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I have the following sentences:

你是哪一天出生的? (sentence 1)

I'm trying to understand why 的 is being used in this sentence. I know it is used to express possession, but I'm not sure that's the case is this example.

我们什么时候开始的? (sentence 2)

In this case, the 的 seems to be functioning an aspect particle to indicate a past event. Is this correct? Can 的 be used like 了?

前天你什么时候来的这里? (sentence 3)

Is 的 functioning like an aspect particle in this case?


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The full sentence is actually 你是哪一天出生的人? But in cases like this, 人 is always omitted. –  Alex Su May 27 '13 at 4:44
BTW, be careful of the difference of 那/哪, though they are often used in a wrong way even for native speakers. 那 means that and 哪 means which/where/what. So, you should say 你是哪一天出生的?---if you want to express On what date were you born?. –  Stan May 27 '13 at 6:13
@Stan, you have made a good point. I have deleted my answer. amorimluc, you should take a look at [this ](eastasiastudent.net/china/putonghua/shi-de-construction) . Sorry, I don't have time to write it down as answer. –  Question Overflow May 27 '13 at 14:52
@QuestionOverflow that article is a very good answer to this question. –  Stan May 27 '13 at 15:39
@Stan you are correct. Chinese typo. Thx –  amorimluc May 28 '13 at 0:00

3 Answers 3

的 at the end of sentences can be seen in really a lot of cases. Here are just two cases I can think of at the moment:

case 1. 你(是)哪一天出生的?

This question asks about an event which happened in the past. Note it often comes with 是.

If we omit both 是 and 的, it will become 你哪一天出生?This sounds a little weird, because generally the new version means an event to happen in the future, but in the context people understand this is asking about an event in the past.


A. 他(是)哪天来的?- asking about an event in the past.

B. 他哪天来?- asking about an event to happen in the future.

Another example:


There isn't 是 or 的, but people understand it without a problem and this is used a lot. It's also very common to see 他(是)(在)20年前出生的。

case 2. 树叶是绿的。 - The leaves are green.

This sentence describes the current status, or the general case.

Generally people don't say 树叶绿 as a standalone sentence, because it is incomplete. However this fragment can be used in poems or nursery rhymes(儿歌,童谣), for example:


If people say 树叶绿了, this means "the leaves turned green" or "the leaves have turned green".

Note: in Chinese, there are a lot phrasal patterns, like 在 ... 以后, 从 ... 中, 虽然 ... 但是, 不是 ... 而是, and a lot others.

是...的 is one of the most used phrasal patterns. Its structure is

Subject + 是...的 (是 sometimes can be omitted)

This structure can be used to give general descriptions, or to describe events which happened in the past, or to express possibility of something to happen in the future.


他(是)前天来的。- describe past event
我(是)坐车来的。- describe past event
我们(是)一起来的。- describe past event
我(是)喝着草原的羊奶长大的。- describe past event
我的一个朋友是被他的女友杀害的。- describe past event. 是 not omitted before 被
我(是)不会弃我的目标的。- express willingness
我看,他(是)不会来的。- express possibility of future event

Although we can sometimes omit 是 from the 是...的 pattern, but we don't ommit 的。We can say, 树叶是绿色的。But we can't say 树叶是绿色。 Because 绿色 is the name of the color (green), and 树叶 is not a type of color. Just like in English, we say "the leaves are green", where green is an adj. But we don't say "the leaves are green color", while we can say "the leaves are of green color". Here the word "of" servers a very similar function as 的 in 树叶是绿色的。

The 是-omitted variation is used in poems a lot. In the following examples, 是 is omitted:

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The syntactic structure of 你哪一天出生? is "你(subject, 主语) + 哪一天(what date OR when. Adverbial phrase, 状语) + 出生(verb, 谓语)"; however, for 你是哪一天出生的?, it is "你(subject) + 是(verb) + 哪一天出生的(object, 宾语)". So, you cannot consider 你哪一天出生? is just short for 你是哪一天出生的?. –  Stan May 27 '13 at 16:14
Hi @Stan , you're probably right about the syntax. Being not a language teacher I just don't consider syntax most of the time, so subconsciously I was talking more about the meaning. –  golddc May 28 '13 at 2:18
That's why I thought the "ommit" looked so weird! Thanks @孤影萍踪 . –  golddc May 29 '13 at 1:59
+1 for good examples and refinement :) –  Stan May 29 '13 at 10:05

I think those sentence can be "completion" to


你   哪一天出生    


我们  什么时候开始   这件事


前天你 什么时候来     这里?

"前天" means a time, now we can ignore it.

X  Y  Z
Which means
X is one of Z, but a "special" Z, that can be describe by Y.


  1. 草*绿色
  2. 绿色*植物
  3. Grass 是 green 的 plant.
  4. Grass is one of plants, And it is green.
  5. The grass is green plant.

    of course, "grass" is a "plant", 草 is a 植物, so

  6. The grass is green.
Every Y part can be remove:

  1. 草是植物。
  2. Grass is a plant.

And Y part can be a question:

  1. 草是什么颜色的?
  2. 草是什么颜色的*植物*?
  3. Grass 是 what color 的 plant?
  4. Grass is one of plants, And what color of it?
  5. What color is the plant grass.
  6. What color is the grass.

All your 3 sentences is Past Tense. but these pattern can also use in “Present Tense”(or some others?), as my example.

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I think chinese language is not strict in grammar, so ,just remember more sentences . and 100 years ago, we didn't use "的" in chinese.

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We did use 的 in Chinese, though it wasn't used as an auxiliary word. 《中庸》小人之道,的然而日亡。《史記·司馬相如·上林賦》皓齒粲爛,宜笑的皪。 –  Stan Jun 1 '13 at 6:02
Chinese language appears not strict in grammar only after you mastered it. –  NS.X. Jun 1 '13 at 9:30
Either Modern Chinese or Classical Chinese do have some grammar rules though... :-/ –  Mike Manilone Jun 1 '13 at 10:57

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