I've read the two different sentences, of which one uses "他的太太" and the other uses "他太太". How can I tell the difference between the two?

For example, in the following sentence:

  • 现在他想他的太太。
  • 现在他想他太太。

Which is the correct sentence? And why?

up vote 9 down vote accepted

When you want to express possessive relations concerning family members or relatives, you don't need 的.

我妈妈,你爸爸,她男朋友,我们家老大, etc.

I have done some searches with different expressions with and without 的, and I see that this rule is not applied consistently.

EDIT: There are ambiguous cases, e.g. 你们孩子 could mean "You children" or "Your children" (with plural you in both cases, of course). In such cases 你们的孩子 would make it clear what the speaker means.

  • Thanks. Is it still better to use even in cases to express "possessive relations concerning family members or relatives"? Which is more widely used? – Blaszard Nov 17 '14 at 4:40
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    @Gardecolo Omit them. Chinese speakers are like English speakers, they are lazy and try to avoid long constructs. You will get a feel for this after a while (through reading and listening you will notice when you can use/should not use 的). Chinese relies heavily on context, but sometimes you will need to use that 的 to make it clear. Another example 我们老师 could mean 'our teacher' but also ‘we teachers'. If you need to make it clear that you are not referring to yourselves as teachers, use 的. – Drunken Master Nov 17 '14 at 8:51

The omission of is not limited to family relationships. Consider

  1. *我車壞了。
  2. 我的車壞了。
  3. 我們車壞了。
  4. 我們的車壞了。
  5. 我車子壞了。
  6. 我的車子壞了。
  7. 我們車子壞了。
  8. 我們的車子壞了。

In my opinion, (1) sounds extremely ungrammatical, (3) sounds slightly contrived but otherwise acceptable, and the others are perfectly grammatical. There are also fixed expressions like 我國 (my country; compare 'the US navy' with 我國海軍) and 我方 (my side in a debate) which I'm not going to go into.

More fun awaits as we explore non-possessive adjectives:

  1. 紅色車壞了。
  2. 紅色的車壞了。
  3. 紅色車子壞了。
  4. 紅色的車子壞了。

These are all valid sentences, although it seems the mono-character adjective is generally not favored in this context.

I don't think I can give you a hard-and-fast rule for when is needed. The situation is somewhat similar to the confusion learners of English have with articles. must be inserted in case of ambiguity (e.g. 你們孩子 vs 你們的孩子, as suggested by Drunken Master, although the former might be better replaced by 孩子們 in the vocative), and likely to be inserted after multi-character adjectives or before multi-character nouns. is optional in many cases though; using too much makes you sound distinctively like someone who's translating word-for-word from English.

I think the bottom line is how the sentence sounds like. could be dropped if it helps the pace of the sentence, or if you're writing a news headline and have to be frugal with characters. In any event, do not write something like 書本的封面的顏色的色調 (a direct translation of 'hue of the color of the cover of the book') like the authors in the early 1900s.

  • I would say 我国 and 我方 always translate as 'our country' and 'our party/side', i.e. plural and not singular, and particularly 我国 would very likely refer to China. I agree with the last paragraph, stuffing too much 的s into a sentence would make it sound rather awkward. – Drunken Master Nov 16 '14 at 21:33
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    In the case of 我车坏了, we normally interpreted it as 我[subject]车坏了[predictive], so 车 doesn't necessarily belong to 我. The 车坏了 part is called a 主谓谓语. – Wang Dingwei Nov 17 '14 at 1:43
  • @WangDingwei I'm not an expert on Chinese grammar, but I think both the interpretations, 我||车坏了 and 我车||坏了, are normal. The entry of 主谓短语 on Wikipedia offers an example: 他||身體很強壯, 他身體||很強壯. – Stan Nov 17 '14 at 2:10
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    @WangDingwei well, that sounds like a meta-grammatical topic on "which kind of grammar rules is more proper". Your opinion is the role of grammatical structure should be affected by the phrase's meaning besides its part-of-speech property. But at least some grammarians don't like that, so we can see the example on Wikipedia I mentioned. I think there's no flaw in considering 我車壞了 an equivalent omitted form of 我的車壞了. I admit this kind of convenience on grammar would cause discomfort on language intuition. – Stan Nov 17 '14 at 3:26
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    @Stan It may well be. The omitted 的 is something frequently seen in Chinese. But the wikipedia page doesn't look professional enough. Of the 8 listed references, none is directly related to the Chinese language, and I doubt the author has read any of them. One external link points to 香港中國文化研究院, and the examples in the link seems to back my opinion. It could be more convincing if you can provide more sources. – Wang Dingwei Nov 17 '14 at 4:45

As a native speaker of Chinese, here is what I can say:

When referring to people, we often skip "的". For example, 他太太,他父亲,你女儿... When referring to things, we almost always use "的". Otherwise, it sounds really weird. For example, 你的车子,他的学校,他的袜子...

Welcome to contact me for more language questions: andykang151@gmail.com

As another native Mandarin speaker, I think there really isn't any difference between.... 我的车坏了 versus 我车坏了

When in writing however, it's better to use the formal way: 我的车坏了.

In my case, when speaking, I usually get lazy and try to omit as much as I can without changing the meaning of the sentence, so both of the examples above means the same thing.

In China, people usually speak 的 very quickly and in a low volume. So in oral Chinese, many people omit 的 in many situations.

的 is often kept in written Chinese, such as newspaper, literature and some other official publications although sometimes 的 is omitted for convenience.

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