There are the simplified rules about never using "shi" to link an adjective with a noun. However, I believe this is not true for facts or perceived facts, such as colors, then I should use "shi" to mean simply "is": When I say: The dog is black: 狗是黑色的.

And cannot say: 狗很黑色

I think when using 很, the meaning changes, it does not mean "IS" anymore. And that is the thing.

Is that correct? I read it in an article but on the other hand, many other articles just mention the simple rule I mentioned above.

  • 1
    狗很黑 is also legit. Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 23:38
  • @Kevin.Fang Is it? According to some mandarin speakers, that is incorrect.
    – John V
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 10:00
  • @user970696 狗很黑 is grammarly legit. But it means "The dog (this species) is generally black" . Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 11:26
  • @TooskyHierot And that is what I mean. So it is not the same and I would like to understand when I need to use 是。。。的.
    – John V
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 11:29
  • @user970696 the meaning of 是...的 always depends other components. when there isn't 这/那 etc. xx 是 xx 的 means the feature/property of its kind. However, if the subject is specified then it means otherwise. But note that, this structure is not common to stand alone as a whole sentence... I've only seen it on children's reading or poorly translated works, like 太阳是红的,花是香的,草儿是绿的 and 上帝说:这是好的 etc. (Not that natural) Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 11:46

3 Answers 3


@user970696 emmm i ve checked all your comments and i guess you are somehow mislead by some strict rules. You may have perceived that 很 more or less conveys comparison. 石炭纪的蕨类植物很大(The Carboniferous ferns are huge in size)(They are considerably huge compared with plants today) 这部电话很白 you more or less emphasize its white color. Why do you say that? The reason may come from the feature of generalized kind. (There are few phones that are so white)or from context (-我这电话买了十年了-那这电话很白啊)(-I bought the phone ten years ago-Oh, it's still that white!(It should looks old after using for so long)) So 我家猫很黑 is not simply "my cat is black". Try to learn different implication of 很:

我养的柴犬很黑(Because Shiba Inu is usually ginger)(So the comparison is between my dog and common Shiba Inu) 我的猫很黑,但毛却发亮(My cat is black, but he has shiny fur)(the comparison is between my cat and common black but dull cat) 蚂蚁很小(Ants are small compared with many animals we often see)

If you just say ...很... without explicit or inexplict comparison, it's correct but just strange.

  • Awkward but very interesting point of view. Thanks! Commented Sep 19, 2018 at 20:52
  • 是 (is) a verb

  • 黑色的 (black) is an adjective phrase

  • 狗 (dog) is a noun

Therefore, '是' (is) certainly can be used with '黑色的狗 ' (black dog) and form the phrase: "是黑色的狗" (is a black dog)

  • '很'(very) is an adverb

Therefore, it can be used with adjective '黑' (black) and form the phrase: "是很黑的狗" (is a very black dog)

'是很黑色的狗' doesn't work because unlike '黑' which can has different degree

'黑色的' is a general description that doesn't has different levels. Any level of black is '黑色的'

  • Thanks but ultimately - is that true because a color is an objective fact? Because normally, most Chinese textbooks teach us: never use "shi" to link an adjective and a noun. Because for other adjectives, e.g. smart,tall or small, "hen" would need to be used.
    – John V
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 19:31
  • In other words - can I say "the sky is blue" and use "hen"?
    – John V
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 19:39
  • Yes, you can use '很' in 天空(subject) 是(verb) 蓝色的(blue) and form the sentence: "天空(subject) 是(verb) 很蓝的 (very blue). " (蓝色的 doesn't work, it is a general description that doesn't has different levels. Any level of blue is '蓝色的', therefore, you can only say '很蓝的' but not '很蓝色的'
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 19:44
  • 1
    @user970696 What you're describing is gradability of adjectives, not objectivity. And in Chinese (just as in English), there are some contexts where you can say "今天天很蓝!"
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 8:19
  • 1
    @user970696 Your issue is that you have misparsed the structure of 蓝色. Colours in Chinese ending 色 can behave as nouns, not just as adjectives.
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 8:35

FWIW, Google translate has:

her story is true - 她的故事是

the cup is empty - 杯子是

the wall is perpendicular - 墙是垂直

是。。。的 turns up in many different contexts, and can be used with any adjective, and with things other than adjectives as well. It is often used for emphasis.

That article (https://www.digmandarin.com/using-hen-with-adjectives.html) is saying that 是。。。的 is the unmarked (default) translation for colours, but there are still circumstances were you could use 很。

In response to your comment: Yes, just use 是。。。的。狗 是 黑色 的。You can use 很 if you want to emphasise the 'very'.

The sky is blue - 天是蓝色的

The sky is very blue today - 今天天很蓝

  • Thanks but that is the thing, I would like to understand where I can and cannot use it. For example, would you say 狗很黑 when describing a dog? From what I read,color is a fact (not relative) and 是。。。的 should be used.
    – John V
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 11:12

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