Showing Possibility with 得 and 不

Previously, we have learned how to indicate the result of an action with the structure “Action Verb + Result Verb”. In Chinese, possibility can be indicated by the insertion of 得de (for the positive) and 不bù/bú (for the negative) between the Action Verb and the Result Verb (RVE). The meaning implied by 得de is very similar to that of 能néng (able to).

In order to form questions, the most common way is to add 吗 to the end of the sentence.

Action Verbs as RVE

O (Topic) S V 得/不 RVE (Action)
dōngxi tàiduō, (xiànzài) ná zǒu.
东西 太多, (现在) 拿 走。

Here are too many things for me to take away.

zhèxiēcài, chī de wán ma?
这些菜, 完 吗?

Are you able to eat all these dishes?

diànhuà xiǎngle, tīng jiàn ma?
电话响了, 见 吗?

Can't you hear the phone ringing?

Adjectives as RVE

O (Topic) S V 得/不 RVE (Adjectives)
tiāntiān chī nàme shǎo, (yídìng) chī pàng.
天天 吃 那么少, (一定) 吃 胖。

You won’t be able to gain weight by eating so little every day.

tā lǎole, pǎo kuài.
他 老了, 快。

He is too old to run fast.

Directional Compounds as RVE

O (Topic) S V 得/不 RVE (Compounds)
lù tài zhǎi, chē kāi jìnqù.
路 太 窄, 进去。

The road is too narrow for the car to drive in.

xíngli tàizhòng, wǒmen bān huílái.
行李太重, 我们 回来。

The luggage is too heavy for us to carry.

shān name gāo, nǐmen de shàngqù ma?
山 那么 高, 你们 上去 吗?

The mountain is so high. Are you able to climb up?

Have a question? Join us in the discussion below!