I just happened to randomly come across this question.

What's the difference between 你能看完这本书吗?and 你看得完这本书吗?

To me, they all mean can you finish reading the book, but the former uses result complement and the latter uses potential complement. I am not trying to completely revoke the idea of using potential complement, but still in some cases it just seems replaceable to me.

How do Chinese people distinguish when to use either of the two?

  • former uses modal verb (能愿动词)能, can,be able to,etc + complement of result,(see any grammar on modal/auxiliary verbs),incidentally both 能 and potential complement can be used simultaneously (redundantly)你能看得完这本书吗? When to use which has been discussed at this site (among other places) before
    – user6065
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 6:53
  • As a native speaker, I think they are interchangeable. However, the latter one could also be used to express your doubt about the possibility for him/her to finish reading the book, while the former one usually just be used as a simple question.
    – xbh
    Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 14:29

3 Answers 3


I think basically what you wrote in your question is right.

As for:

What's the difference between 你能看完这本书吗?and 你看得完这本书吗?

Let's remove 这本书. 你能看完吗?vs 你看得完吗?, I can't seize any difference in meaning between them. It's just different syntax being used to express the same semantics. In practice, you can probably replace one with the other without any problems.


They have roughly the same meaning. The former one is a simple question, while the latter emphasizes the question of whether you can complete reading of the book, implying the fact that you're reading the book, but you may not have enough time (or capability) to complete it.


They are same as to the meaning, but different in grammar and style, more specifically, "你能看完这本书吗?" is usually used in speech

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