|广州||Guǎngzhōu||a city in Guangdong province, China|
一 (yī) … (也 yě / 都 dōu) … 不/没 ( bù / méi) is a negative sentence pattern common in everyday Chinese. It expresses that the subject has nothing or not even a single one of something.
This grammar construction typically follows the below pattern:
Subject + 一 (yī) + Measure Word + Noun + (也 yě / 都 dōu) + (不 bù / 没 méi) + Verb
Let’s look at an example:
Tā yī gè rén dōu bù rènshí.
She doesn’t know anyone.
In this sentence, the subject 她 (tā), or “she,” is followed by 一 (yī), then the generic measure word 个 (gè), which precedes the following noun, 人 (rén), meaning “one person.” This clause is followed by the fixed particles 都 (dōu) and 不 (bù), which together mean “none.” The verb 认识 (rènshí), or “to know,” completes the sentence predicate.
Because the 一 (yī) … (也 yě / 都 dōu) … 不/没 ( bù / méi) grammar pattern is used here, we know that the speaker wishes to emphasize that the subject doesn’t even know a single person. In other words, she doesn’t know anyone.
When used in this way, 都 (dōu) and 也 (yě) are usually interchangeable. For example, if the sentence above became “她一个人也不认识” (Tā yī gè rén yě bù rènshí), the meaning would still be “She doesn’t know anyone.”
Let’s look at another example of how this grammar construction can be used to further emphasize a negative fact or idea:
Wǒ yī jù Yīngwén yě bù huì shuō.
I can’t even speak a word of English.
In the sentence above, this grammar structure emphasizes that the speaker cannot speak any English at all. Rather than having elementary or lousy English proficiency, they can’t even speak one word of the language.
When the sentence includes a verb that takes the negative prefix 没 (méi) instead of 不 (bù), replace 不 (bù) with 没 (méi) and keep the rest of the sentence structure the same. For example:
Nàgè nánrén yī kuài qián dōu méiyǒu.
That guy doesn’t even have a dollar.
Because the verb in this sentence is 有 (yǒu), it is correct to use the negative prefix 没 (méi) instead of 不 (bù). Here, this structure emphasizes that the subject doesn’t have any money at all. In other words, he’s not just poor, but he doesn’t have even a buck to his name.
刚 (gāng) and 刚才(gāngcái) are common grammatical terms both used to express that something just happened or happened recently. These words usually appear in the structure below:
Subject + 刚 (gāng) / 刚才(gāngcái) + Verb/Adjective Phrase
While they may appear similar, these two words have important, nuanced differences.
Similar to “just” in English, 刚 (gāng) is an adverb used to modify the timing of a verb. It typically indicates that something happened recently, though the exact time frame depends on how the speaker views the event being discussed. Whether the situation unfolded moments or even months ago, 刚 (gāng) signifies that the event in question feels recent to the speaker.
Let’s take a look at an example:
Yīnwei tā zuìjìn gāng bān dào Běijīng gōngzuò, tā de tóngshì jiù qǐng tā qù cānjiā yī gè jùhuì.
She had recently moved to Beijing for work and her colleagues had invited her to a party.
In the above sentence, the subject 她 (tā) is followed by the adverb 刚 (gāng), and the verb phrase 搬到北京工作 (bān dào Běijīng gōngzuò). Because 刚 (gāng) is used, we know that the speaker’s move to Beijing happened not too long ago, though we aren’t exactly sure when. Regardless of whether it happened days or weeks ago, the move feels recent to the speaker.
Note that (gāng) can also be followed by a specific time to clarify the length of time between a recent event and the time when the discussion of that event is taking place. For example:
Lǎoshī de diànnǎo gāng mǎi le yīgè xīngqí.
The teacher just bought their computer a week ago.
In this sentence, 刚 (gāng) is used before the verb 买 (mǎi) which is followed by the time phrase 一个星期 (yīgè xīngqí). This helps emphasize that the teacher’s computer was bought recently — specifically, one week ago.
刚才 (gāngcái) cannot be used this way, and it would be incorrect to use 刚才 (gāngcái) in the sentence above.
