When should you put 的 (de) after adjectives in Chinese grammar?

Sometimes in Chinese you see the particle 的 (de) after adjectives, but sometimes you don’t. What is the rule for whether or not you should put 的 after an adjective?

As usual with Chinese grammar, there isn’t a 100% concrete rule for this, but there is a strong guideline. In general, you need to put 的 after a two-syllable adjective, and should not put it after a single-syllable adjective.

As always, remember that there can be exceptions to these “rules”. They are just useful guidelines that help you get a better sense of the language. Always include lots of listening and reading in your learning diet to get a real feel for Chinese.

Don’t put 的 after single-syllable adjectives

In general, you should not put 的 after a single-syllable adjective. Adjectives with just one syllable can usually be placed directly before a noun to modify it. Some examples:

辣菜

làcài

spicy food

美女

měinǚ

pretty girl

帅哥

shuàigē

handsome guy

坏人

huàirén

bad person

好人

hǎorén

good person

The words above are actually more like compound nouns that function as individual units. There’s no need to separate them with 的. You might use these words in sentences like these, for example:

我很喜欢吃辣菜。

Wǒ hěn xǐhuan chī là cài.

I really like eating spicy food.

他是好人。

Tā shì hǎorén.

He's a good person.

那个城市帅哥很多。

Nàgè chéngshì shuàigē hěnduō.

There are a lot of handsome guys in that city.

As you can see, these words are really just compound nouns consisting of an adjective that modifies a noun. You don’t need to put 的 after these single-syllable adjectives.

Do put 的 after multi-syllable adjectives

If you add in extras that make the adjective longer, then you have to use 的. For example, if you put 很 (hěn) in front of the adjective to intensify it, it’s now two syllables and you should put 的 after it.

Some examples:

很坏的人

hěn huài de rén

very bad person

十分大的房子

shífēn dà de fángzi

very big house

非常贵的车

fēicháng guì de chē

extremely expensive car

The adjective in this structure can be as long as you like, or even be replaced with a more complicated phrase, and still be used to modify the noun. All you have to do is put 的 in between.

As well as adjectives that have been modified and become multi-syllable, there are also adjectives that are multi-syllable on their own. These should also have 的 after them when used to modify nouns. Some examples:

好看的人

hǎokàn de rén

good-looking person

红色的衣服

hóngsè de yīfú

red clothes

舒服的椅子

shūfú de yǐzi

comfortable chair

友好的老师

yǒuhǎo de lǎoshī

friendly teacher

The only rule you have to remember is that if the adjective is one syllable, you usually don’t put 的 after it. Otherwise, no matter what the adjective is, you should usually use 的.

Other articles about 的

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  2. Key Chinese grammar structure: modifier + de + noun (的) A1

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