的 (de) - a structural particle in Chinese
的 (de) is the number one most frequently used Chinese character today. It is also the most useful structural particle. This character is so prevalent and so useful.
Unfortunately, many students got the wrong idea that 的 (de) means possessive. It is because they usually learn 的 (de) when they are learning 我的 (wǒ de) and 你的 (nǐ de).
It is like this:
When students continue to learn more Chinese, many of them have to unlearn the meaning of 的 (de) as possessive, and re-learn the usage of 的 (de).
的 (de) has grammatical functions only, and it is not to be used stand alone. Its primary function is associative, attaching information to objects or things.
Used with things or objects
的 (de) is often used with things or objects, adding more information to these things or objects.
Associating a person “I” with an object “mobile phone”, i.e. “my mobile phone”.
Associating a colour “red” with an object “skirt”, i.e. “red skirt”.
Associating a size “big” with a place “bedroom”, i.e. “big bedroom”.
Note that, when the information attached contains only one Chinese character, 的 (de) is omitted.
Used with people or people related entities
When 的 (de) is used with people, such as “father”, “wife” or people related entities, such as “company”, “home”, it can be omitted.
For example both of the following expressions are correct:
我哥哥 (wǒ gē ge)
我的哥哥 (wǒ de gē ge)
Associating a person “I” with another person “brother”, i.e. “my brother”. I don’t own my brother. I am associated with him.
他公司 (tā gōng sī)
他的公司 (tā de gōng sī)
Associating a person “he” with a people related entity “company”, i.e. “his company”. He may not own the company. He only works there. He is associated with that company.
Used in structures
Besides attaching more information to things or people, 的 (de) is also very useful in some important structures, such as:
是他写的。(shì tā xiě de.)
It is him who wrote it.
我是上个月来的。(wǒ shì shàng gè yuè lái de.)
It is last month that I came.
不可以的! (bù kě yǐ de!)
It’s now allowed!
一样的! (yī yàng de!)
When 的 (de) is not needed
In set phrased or fixed expressions, 的 (de) is not needed.
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