, and you will hear a lot in spoken language, it is nothing to do with the manner of being polite or impolite, formal or informal.
II. ‘的’ – Noun modifier
‘的’(de) – as a noun modifier, it can be placed after adjectives, nouns, noun phrases, verbal phrases, time words, measure words or even place nouns to form an attributive, which is equivalent to an ADJ to modifier the noun right after it (this noun is also called a central word).
A. The most common pattern is: Noun1 + 的 + Noun2
This pattern can also be seen as a possessive pattern. However, it doesn’t always have a subordination relation between them.
苹果的味道 Píngguǒ de wèidào.
The taste of apples.
北方的狼 Běifāng de láng.
珠峰的雪 Zhūfēng de xuě.
The snow of Mt. Chomolungma
花的颜色 Huāduǒ de yánsè.
The colours of flowers.
人的皮肤 Rén de pífu.
As you can see, nouns in Chinese could contain only one or two characters. Regardless of monosyllabic or disyllabic words, when they used as attributives, normally we need to add ‘的’ (no matter how many characters does the central word have) (i.e. above). However, there are always some exceptions needed to remember separately:
1/Sometimes, certain two syllabic nouns can directly modify other two syllabic nouns. For example, 中国音乐(zhōngguó yīnyuè) – Chinese music，美国公司(měiguó gõngsi) – an American company.
2/Certain monosyllabic nouns can also directly modify other monosyllabic nouns. For example, 猫毛(māo máo) – cat hair，狗腿(gǒu tuǐ) – dogleg.
Those combinations should be remembered separately. (Get your notebook prepared^^ )
B. Second common pattern: Adj. + 的 + Noun
漂亮的女孩 Piàoliàng de nǚhái.
美丽的城市 Měilì de chéngshì.
可爱的小狗 Kěài de xiǎogǒu.
*Exception: if the adjective has only one character, normally we don’t need to add ‘的’(de). For instance, 高山(gāo shān) – high mountain; 大海(dàhǎi) – sea; 红日(hóngrì) – red sun. If using ‘的’(de), it emphasises description. For example, 好的方法(hǎo de fāngfǎ) – good method; 旧的书店(jiù de shūdiàn) – old bookshop.
C. Verbal phrase + 的 + Noun
When a verbal phrase serves as an attributive, the particle ‘的’(de) must be added after the verbal phrase (‘Verbal phrase + 的’ functions as an ADJ here to modify the noun right after it)
新盖的楼房 xīngài de lóufáng.
A newly built building.
新买的裙子 xīnmǎi de qúnzi.
A new bought skirt.
有理想的青年 yǒu lǐxiǎng de qīngnián.
An aspiring young man.
光着脚丫的女孩 guāngzhe jiǎoya de nǚhái.
A girl with bare feet.
*Exception: if the verbs are related to cooking activities, for instance, 炒饭(chǎo fàn) – Fried rice; 烤鸭 (kǎo yā) – Roast duck; 死狗(sǐ gǒu) – dead dog; 压缩饼干(yāsuō bǐngān) – compressed biscuit. Then, the verb can DIRECTLY modify the central word.
D. Noun phrase + 的 + Noun
A noun phrase used as an attributive normally should add ‘的’. For example:
外婆家的池塘 Wàipó jiā de chítáng.
一阵阵的狂风 Yí zhènzhen de kuángfēng.
Gusts of wind.
一阵阵的狂风 vs 一阵狂风
(gusts of wind & a gust of wind)
‘yízhènzhèn de kuángfēng’ vs ‘yízhèn kuángfēng’
As you can see above, if a quantifier is without overlapping elements, we should NOT add ‘的’(de).
E. Temporal Nouns + 的 + Noun
There must be the particle ‘的’(de) after the attributive which is formed by noun expressing time.
星期天的电影院 xīngqí tiān de diànyǐng yuàn.
昨天的天气 zuótiān de tiānqì.
III. ‘的’ – other usages
6. If the time, place, or manner of an action that took place in the past is stressed in expression, the particle ‘的’（de） must be added at the end of the sentence.
张先生（是）昨天来上海的。Zhāng xiānsheng (shì) zuótiān lái shànghǎi de.
It was yesterday that Mr Zhāng came to Shanghai.
张先生（是）从北京来上海的。Zhāng xiānsheng (shì) cóng Běijīng lái shànghǎi de.
Mr Zhang did come from Beijing to Shanghai.
张先生（是）坐飞机来上海的。Zhāng xiānsheng (shì) zuò fēijī lái shànghǎi de.
Mr Zhang did take a plane to Shanghai.
7. Verbs, adjectives, nouns or pronouns can be followed by the article ‘的’（de）, forming a structure which can substitute the noun that has been mentioned before.
我们都买裙子，丝绸的是我买的。Wǒmen dōu mǎi qúnzi, sīchóu de shì wǒmǎi de.
We all bought skirts, the silk one is mine.
这本词典不是我的，我的是新的。 Zhè běn cídiǎn búshì wǒ de, wǒde shì xīnde.
This dictionary is not mine, mine is a new one.
Now, do you understand well how to use ‘的’? I bet you do!
This article just summarised some common usages of ‘的’, it doesn’t include all. If you still feel confused, or can’t find your answer above, please do let me know! Leave your words in the comments, I’ll be happy to help you!
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