Beginner Level Grammar: The Possessive Particle 的 in Chinese

How to use 的 can be one of the most frustrating parts of Chinese grammar for beginning Mandarin learners.  

The reason 的 is so confusing is because 的 has many different functions. It can be used to talk about possession, to attach adjectives to nouns, and so much more! 

But that isn’t a reason to be scared!

While you can’t learn all of the uses of 的 in one sitting, you can start learning the different uses, one by one! They aren’t complicated!  

By the end of this article you’ll know exactly how to use in Mandarin Chinese.

Chapter #1 – 的 Pronunciation

Chapter #2 – The Possessive

Chapter #3 – with Relationships

Discover exactly how to use 的 with Mandarin Click

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Mandarin Click are the creators of a superb and hugely popular YouTube channel where they provide short videos and stories for Mandarin language learners. Go and check their channel out and give them a subscribe for plenty more!

First Things First – What are particles?

(This is for grammar nerds. If you don’t like grammar, skip directly to the next section!)

A word that Chinese students frequently come across with is the word “particle.”  For example, 的(de) is a “possessive particle.” 

But what does particle even mean?

In the world of Chinese grammar, a particle is simply a word that has a grammatical meaning. 

It is simply another part of speech, for words that are not easily classified into other parts of speech like verb, noun, or adjective.

In the case of 的 (de), it is a grammar particle that has many functions. 

👉 The grammatical function of 的 (de) that will be discussed today is most closely comparable to the function of the ‘s in English. 

For example, in the sentence “This is Sarah’s coat” the ‘s after Sarah indicates that the coat belongs to Sarah.

的 (de), when it is functioning as a possessive particle, does the same thing, it indicates possession.

DID YOU KNOW – There are 3 different “de” particles. Check out our Instagram post on the side to see the two others and listen to the sentence examples! 🔉

https://www.instagram.com/p/CJnsdvuFYU0

的 in Chinese – Pronunciation

How to pronounce 的?

If you look in your dictionary, you may find that 的 can be pronounced de, dì or dī. 

But let me tell you a secret: unless you are joining a Mandarin language choir or pursuing a degree in Beijing opera, for now, all you need to know is one form of pronunciation: de.  

How do you pronounce de?

Think of how you might sing the Pink Panther theme song: duh duh, duh duh, duh duh duh…. you get the idea. 

That is also how you pronounce 的! 

Or like… “Oh duh, that was easy!” 

Using 的 in Chinese

How to use 的? – The Possessive Form

The possessive 的 (de) helps us answer the question “Whose is this?” 

For example, imagine your Chinese professor finds a phone on the ground and asks the class “Whose phone is this?” 

You can respond “我的 (wǒde)! Mine!” Or, more completely “我的手机 (wǒde shǒujī)!  My phone!”

CharactersPinyinMeaning
我的wǒ de my, mine
你的 nǐ deyours, your
他的 tā dehis/hers

Some examples:

  • 老师的词典
  • lǎoshī de cídiǎn
  • Teacher’s dictionary
  • 你的苹果很好吃!
  • nǐde píngguǒ hěn hǎochī
  • Your apple is really tasty!
  • 我的国家很大 
  • wǒde guójiā hěndà
  • My country is very big.
  • 这是我的手机. 
  • zhèshì wǒde shǒujī
  • This is my phone
  • 他们的汉语老师很高 .
  • tāmende hànyǔ lǎoshī hěn gāo
  • Their Chinese teacher is very tall.
  • 我的电话号码是 13585771083
  • wǒde diànhuàhàomǎ shì 13585771083
  • My phone number is 13585771083

Practice! 

Imagine that your teacher or friend is sitting next to you.  Tell them about what is in your backpack or what is on your desk.

For example, my phone and book are on my desk.  I will say:

这是我的手机。这是我的书。 
zhèshì wǒde shǒujī. zhèshì wǒde shū.
This is my cell phone.  This is my book.

How’d your imaginary conversation go? Did you remember to use 我的 (wǒde) to make sure you didn’t sound like a neanderthal grunting “This is phone”?  I’m sure you did great!

