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I know that, when expressing possessives, we add 的 to the usual personal pronouns, such as 我的.

However, in a question in my grammar textbook I saw:

你爸爸忙吗? = Is your father busy?

Why not "你爸爸忙吗?"?

Are there any other exceptional or particular uses of 的 that are worth being mentioned here?

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4 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

When 的 is used for possession or 's, it is often omitted in speaking when it's the subject of a sentence. For example:

她(的)家很漂亮/她(的)家很漂亮 = Her house/home is beautiful.
你(的)電腦很慢/你(的)电脑很慢 = Your computer is really slow.
他(的)新車很貴/他(的)新车很贵 = His new car is quite expensive.

But 的 is usually kept when it's the object of a sentence.

我喜歡他的車/我喜欢他的车 = I like his car.

But then, again as in any language, there is always exceptions :(

For example: 我去過他(的)家/我去过他(的)家 = I've been to his house.

And because of this omission, interesting sentences like this one can come up occasionally in daily conversation:

他媽的洋裝很高雅/他妈的洋装很高雅 = His mother's dress is very elegant.

If you say this out loud, most Chinese people would pick up "他媽的" (damn, sh*t, bloody, f*cking depending on context) and think you are cursing for a split second before you finish the sentence. While this is not a serious problem in casual conversation, one way to avoid this awkward confusion is to explicitly say "他媽媽的".

Added simplified Chinese after the original examples in Traditional Chinese as requested.

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actually, 他妈妈的 is almost the same meaning with 他妈的, oops ... –  AntiGameZ Dec 14 '11 at 16:09
    
Interesting, I've never come across the usage of 他媽媽的 in offensive/cursing manner. Having said that, if one says "他媽媽的洋裝", it'd be less likely to be taken as offensive when the words come out of your mouth. –  Georgeee Dec 14 '11 at 16:14
    
It depends on the tongue and context. If you say 他妈的洋装 and people talked to feel offensive, then your change to say 他妈妈的洋装 won't help you out of the embarrassment. –  AntiGameZ Dec 14 '11 at 16:19
    
Thanks, nice answer... Are you using Traditional characters? –  Alenanno Dec 14 '11 at 20:29
    
@Alenanno Yes, I use Traditional characters (^_^) Feel free to drop me a line if you need any help with it. –  Georgeee Dec 14 '11 at 22:51
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Both 你爸爸忙吗? and 你的爸爸忙吗? are possible. Perhaps because of high degree of collocation that gets elided. In Chinese it is usually possible to express something similar to a genitive without in between. I think instead of two nouns in a genitive relation, it becomes a single compound noun instead. Semantically equivalent but the grammatical make up behind it is slightly different.

Consider:

我的国家 > 我国

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I think 我的国家 is more emotional and usually used in written chinese or you make a speech. –  AntiGameZ Dec 14 '11 at 16:12
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I think the omitting of "的" of possessives in object of a sentence is done by following situations:

  • a person have some relationship with preceding person
  • or just some place after a movement "去、来、上、下、到"
  • or some words preceding by attribute "这,那"

e.g.

  • places: "去你家","来我国","去他办公室","去他车上","到我这里"
  • relationships: "问她爸","找他小孩",”看望他奶奶“
  • attribute: "坐他那车", "用我这笔"

and add "的" if followed by other things "坐他的车", "找她的笔", "用你的电脑", "讲他的笑话".

and more. you can omit the one if it's still the attribute of following words. "坐他(的)车的后座", "用你(的)电脑的主机", "找她(的)钢笔的套子"

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May I make a suggestion here. While I find this is a good answer, I think it'd be helpful to those that are learning the language if you could provide English translation for any Chinese examples given in your answer. –  Georgeee Dec 14 '11 at 23:26
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Since you are asking "exception in the use of 的", just thought worth mentioning other meanings of here.

  • 的(dí) means indeed. For example: 的确

  • 的(dì) means object/aim/target/goal. For example: 目的

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