The Three De Song
16 Aug 2011
Learners of Chinese confront the “de triple threat” of Chinese structural particles pretty early on. You see, there are three different characters to write what sounds exactly the same to the ear. The three characters are 的, 得, and 地, each pronounced “de” (neutral tone) when serving as a structural particle.
If you’re just trying to improve your listening and speaking, you don’t really need to worry about this issue. If you’re working on your writing, however, you’re going to want to get it straight. I found the following (simplified) approach helpful:
- …的 + Noun
- Verb + 得…
- …地 + Verb
OK, yes, it leaves out a lot of special cases, and the aforementioned “Verb” in “Verb + 得” can also be an adjective. But they’re nice rules of thumb if you’re looking for something a bit simpler.
But here’s the interesting thing: because the issue of the three de’s is one concerning writing and not speaking, Chinese native speakers themselves have to learn these rules, and can sometimes get tripped up. Some people who don’t need to write for a living might even just “opt out” of the whole issue and use 的 exclusively.
But because Chinese children have to learn to use the proper “de” in school, there is actually a children’s song about the three de’s! [source]
> 《的地得》 儿歌
I find the explanation of 得 a bit suspect. It “comes before adjectives”? Kinda misleading (but then again, so is “after verbs”).
I tried to find an online video of this song, and instead found a very similar but different song also about the three de’s:
The amusing thing about this video is that in at least one place, the subtitles get the “de” wrong. (Can you find it?)