How to use de in Chinese – Chinese Particle 地

This post will explain how to use ‘地 de’ in Chinese, but it first requires a clarification:

“Wait, isn’t 地 pronounced ‘dì’?”

Yes! 地 (dì) is what’s known as a 多音字 duō yīn zì – ‘multiple pronunciation character.’ About 20% of Chinese characters have at least one alternate pronunciation. With rare exceptions, the alternative pronunciation is representative of a different definition.

地 dì – ground or earth

When pronounced ‘dì,’ 地 is NOT a particle, but rather an essential character in many everyday words:

地方 dìfang – place
地址 dìzhǐ – address
地图 dìtú – map
土地 tǔdì – a plot of land

How to Use de in Chinese

地 de – The Chinese Particle That Connects Descriptions and Actions

As you’ll see in the upcoming example sentences, you use the particle ‘地 de’ when you want to turn a description into a description of how an action takes place, aka turning an adjective into an adverb. Let’s check out these examples:

Sentence 1:

司机慢慢地走了过来。 – Level 19
Sījī mànmàn de zǒu le guòlai.
The driver slowly came over.

慢慢 by itself means “slow,” whereas 慢慢地 means “slowly.” Of course, after the “地” (de) you need to add the action (走) that happened slowly.

The opposite of this would be 快快地 kuàikuàide – “quickly.” As you can see, mastery of the Chinese particle ‘地 de’ will provide flexibility in your descriptions of actions.

How to Use de in Chinese – Sentence 2

这个学生在认真地完成作业。 – Level 22
Zhèige xuéshēng zài rènzhēn de wánchéng zuòyè.
This student is studiously finishing the homework.

You can use 认真 (rènzhēn) as a direct description of something, for example:

这个学生很认真。
Zhèige xuéshēng hěn rènzhēn.
This student is conscientious.

The Chinese particle ‘地 de’ allows you to get more specific about where the “conscientiousness” or “studiousness” gets directed. It’s directed at finishing the homework (认真地完成作业).

Sentence 3:

我的狗和小母狗可以开心地在一起玩儿了。 – Level 23
Wǒde gǒu hé xiǎo mǔgǒu kěyǐ kāixīn de zài yìqǐ wánr le. 
Now my dog and the little female dog can happily play together.

This sentence is interesting because we have the particle 地 de & ‘relator (preposition)’ 在 zài both placed before the action. This is fine to do. You could even add further descriptions and still be OK:

我的狗和小母狗可以慢慢地、开心地在一起玩儿了。

For now, take note that it’s possible to have multiple descriptions before the action and see if you notice it moving forward.

As we’ve emphasized before and will continue to stress in the future, grammar is about solidifying what you already know instinctually. Never try to force your brain to understand a grammar rule that you haven’t yet seen in context. It’s a fool’s errand because language isn’t acquired using your rational mind, but instead unconsciously through mass input.

Read more about grammar acquisition in this previous article.

If you keep your focus on INPUT, then these bonus grammar lessons will feel like an enlightening boost as opposed to a confusing academic slog. Hey, that’s why they’re a bonus & not a requirement!

Chinese Particles
27 July , 2020
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