A speedy guide to trimming your「的」at a right time

For the overwhelming concern of you guys (你們 or you) on when to use 的 in a noun phrase, here is a guide!

Before you make any reference to it, remember that it is just a guide, not law! Never say never, even when you see it's labelled XX!

It is basically a summary in English of a Chinese article found in Baidu. I made some adaptation (a little re-organization, reduction, replacement of some examples). The source is provided at the end.

So here we go!

1. Noun attributive (NA) + Noun (N)

1.(1)1-syllable NA + 1-syllable N

a. These are ‎largely compound nouns, need no “的”.
e.g. Tree roots 树根 √√ 树的根 XX
Lake water ‎湖水 √√ 湖的水 XX

b. ‎For those not considered as recognised compound nouns yet, “的” is optional.
e.g. Horns of cow 牛角 √√ 牛的角 √√
Faces of men 人脸 √√ 人的脸 √√

1.(‎2) 1-syllable NA + 2-syllable N

a. For balance in the number of syllables, “的” is required in general.
e.g. Reflection of light 光反射 XX 光的反射 √√
Desires of men ‎人欲望 XX 人的欲望 √√

b. There are exceptions with “的” being optional.‎
e.g. Leather handbags 皮手袋 √√ 皮的手袋 √√
Tails of horses 马尾巴 √√ 马的尾巴 √√

c. In certain phrases, with or without “的” can have different meanings.
e.g. 牛脾气 (stubborn) ≠ 牛的脾气 (temper of cows)

1.(3) 2-syllable NA + 2-syllable N

a. In a non-possessive structure, “的” is optional.
‎e.g. Wooden houses 木头房子 √√ 木头的房子 √√
Historical facts 历史事实 √√ 历史的事实 √√
Omit "的" to enhance the integrity of the entire phrase; Use "的" to emphasize the attributive.

b. In a possessive structure, “的” is usually required.
e.g. Father's habits 父亲习惯 XX 父亲的习惯 √√
Schoolmate's pencils 同学铅笔 XX 同学的铅笔 √√

c. In some exceptions, with or without “的” have different meanings: with "的" - it indicates a possessive structure; without "的" - a non-possessive structure.
e.g. 小孩脾气 (childish temper) ≠ 小孩的脾气 (temper of a child)
儿童玩具 (toys for children) ≠ 儿童的玩具 (children's toys)

1.(4) 2-syllable NA + 1-syllable N

a. These are ‎largely compound nouns, no “的” in general.
e.g. Onion soup 洋葱汤 √√ 洋葱的汤 XX
Pork filling 猪肉馅 √√ 猪肉的馅 XX
Traffic light 交通灯 √√ 交通的灯 XX

b. ‎For those not considered as recognised compound nouns yet, “的” is optional.
e.g. Orange peel 橘子皮 √√ 橘子的皮 √√
Duck meat 鸭子肉 √√ 鸭子的肉 √√

2. Adjective Attributive (AA) + Noun (N)

2.(1) 1-syllable AA + 1-syllable N

These are ‎largely compound nouns, no “的” in general.
e.g. Idler 闲人 √√ 闲的人 XX
Plain water 清水√√ 清的水 XX

2.(2) 1-syllable AA + 2-syllable N

a. If N is tangible, “的” is optional
e.g. Empty boxes 空盒子 √√ 空的盒子 √√
White shirts 白衬衫 √√ 白的衬衫 √√
Hot milk 热牛奶 √√ 热的牛奶 √√

b. If N is intangible, “的” is usually required
e.g. Cooked gradation 熟程度 XX 熟的程度√√
Wrong answers 错答案 XX 错的答案√√

c. Exceptions: compound nouns, no “的”
e.g. Old gentleman 老先生 √√ 老的先生 XX
Soft landing 软着陆 √√ 软的着陆 XX

2.(3) 2-syllable AA + 1-syllable N

This depends on the degree of association between AA and N. If the association is weak, 的 cannot be omitted. Otherwise, omit 的 to enhance the integrity of the entire phrase; Use 的 to emphasize the attributive.
‎e.g. Skillful hands 灵巧手 XX 灵巧的手 √√
‎Interesting books 有趣书 XX 有趣的书 √√
Clever person 聪明人 √√ 聪明的人 √√
Something new 新鲜事 √√ 新鲜的事 √√
(Note: This would be difficult to estimate, so the safer way is not to omit 的.)

