7

Beginning textbooks say 很好 means "very good," but soon add that 很 is usually just there to balance the phrase and does not really mean "very" in this context. S.Rhee's comment cites a much fuller explanation of this grammatical point.

Can 很好 be used, for example, to simply say a young student's behavior is "good enough" without saying "really good"? For comparison I think of the French phrase "assez bon" which a dictionary will say means "good enough," but in fact it is a criticism meaning "hardly good at all."

Actually grammarians have a concept of dubitative particle, for a word that makes a superficially affirmative sentence express doubt. The French "assez" often does this. I wonder if 很 does this in Chinese, by highlighting that you have not said 非常 or 真的 or other things you could just as easily say.

I do know that when people say 你普通话说得很好 it is a compliment, not an implied critique. But of course when they say it to me it is merely kind, not true at all, and it never means 真的好.

Question Question about "很好" deals with this phrase but only in the context of a greeting and reply.

  • when to use adjectives without any degree adverb is basic grammar,e.g. "实用现代汉语语法"196页:性质形容词单独作谓语也有一定的限制,一般只能用于对照、比较的情况。例如:1。这件衣服短,那件衣服长。这是因为汉语的形容词本身包含比较的意思。上述句子中"短"的意思是"比较短","长"的意思是"比较长"。又如:2。这个孩子人小志气大。3。外边风大,快进来吧。4。甲:黑龙江冷还是新疆冷?乙:当然黑龙江冷。在比较句中的形容词也属于这种情况:5。我们班小刘比小张高。在没有对照、比较意味的句子里,只用一个性质形容词作谓语,会使人感觉句不完整。所以要在形容词前加上程度副词"很"。如"今天很冷"、"他学习很好",这里的"很"表程度的意思很弱。在形容词前加上其他副词或其他成分也可以,如"外边风特别大"、"他哥哥非常聪明"。 – user6065 Jun 12 '15 at 20:49
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    Chinese also has a term for "good enough" that has negative connotations: 差不多 (chàbuduō). – hippietrail Nov 18 '18 at 12:48
  • @hippietrail Yes! To my regret I once used that when before I realized how negative it could seem. – Colin McLarty Nov 18 '18 at 18:40
5

I made mention of this on my answer to a different question here (which I'll repeat here for your benefit): https://chinese.stackexchange.com/a/890/166

In general, adjectives in Chinese do not need to have 很 to be used predicatively (and thus 很 is not be considered a copula); however the lack of 很 gives the implication of contrast by default. Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar by Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington explains it in this way:

The presence of these degree adverbs and complements removes any implication of contrast that is latent in an unmarked predicative adjective.

If somebody says:

这本字典好。 zhèi běn zìdiǎn hǎo. This dictionary is good.

the speaker must be understood to be implying that some other dictionary is not as good as this one. In fact the degree verb 很 hěn 'very', unless it is emphasised, does not really mean 'very', and its integration into adjectival predicative is more often than not to counteract an implication of contrast.

4

很 has a particular auxiliary function which is that it makes adjectives (形容词) capable of being used as predicates. You use it, if there is no 不,真 or 太 as adverb before the adjective. In this case, 很 does not intensify the meaning and should usually not be translated.

E.g.

今天大家都很累。– Everybody is tired today. [NOT 今天大家都累。]

我很忙。– I am busy. [NOT 我忙。]

你的问题很复杂。– Your question is complex. [NOT 你的问题复杂。]

  • Well yes. My question alludes to such usage. But does 你的问题很复杂 suggest the question is not really complex, since if it were the speaker would say 真的复杂? – Colin McLarty Jun 12 '15 at 18:01
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    I don't think this usage would by default indicate the opposite, i.e. to say the meaning of 你的问题很复杂。is 'Your question is complex.', it certainly does not mean 'Your questions is very complex.', and it also does not mean 'Your question isn't very complex.' If you want to express 'very complex, use 真的 before 很复杂, or if you want to say 'Your question is not very complex.', use 不是: 你的问题不是很复杂。 – Drunken Master Jun 12 '15 at 18:14
  • Everybody is tired today can also be translated to 今天大家都累了 – User2012384 Jun 13 '15 at 2:03
  • @User2012384 There is a slight variance in the meaning ('I am tired today' vs. 'I got tired today'). Besides, the predicate now has adjective + 了, so it's more than just a single adjective, that would require some modifier like 很 to be "predicate-capable". – Drunken Master Jun 13 '15 at 3:57
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    You may want to see this slightly more linguistic discussion on Language Log. – Michaelyus Jun 15 '15 at 11:52

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