For more practice, write some sample sentences in the comments of this blog! Or, for even more practice, consider booking a Chinese class right now!

Feeling good about the possessive 的 (de)? Continue to read on to better understand when not to use the possessive 的 (de).

的 in Chinese – Relationships

Review of Possessive 的 (de)

So you just learned that the Possessive 的 (de) is used to answer the question “Whose is this?” As you may have noticed, this even extends to people.

For example, I must use 的 (de) in the sentence 他是我的汉语老师 (tā shì wǒde hànyǔ lǎoshī – He is my Chinese teacher) to indicate that he is my teacher.  

Possessive 的 (de) and Relationships

Whether talking about a book or a Examples of 的 to describe interpersonal relationships:

  • 我的老师 
  • wǒde lǎoshī
  • My teacher
  • 他的朋友 
  • tāde péngyou
  • His friend
  • 你的邻居 
  • nǐde línjū
  • Your neighbor

The Exception: Close Relationships

When there is a very close relationship, you do not use 的。

The possessive particle 的 is not used when you are talking about family members, significant others, or important organizations that you belong to like school or work.

You do NOT use 的 with:

  1. Family
  2. Boyfriend or girlfriend
  3. School or work institutions

Some examples:

  • 你哥哥很帅
  • nǐ gēge hěn shuài
  • Your brother is very handsome
  • 我学校很有名  
  • wǒ xuéxiào hěn yǒumíng
  • My school is very famous
  • 我奶奶很老
  • wǒ nǎinai hěn lǎo
  • My grandma is very old
  • 她男朋友很聪明
  • tā nánpéngyou hěn cōngming
  • Her boyfriend is very smart

NOTE – No matter how attached you may feel to your phone, this exception for close relationships will never apply to your phone or any other object. “My phone” will always be 我的手机 (wǒde shǒujī).   

How to Use More Sample Sentences! 

Each of these sentences contain one example of possessive 的 (de) and one example of a close relationship that does not use 的 (de). Can you find them?

  • 这是我妈妈的手机
  • zhèshì wǒ māma de shǒujī
  • This is my mom’s phone
  • 他是我妈妈的同事
  • tā shì wǒ māma de tóngshì
  • Her boyfriend is very smart

👉 IN SHORT – Don’t use Possessive 的 (de) when talking about family, significant others, or your work or school.

The character is in fact the 1st most common character of the Chinese language!!

Is there a Chinese alphabet? Max tells you the truth, the whole truth!

Using in Chinese – FAQ’s

What is 的?

的 (de), is a grammar particle that has many functions.

The first function you need to learn, and one of the most important is 的 as a possessive particle.

What are the 3 pronunciations of 的?

If you look in your dictionary, you may find that 的 can be pronounced de, dì or dī. 

But usually, 的 is pronounced de.

How to use 的?

As a possessive form, 的 (de) helps us answer the question “Whose is this?” 

Examples:

这是我的手机 (zhèshì wǒde shǒujī) = This is my phone我的老师 (wǒde lǎoshī) My teacher

However, you cannot use 的 for the following: Family, Boyfriend or girlfriend, School or work institutions.

Using 的 seems hard. Should I stress about this?

If your test is tomorrow and your teacher has questions about proper and improper uses of 的 on the test, then you should probably memorize this ASAP.

That being said, if you are studying in China or learning on your own, the good news is that this grammar rule will not make or break your Chinese ability. 

If you mess up and use 的 (de) when talking about your dad or your school, your Chinese-speaking friends will still understand you. 

With continued practice, you will find it easier and easier to leave out the 的 (de) when talking about close relationships.  

What are the two other “de”?

The two other ‘de’ are 得 and 地

得 is used for complements.

地 turns an adjective into an adverb.

Is the Chinese grammar difficult to learn?

As for any new language, the Chinese grammar might seem a bit confusing at first, but once you get into it you’ll see it is actually very logical!

After learning the basic rules of Chinese grammar, you’ll be able to express yourself easily and pick up more complex grammar points along the way.

Chinese Grammar Bank

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  • LTL Avatar Johan Brandal
    Johan Brandal, Student Advisor

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