In both English and Chinese grammar, complements are words that complete the meaning of a sentence. They usually come after a verb, and sometimes also an adjective. In Chinese grammar, a complement can also be a set phrase.
For example, if you’re talking about eating breakfast, different complements will describe what time you ate it, how fast you ate, how much you ate, and if you finished eating.
Here are seven grammar complements you’ll come across often in everyday Mandarin.
程度补语 chéngdù bǔyǔ – degree complement
Degree complements can come after both verbs and adjectives, and describe to what degree something’s been done (after a verb) or to put more emphasis on something being described (after an adjective).
Example of a degree complement with a verb:
她跑得很快, tā pǎo dé hěn kuài – she runs very fast. Note that the ‘得‘ particle is what completes the sentence and makes the complement here: without it, 她跑很快 is incorrect as ‘she runs’ and ‘very fast’ become two separate statements.
Examples of degree complements with an adjective:
我饿死了, wǒ è sǐle – I’m starving (literally ‘I’m hungry to death’). The adjective 饿 is followed by the complementing phrase ‘死了’, which describes the degree of hunger the speaker has.
趋向补语 qūxiàng bǔyǔ – direction complement
A direction complement describes the direction in which an action is going. In Chinese, 上 shàng (up), 下 xià (down), 来 lái (to come), 去 qù (to go) are the common words used for direction complements. For example:
After an adjective:
你快放下, nǐ kuài fàngxià – put it down quickly. Here, 放下 is the complement, which comes after the adjective 快.
After a verb:
我带来了礼物, wǒ dàilái le lǐwù – I brought a gift. With 带 as the verb and 来 as the complement, together they mean ‘to bring’. When you change the direction after the verb to 去 (so you have 带去 instead of 带来), the meaning changes to ‘to take somewhere’.
处所补语 chǔsuǒ bǔyǔ – location complement
Location complements describe where an action is taking place. For example:
我住在英国, wǒ zhù zài yīngguó – I live in England. In this example, 在英国 is the complement.
Be careful, though – not all verbs can have 在 as a location complement directly afterwards, and are more of an exception. In general, you can only use 在 after a verb that already suggests that there’s a location involved (e.g. ‘to live in’ and ‘to sit’).
Here’s an example of a location complement without using 在:
他走向海边, tā zǒuxiàng hǎibiān – he walked towards the seaside. In this above example, 向海边 is the complement.
可能补语 kěnéng bǔyǔ – potential complement
Potential complements simply describe whether something can or can’t be done. They typically feature 得 after a verb for a positive result, or a 不 after a verb for a negative one.
我买得起 / 我买不起, wǒ măi dé qĭ / wǒ măi bu qĭ – I can afford it / I can’t afford it.
她今天走得了 / 她今天走不了, tā jīntiān zǒu déliǎo / tā jīntiān zǒu bùliǎo – she can leave today / she can’t leave today.
数量补语 shùliàng bǔyǔ / 时间补语 shíjiānbǔyǔ – quantitative/time complement
Usually counted as two separate grammatical complements, quantitative and time complements describe how much or often something happens. But they both work in similar ways in that the complement comes after the action. For example:
我去过中国一次, wǒ qùguò zhōngguó yīcì – I have been to China once (a quantity-related statement).
我等你十分钟了, wǒ děng nǐ shí fēnzhōng le – I waited for you for ten minutes (a time-related statement).
结果补语 jiéguǒ bǔyǔ – result complement
Result complements elevate verbs from a singular action to an action with an immediate result. For example:
我没看见你, wǒ méi kànjiàn nǐ – I didn’t see you (meaning ‘I didn’t see and notice you’). Without the complement 见 following 看, the sentence only means ‘I didn’t look at you.’
我找到了它, wǒ zhǎodàole tā – I found it. Without the complement 到 following 找, the statement means ‘I was in the process of finding it’, but without the result of having found it.
状态补语 zhuàngtài bǔyǔ – state complement
A state complement describes the resulting state of an action, and can be thought of as describing ‘how’. For example – how cold is he?
他冷得发抖, tā lěng dé fādǒu – he’s shivering with cold.
Or, how tired are you?
我累得不想起来, wǒ lèi dé bùxiǎng qǐlái – I’m so tired that I don’t want to get up.
Want to strengthen your Chinese grammar with the help of professional teachers? Check out the courses Lingoinn offers both online courses and homestay learning courses in China and Taiwan – browse our services here.