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:
Which is the correct sentence? And why?
When you want to express possessive relations concerning family members or relatives, you don't need 的.
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.
The omission of
的 is not limited to family relationships. For the sake of scientific rigor, let's make a list of all the ways we can talk about a broken car:
Notice that the sentences vary between the mono-character
我 "my" and the multi-character
我們 "our," as well as between the mono-character
車 "car" and the multi-character
轎車 "sedan." Sentence 1 sounds somewhat ungrammatical in my opinion (not so much in Mandarin, extremely so in Cantonese), sentence 3 sounds slightly contrived but is otherwise acceptable, and the rest are okay.
More fun awaits as we explore non-possessive adjectives:
These are all valid sentences, although the mono-character adjective
紅 "red" seems not favored in this context.
As you can see from our little experiment, there isn't a hard-and-fast rule for
的 is often optional, and its use comes down to what sounds right. The situation is analogous to the confusion English learners have with the articles "a," "an," and "the." The best I can give are rules of thumb:
的must be retained in case of ambiguity. As suggested in Drunken Master's answer, both
你們孩子"your children" or "you children" and
你們的孩子"your children" are grammatically correct. The former can also be
孩子們"children" in the vocative:
你們孩子得起牀啦！"You kids have to get up!"
孩子們得起牀啦！"Kids, (you) have to get up!"
的is likely inserted after multi-character adjectives or before multi-character nouns: compare
粗枝"thick branch" with
的can be dropped to help with pacing, and it's often missing from titles and headlines where succinctness is required. Examples are
戶外活動急救須知"first-aid guidelines for outdoor activities" and
活動工作人員名單"list of people who work at the event," which earn extra points for keeping a two-character rhythm throughout.
的, such as
我/你家"my/your place (literally home),"
我國"my country (in reference to China, as pointed out by Drunken Master in the comments)," and
我方"my side (in a debate)". (Note:
他方means "somewhere far away" and not "his side.")
的 too many times smells like direct translation from other languages. It was common in the early 1900s when writers were trying out a more "modern," "analytic," and "European" style but it's now frowned upon. Here's how you can save on your
公共的廚房裏的銀色的烤箱 "silver-colored oven in the communal kitchen," try
的 connects the two most important components of the phrase.
書本的封面的顏色的色調 "hue of the color of the cover of the book" (an abomination even in English!), consider
書本封面顏色的色調, where all
的 except for the last one are dropped.
Or just go with something like
香港中國文化研究院 "Hong Kong Academy of Chinese Studies (literally institute for research on Chinese culture in Hong Kong)," as mentioned by Wang Dingwei in the comments; it's pretty unambiguous without a single
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Except for the ambiguous cases others have described that only one is correct, the main reason for including or not including 的 is rhythm. This is quite a subtle thing.
Very loose explanation as I'm not a linguist.
As all Chinese characters are single syllable, they all take one unit to pronounce. So people will add/remove words (most likely 的) to keep the rhythm. Eg
In almost all other cases, people use 我国. Here 的 is added only to keep the 3/3 rhythm.
Also similarly I would prefer 现在他想/他的太太 (4/4). Unless there is another preceding sentence, 刚才他想他女儿，现在他想他太太 (7/7)
Once again, there is nothing wrong either way. You can only pick it up subconsciously by talking a lot to natives and gradually mimicking their way to speaking.