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?

7 Answers 7


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, 2014 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.
    – imrek
    Nov 17, 2014 at 8:51
  • @Blaszard I would omit 的 in such expressions, but in case of writing, you would normally include 的。
    – zyy
    Nov 19, 2018 at 16:22

The omission of 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:

  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. 我轎車壞了。
  6. 我的轎車壞了。
  7. 我們轎車壞了。
  8. 我們的轎車壞了。

Notice that the sentences vary between the mono-character "my" and the multi-character 我們 "our," as well as between the mono-character "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:

  1. 紅色車壞了。
  2. 紅色的車壞了。
  3. 紅色轎車壞了。
  4. 紅色的轎車壞了。

These are all valid sentences, although the mono-character adjective "red" seems not favored in this context.

As you can see from our little experiment, there isn't a hard-and-fast rule for . 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:

  1. 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!"
  2. is likely inserted after multi-character adjectives or before multi-character nouns: compare 粗枝 "thick branch" with 粗大的樹枝 "thick branch."
  3. 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.
  4. There are fixed expressions without , 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.")

Using 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 :

  1. Instead of 公共的廚房裏的銀色的烤箱 "silver-colored oven in the communal kitchen," try 公共廚房裏的銀色烤箱, where connects the two most important components of the phrase.

  2. Instead of 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 except for the last one are dropped.

  3. 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 !

  • 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.
    – imrek
    Nov 16, 2014 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. Nov 17, 2014 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, 2014 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, 2014 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. Nov 17, 2014 at 4:45

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.


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: [email protected]


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

厉害了/我的国 (3/3)

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.


both are correct.

simply put,you can think "他太太" and "他的太太" mean the same :"his wife"


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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