This question is related to the Verb + Result Complement discussed here, but I think it's different.

Here are my instructions*:

Change the following into interrogative sentences (a) with a potential complement and then give negative answers to them (b)

请把下列问句改成带可能补语的问句, 并用否定句回答:

(5) 你能拿来那本书吗?

So I feel comfortable with part (a), I think to make a potential complement it's all about 得. Correct me if I'm wrong:

(5a) 你能拿来那本书吗?

But I struggle with part (b). I know to give a negative Result Complement, we use Verb + 不 + Result Complement. However, the use of 能源动词 "能" is begging to be negated (maybe my instinct is wrong...).

Should I put 不 between 那_来?

(5b) 我能拿来那本书。

...or 不 before 能:

(5b) 我能拿得来那本书。

This lesson is teaching me the former, but it feels awkward to leave a "positive" 能 in there...

By the way, what kind of rude person says "No, I cannot bring the book"?! (Just kidding... kinda. Maybe this person is physically incapable of bringing the book?)

*I promise you're not helping me cheat, I study Chinese on my own :)

  • it seems grammars usually discuss use of 能源动词 "能" or potential complement but not both at the same time, thus possible answers may be (a)你拿得来那本书吗,(b)我拿不来那本书, however it seems 能 and p.c.are often used together as in given answers 5a and second choice for 5b
    – user6065
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 5:50
  • OK, so your vote is my second choice of 5b; 不能。In fact my grammar book (New Chinese 300 - a Beginning Language Course) explicitly discusses "both at same time": "A potential complement can be formed by using the structural particle 得 before ... A modal verb may be used before the verb in that this type of sentences for emphasis" 补语前加结构助词“得” 就构成可能补语。。。有时为了加重语气可以在动词前加能愿动词。“ Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 6:06
  • glad to learn about grammar discussing "both at same time", 1st choice for 5b would say: "I can cannot get the book" which seems to argue against it
    – user6065
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 6:26
  • 1
    Indeed, as you said, 可能补语 it's about 得. But (5a) actually means "Are you able to bring that book?" – the speaker is concerned by the ability but not the willingness, maybe the book is too heavy or too large or by other factors that would prevent you from bringing it to me? Thus, (5a) changes the meaning of (5) and sounds a little weird without context. Anyhow "我能拿不来那本书" is wrong, "我不能拿得来那本书" is grammatically correct but still unnatural, and "我拿不来那本书" would be the best negative answer to (5a) (though I'm confused why unable.)
    – Stan
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 6:53
  • 1
    since 我能拿得来那本书 is acceptable as 加重语气 version, your second choice would seem permissible and also function as 加重语气 version, but to me as superficial reader still sounds unfamiliar
    – user6065
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 6:58

2 Answers 2


As far as I can tell, the question does not require you to leave the 能 in the sentence. Since the 能 is already implied by the 可能补语 structure, the most natural way to solve your problem would be to leave off the 能:


By the way, to me it sounds more natural to move the object to the start of the sentence:


... but it's grammatically correct either way.

  • 1
    not required but there seems to be an unlimited supply of examples (on the web) of the combined use of "能" and also "不能"(apparently more restricted)and the affirmative form "得+结果补语/趋向补语"of one of 3 types of 可能补语 (the other 2 types mainly used in negated form) according to quoted text exhibiting 加重语气, for "不能"try jukuu: 不能负担得起,不能想得起,
    – user6065
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 13:33
  • 1
    Thanks to @user6065 , Stan, and KWeiss . In summary, 能拿不来 is definitely wrong. Omitting 能 in reply altogether : 拿不来 sounds the best -- especially with object at start of sentence. We think 不能拿(得)来 may be correct (but awkward) And I think everyone is stumped why someone would be unable of bringing the book :) Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 16:15
  • I seem to remember seeing a sentence somewhere which would be like "wo bu neng na bu lai na ben shu", the verb in the sentence was kan, it had to do with understanding characters. It was in my textbook IIRC... is that correct? Felt strange to me...
    – MickG
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 22:11
  • 我不能拿不来那本书 seems possible: I cannot not be able to get the book, i.o.w. I must be able to get it.(double negation)
    – user6065
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 1:14
  • 我不能拿不来那本书 is a possible sentence, but it means something like "I can't allow myself not to be able to bring the book". The meaning of 能 (and the whole sentence) changes.
    – KWeiss
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 16:48

拿somehow sounds awkward. I would say depends on the situation, use different verb. 我不能把那本书带来 (I haven't finished yet, so I can't lend it to you.) 那本书我拿不出来 (It's a rare book and locked up for safekeeping.) 那本书我现在取不了 (The library is closed. Or my buddy is not home.)

  • Thanks; pointing out that 拿 is awkward in general; in your example, the English reason sounds like an extreme scenario (the book is locked up). The three verbs you explained (and in what context): 1) (不能) 把 (来) 2) 拿 [不](出来) 3) 取 . [不了] Commented May 4, 2016 at 1:53

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