Adverbs of Degree – Chinese Adverbs

There are 6 types of adverbs and this post will focus on adverbs of degree.

In our tagging system of The Mandarin Blueprint Method Foundation Course, we refer to adverbs as “How-DoesWhat,” because that’s how they function. Adverbs tell you how an individual action takes place. We divide the sentences that contain adverbs into the following categories:

1. Deny 否定 (fǒudìng) – An adverb that denies or negates the action also called a negative adverb

2. How Often 频率 (pínlǜ) – An adverb that shows the frequency of an action also called adverb of frequency 

3. In What Range 范围 (fànwéi) – An adverb that specifies the range of an action or also called scope adverb

4. Time 时间 (shíjiān) – An adverb that adds context to the amount of time that relates to an action can also be named adverb of time

5. To What Degree 程度 (chéngdù) – An adverb that specifies the degree of an action or adverb of degree

6. Tone of Voice 语气 (yǔqì) – An adverb that influences the tone of voice surrounding the action can also be called adverb of mood or modal adverb

The Chinese word for “adverb” is 副词 fùcí, which translates to “‘auxiliary’ or ‘subsidiary’ word.” Considering that you can’t use adverbs alone and must attach them to an action, “subsidiary” is an apt description.

Adverbs of Degree

Many Chinese speakers will use adverbs to specify to what degree an action happens. Did it happen a little bit or a lot? Slightly or massively? Not even in the slightest? Let’s look at these sentences to encapsulate how to use adverbs to indicate differences of degree.

Sentence 1:

我的口很干。 – Level 13
Wǒde kǒu hěn gān.
My mouth is dry.

In the Pronunciation Mastery course, we discuss how “很” (hěn) means “is” when connecting a noun and adjective. In other words, when you say something like ‘我的口很干’ (wǒ de kǒu hěn gàn), the ‘degree’ is neutral. Your mouth isn’t ‘very’ or ‘a little bit’ dry; it’s just dry.

However, when 很 (hěn) comes before a psychological verb like 爱 (ài) – ‘to love,’ then it does mean “very.” For example, 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ) means “I love you,” and 我很爱你 (wǒ hěn ài nǐ) means “I love you very much.”

Sentence 2:

这桌菜非常香。- Level 13
Zhè zhuō cài fēicháng xiāng.
This table of food smells really great.

非 (fēi) means ‘non-‘ and 常 (cháng) means ‘ordinary,’ so the definition of 非常 (fēicháng) is ‘very,’ aka ‘non-ordinarily.’ Amazing how Chinese can make a word as simple as ‘very’ far simpler to understand.

非常 (fēicháng) is, therefore, a degree higher than 很 (hěn). 

Sentence 3 – Adverbs of Degree:

这个医院看起来还干净。- Level 14
Zhèi ge yīyuàn kànqilái hái gānjìng.
This hospital appears decently clean.

Ah, yet another adverb usage of 还 (hái)!In this case, 还 (hái) means “passably, quite.” Imagine someone walking into the hospital and giving a mild nod of approval. They’re not wide-eyed with delighted surprise at the hospital’s cleanliness, but it passes the test.

还 (hái) is a step below 非常 (fēicháng) as a matter of degree.

Sentence 4:

他们真坏。- Level 14
Tāmen zhēn huài.
They’re truly awful.

Just like in English, there is often more than one way to say the same thing in Chinese. Using 真 (zhēn) or 非常 (fēicháng) is virtually the same. Perhaps 真 (zhēn) carries a bit more weight, but the distinction is minimal.

Sentence 5:

她今天看起来太漂亮了。- Level 15
Tā jīntiān kànqilái tài piàoliang le.
She looks too beautiful today.

太 (tài) means “too,” and you can use it both literally and metaphorically. In this sentence, the speaker doesn’t literally mean that ‘she looks too beautiful.’ It’s intended to be hyperbolic. 

When ‘太 (tài) + adjective’ is the predicate of a sentence (as in the above sentence), it gets paired with 了. 太 (le tài) + adj. + 了 (le). However, if you are saying ‘不太 (bù tài) + adjective,’ then never add 了 (le).

Sentence 6 – Adverbs of Degree:

我的妈妈是最美的。- Level 16
Wǒde māma shì zuì měide.
My mom is the most beautiful.

最 (zuì) is the top-shelf of adverbs of degree. It means “most,” so you can’t go any higher. For example:

高 gāo – High — 最高 zuìgāo Highest
好 hǎo – Good — 最好 zuì hǎo Best
美 měi – Beautiful — 最美 zuìměi Most beautiful

Sentence 7:

我白天肚子有点疼。- Level 18
Wǒ báitiān dùzi yǒudiǎn téng.
My stomach was hurting a bit during the day.

We’ve talked about adverbs that increase the degree of an adjective, but what if you want to decrease the degree? 有点! (yǒudiǎn!) 有点 or 有点儿 (yǒudiǎn er) both mean “slightly” or “a bit.” Another way to say it is “有一点 (yǒu yīdiǎn),” which gives a clue to the meaning. “Has (有 yǒu) one (一 yī) bit (点 diǎn).”

Sentence 8:

你一点也不关心我。- Level 18
Nǐ yī diǎn yě bù guānxīn wǒ.
You don’t care about me in the slightest.

Finally, what if you want to emphasize that something is not AT ALL the case? Chinese has a cool structure to express this idea:

一点 (yīdiǎn) – one bit
+ 也 (yě) or 都 (dōu) – also or all
+ 不 (bù) – not
+ Adjective

The above sentence would literally translate to “You one bit also don’t care about me.” Sure, that’s not the way we would express that idea, but it’s quite cutting. If I had “one bit,” I’d “also not” give it to you! Harsh.

There are more adverbs of degree, but these should give you a good kickstart to your pattern recognition.

Chinese Adverbs
5 October , 2020
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