2.(4)‎ 2-syllable AA + 2-syllable N

In this category "的" is largely optional.
e.g. Cheap things 便宜东西 √√ 便宜的东西 √√
‎Important issues ‎重要问题 √√ 重要的问题 √√

2.‎(5) multi-syllable AA + 2-syllable N

‎“的” is required.
‎e.g. Very clean clothes 干干净净的衣服 √√ 干干净净衣服 XX
Very dark skin 黑不溜秋的皮肤 √√ 黑不溜秋皮肤 XX

2.(6) AA is non-predicative (i.e. to say Sbj. 不 AA or Sbj. 很 AA are not allowed)

No "的" in general.
e.g. Super Heroes 超级英雄√√ 超级的英雄XX
Public toilet 公共厕所√√ 公共的厕所XX

3. Verb Attributive (AA) + Noun (N)

3.(1) “的” is optional to the limit that the phrase would not be misunderstood as V + Direct Object.**

e.g. 使用的工具 (tools being used) ≠ 使用工具 (to use tools)
管理的资金 (funds being managed) ≠ 管理资金 (to manage funds)
Writing plan 写作的计划 √√ 写作计划 √√
Lifestyle 生活的方式 √√ 生活方式 √√

3.(2) There are exceptions of common noun phrase where no "的" should be used.

e.g. Food colors 食用色素 √√ 食用的色素 XX
Food processor 搅拌机 √√ 搅拌的机 XX

4. Quantitative Attributive (QA) + Noun (N)

No “的” in general.
‎e.g. Two apples 两个苹果 √√ 两个的苹果 XX
Three novels 三本小说 √√ 三本的小说 XX
‎However, if the attributive is restrictive and stating a category of N, “的” becomes mandatory.
e.g. Pigs of 200 kilos 二百公斤猪 XX 二百公斤的猪 √√
‎Electric tension at 110 volts 一百一十伏特电压 XX 一百一十伏特的电压 √√

‎5. Pronoun Attributive (PA) + Noun (N)

5.(1) N is not country, organizations/bodies, family/relatives, “的” is required.

e.g. Their family business 他们的家业 √√ 他们家业 XX
My book 我的书 √√ 我书 XX

5.(2) N is country, organizations/bodies, “的” is optional.

e.g. Your school 你们的学校 √√ 你们学校 √√
Our mother country 我们的祖国 √√ 我们祖国 √√
However, when N is 1-syllable, “的” is not used.
e.g. My country 我国 √√ 我的国 XX
Our factory 我们厂 √√ 我们的厂 XX

5.(3) N is family/relatives

a. If PA is 1-syllable, “的” is optional.
e.g. His brother 他的弟弟 √√ 他弟弟 √√
My mother 我的母亲√√ 我母亲 √√

b. If PA is 2-syllable, “的” is mandatory
e.g. Our younger sister 我们的妹妹 √√ 我们妹妹 XX
Our mother 我们的母亲 √√ 我们母亲 XX

6. Longer noun phrase usually requires “的”

A tall and big structure 又高又大 的 建筑
The time I was visiting the factory 参观工厂 的 时候
A guest who arrived very late 来得很晚 的 客人
The view on this issue 对这个问题 的 看法
The news that I have just heard 我刚才听到的 消息

jiduogongheguo 上传于2011-02-18
December 8, 2017

1 Comment
  • 1496


Ok, just joking. :P The thesis is so verbose that I think these various cases are just making the numbers.

Here is my condensed version:

  • Compound words omit 的 (de). (get a dictionary!)
  • Words with a close relationship also omit 的.
  • For balance in the number of syllables, we also add or omit 的. (practice by reading and speaking more)

(see the provided examples in the topic ;-)

December 8, 2017
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