When I was trying to make this sentence : "It seems like I can't get good score even though I study hard/我虽然努力学习,但是我好像还不能得到好成绩 (I don't know if my sentence is correct tho)",

I found this word 得不到 (Idk whether it's a verb/idiom/something). If 得不到 can be used as a verb, can I change my sentence into : "...但是我好像还得不到好成绩"?

Also, I wonder why it is 得不到, not 不得到... Could you please help explain it to me? Thank you.

  • 1
    need 得不到 (not 不得到), see grammar on potential complements, 可能补语, difference between potential complement and modal verb (能愿动词)能,often discussed at this site before
    – user6065
    Sep 18, 2018 at 21:56
  • Oh God, I just knew there's a grammar about potential complement. Thank you for informing me! I'll check it out.
    – Agnes
    Sep 18, 2018 at 22:13

2 Answers 2


I like to distinguish verbs of more than one character in two categories:

可分離 (You can separate the two parts and put a character in the middle)

不可分離 (Strictly forbidden to separate the two. They need to be together)

In the 可分離 category you will find:

  • 動賓 (Verb + Object)
  • 動詞 + 結果補語 (Verb + Result complement)

得到 is a verb with a 結果補語 (result complement). For this kind of verb, the first character carry the main verb part. The second character is the result. You can negate the result if the result is not achieved by adding 不. Or you can emphasize the success of the action or ask a question about whether it succeeded or not by adding 得. Remember that this kind of verbs is special because you can always separate the two parts adding either "不" or "得" in the middle.

說出來 -> 說不出來, 說得出來
吃下 -> 吃不下,吃得下
撇清 -> 撇得清,撇不清
聽懂 -> 聽得懂,聽不懂
離開 -> 離得開,離不開
記住 -> 記得住,記不住

You can see that 到,出來,下,清,懂,開,住 are all results here.

得到 seems a bit special, because the verbal part is already "得". You can say 得不到,but 得得到 is strange!


動賓 (Verb Object) is also interesting:

見面 -> 見個面
吃飯 -> 吃個飯

This time, you can separate them to add a measure word. And when you think about it, it makes sense: you can count the object part.

動賓 are special because the "object slot" after the verb is already busy. It means it's forbidden to add a second object immediately after. 「我想見面王先生」 is wrong.「面」already occupies the "object slot". So you can't add「王先生」since it's a second object. Instead, you need to use another construction which separates the two objects:「 我想跟王先生見面」

我想吃飯麵糰 is also wrong for the same reason. Here, so as to make the "object slot" free for what you want, you can actually remove the「飯」part. 我想吃麵糰 This technique can also be used with 見面. You can make the "object slot" free by removing「面」. This will allow you to put your own object right after the verb. 我想見王先生

Think of the objects in the Verb Object category (面,飯) as a default object if you don't want to specify one. This allows the verb to still be a bigram so that it becomes a bit longer and easier to pronounce and to understand.

That explains why when we say 我想吃飯, it doesn't necessarily mean that we are going to eat rice. Rice was just the default object as we didn't specified our own. It only means "I want to eat."


But it could also be that the object we want to select happens to be the default one! Then the sentence above could also mean "I want to eat rice".

不可分離 category


You'll see that no matter what, the two characters need to be together for the verb to be complete. They can't be separated, because they are both part of the verb meaning. You can not put any 個,得 or 不 in the middle.

  • OMG! Thank you so so so so so much!!!! I have been wondering about that 得得到 for the whole day! Glad you explained about them to me, in a very very detailed way. Anyway, about the 得得到, does that mean we can just use 得到 (and any other words that already contain 得) to express potential/result complement without having to add 得?
    – Agnes
    Sep 20, 2018 at 8:58
  • Also, if we use grammatical structures like 虽然, do we always have to use it together with this potential/result complements?
    – Agnes
    Sep 20, 2018 at 9:02
  • @Agnes Note that I'm not a native speaker. I've just asked a native speaker about 得得到 and 捨得得 and she confirmed that 得得到 is forbidden. BUT! 捨得得 seems to be allowed! Maybe this is because the 得 in 捨得 is in the second position? I don't know. We could research this!
    – Fox
    Sep 25, 2018 at 20:54
  • The standard terminology for the 得不到 type is potential complement. They are indeed formed from a resultative complement by qualifying the complement with positive 得 or negative 不. The object in 吃饭, 唱歌, 说话, etc., is usually called a generic object, and it is indeed incompatible with a non-generic object. Sep 29, 2018 at 14:26

From my point of view 不能得到 = not able to get 得不到 = cannot get They are basically the same actually... I've never thought about this if I hadn't seen your question.... But by the way,we don't usually say "得到好成绩",We use “取得” instead , “取得好成绩”,get good grades. “得到” is grammatically correct But doesn't sound idiomatic Lol . Hopefully what i said will be helpful ! 😁

  • Thank you for telling me this! I was wondering the difference between both words!
    – Agnes
    Sep 20, 2018 at 9:00

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