Let’s find out why.
Unlike 刚 (gāng)，刚才 (gāngcái) is a time noun that means “just now,” “moments ago,” or usually within the past 30 minutes. This is the right word to use if you want to specify that something (literally) just happened. For example:
Wǒmen gāngcái chī wán wǎncān le.
We just now finished eating dinner.
In this sentence, 刚才 (gāngcái) is placed between the subject 我们 (wǒmen) and the verb phrase 吃完晚餐了(chī wán wǎncān le). This clarifies that the act of eating dinner just happened, likely minutes before the speaker uttered this sentence.
In another usage, 刚才 (gāngcái) can be placed directly before the possessive particle 的 (de) to modify the following noun and indicate that whatever is being discussed occurred just now.
Here’s an example:
Gāngcái de qíngkuàng wǒ bù tài liǎojiě.
I don’t know much about what just happened.
Here, 刚才 (gāngcái) is used to modify the noun 情况 (qíngkuàng), meaning “situation,” to clarify that it appeared or occured just now. Note that 刚 (gāng), however, has no such use, and it would be incorrect to use 刚 (gāng) in the sentence above.
In Chinese, verbs take complements to indicate whether or not a certain result can be achieved.
Remember, a verb complement is a word, phrase, or clause that follows a verb to modify it and add more information about the action.
Before reading on, first note that potential complements work similarly to the result complements that you learned about in HSK 2. 见 (jiàn), 到 (dào) and 完 (wán) are common result complements that appear directly after a verb to indicate its completion or incompletion, for example 看见 (kànjiàn; to see) or 听到 (tīngdào; to hear).
More advanced than result complements, Chinese potential complements utilize the particles 得 (dé) and 不 (bù) to further modify a verb. They typically follow this general structure:
Subj. + Verb + 得/不 + Potential Complement
Note that the potential complement can be either an adjective or verb that further modifies the preceding verb.
Let’s look at a simple example (and also one of the first phrases that beginner Mandarin students learn):
Wǒ tīng bù dǒng.
I don’t understand (what I am hearing).
In this sentence, the subject 我 (wǒ; I) is followed by the verb 听 (tīng; to hear/listen). The negative particle 不 (bù; no, not, don’t) connects the verb with its result complement, the modifying verb 懂 (dǒng; to understand).
Here, 不懂 (bù dǒng) forms a negative result complement that describes the preceding verb, 听 (tīng), therefore expressing that the subject doesn’t understand what they are hearing.
In order to switch this negative sentence to an affirmative sentence, replace 不 (bù) with 得 (dé):
Wǒ tīng dé dǒng.
I understand (what I am hearing).
Potential complements can also be formed by placing 得 (dé) or 不 (bù) between a verb and an adjective. Here’s an example:
Nǐ shuō dé duì.
In this affirmative sentence, the subject 你 (nǐ) is followed by the verb 说 (shuō). Because the verb is followed by 得 (dé), the adjective at the end of the sentence, 对 (duì; right), functions as a complement modifying the verb.
We therefore know that the speaker wishes to state that what the other person said is correct.
Let’s take a look at an example with the negative prefix 不 (bù), followed by an adjective:
Wǒ tīng bù qīngchǔ.
I cannot hear clearly.
Potential complements also work in sentences with objects. Sometimes the object appears after the verb complement, like in the following example:
Wǒ mèimei kàn bù dǒng Zhōngwén de shū.
My little sister can’t understand (read) Chinese books.
In this sentence, the potential complement phrase 看不懂 (kàn bù dǒng) is followed by the object 中文的书 (Zhōngwén de shū).
In other instances, the object can appear before the verb complement, such as in the following sentence:
Zhè fèn gōngzuò Wáng Xiānshēng huì zuò dé hǎo.
Mr. Wang will do this job well.
While they may seem daunting at first, complements are extremely common in everyday Chinese and, with a little practice, will start to come naturally the more often you use the language.
Work on integrating potential complements into your Chinese repertoire and impress your native-speaking friends!