I've decided to brute-force my way through a novel written in Mandarin as a means of expanding my vocabulary and bettering my understanding of Chinese grammar, and suffice to say my horizons have been broadened. I've come across the following sentence, “至少两千具不死骷髅像潮水一样涌过” and I am befuddled. Broken down I take this sentence to mean:

至少  - at least
两千具 - 2 thousand (dead things)
不死  - undead
骷髅  - (human) skeletons
像   ---------------⬎
潮水  - a tide   |--------⤍ resembling
一样  ---------------⬏
  - rushed forth

Put together in English, "At least 2 thousand undead skeletons resembling a tide rushed forth." The confusion is, 不死 (undead) is an adjective modifying the noun 骷髅 (skeleton). Shouldn't a "的" be inserted between the two? I've been led to believe that "不死的骷髅" is grammatically correct while "不死骷髅" is not. Am I wrong or is the author of this sentence wrong?


4 Answers 4


不死骷髅 = the "undead", or Zombies, (a fantastical possibility)

不死的骷髅 = skeletons or skulls that are actually alive, (a natural impossibility)

So, 至少两千具不死骷髅像潮水一样涌过:-

At least 2ooo Zombies went passed like the tide.

There is therefore no adjective modifying the noun in 不死骷髅 as it is read as a single item,like "Zombie", which if broken down would read "a dead body that has the capacity to move like a living being", in other words, 不死骷髅.

  • So essentially they arent saying "undead skeleton" they're saying "living skeleton"? And in general is that how these cases should be treated? Should I assume in similar cases where it appears like an adjective is being employed without the use of 的 that the entire term is a single noun? Jan 28, 2020 at 12:28
  • 1
    Not necessarily. The context should also tell you how it's meant to be read. It's just so happen that in this particular case that term means "Zombie or the Undead" The adjective modifying the noun rule still holds true most of the time. Just that you were thrown off because you have not come across the Chinese term for Zombies. Like 网际网络 which is the Chinese term for the Internet. Someone who has not heard of this term may well ask why there is no 的 between 网际 & 网络. Jan 28, 2020 at 12:42

(Too long to leave as a comment...)

First, good luck!

The book appears to be 钢骨之王 which contains this exact sentence. Before committing, I recommend analyzing the difficult of the book in the following way:

  1. Download the plain text (e.g. from here), which also saves a lot of time looking up unfamiliar characters in the dictionary.

  2. Analyze the difficulty of a sample of the text using Analyse Your 汉字 with the settings:

    • Big block of text
    • Analyse HSK words
    • Analyse HSK characters

(My experience is that the first chapter in a book is more difficult than the others; lots of detailed descriptions. Better to sample from the middle.)

Below I compare it against 活着, which is sometimes regarded as a genuine Chinese-language book suitable for learners. Probably the most important points are:

钢骨之王: 36.32% non-HSK words; 3.90% non-HSK characters
活着:    23.38% non-HSK words; 2.62% non-HSK characters

Hopefully this gives some idea of the level of this book.


Of the 1619 total words that were input:

512 (31.62%) were HSK 1 words
182 (11.24%) were HSK 2 words (Cumulative: 694 (42.87%) were HSK 1-2 words)
97 (5.99%) were HSK 3 words (Cumulative: 791 (48.86%) were HSK 1-3 words)
111 (6.86%) were HSK 4 words (Cumulative: 902 (55.71%) were HSK 1-4 words)
87 (5.37%) were HSK 5 words (Cumulative: 989 (61.09%) were HSK 1-5 words)
42 (2.59%) were HSK 6 words (Cumulative: 1031 (63.68%) were HSK 1-6 words)
588 (36.32%) were non-HSK words

Of the 1844 total characters that were input:

702 (38.07%) were HSK 1 characters
265 (14.37%) were HSK 2 characters (Cumulative: 967 (52.44%) were HSK 1-2 characters)
273 (14.80%) were HSK 3 characters (Cumulative: 1240 (67.25%) were HSK 1-3 characters)
203 (11.01%) were HSK 4 characters (Cumulative: 1443 (78.25%) were HSK 1-4 characters)
179 (9.71%) were HSK 5 characters (Cumulative: 1622 (87.96%) were HSK 1-5 characters)
150 (8.13%) were HSK 6 characters (Cumulative: 1772 (96.10%) were HSK 1-6 characters)
72 (3.90%) were non-HSK characters


Of the 3700 total words that were input:

1577 (42.62%) were HSK 1 words
574 (15.51%) were HSK 2 words (Cumulative: 2151 (58.14%) were HSK 1-2 words)
294 (7.95%) were HSK 3 words (Cumulative: 2445 (66.08%) were HSK 1-3 words)
154 (4.16%) were HSK 4 words (Cumulative: 2599 (70.24%) were HSK 1-4 words)
117 (3.16%) were HSK 5 words (Cumulative: 2716 (73.41%) were HSK 1-5 words)
119 (3.22%) were HSK 6 words (Cumulative: 2835 (76.62%) were HSK 1-6 words)
865 (23.38%) were non-HSK words

Of the 3929 total characters that were input:

1972 (50.19%) were HSK 1 characters
728 (18.53%) were HSK 2 characters (Cumulative: 2700 (68.72%) were HSK 1-2 characters)
433 (11.02%) were HSK 3 characters (Cumulative: 3133 (79.74%) were HSK 1-3 characters)
243 (6.18%) were HSK 4 characters (Cumulative: 3376 (85.93%) were HSK 1-4 characters)
274 (6.97%) were HSK 5 characters (Cumulative: 3650 (92.90%) were HSK 1-5 characters)
176 (4.48%) were HSK 6 characters (Cumulative: 3826 (97.38%) were HSK 1-6 characters)
103 (2.62%) were non-HSK characters
  • 1
    Wow thanks for the info! To be perfectly honest I diverged from the HSK system a while ago, mainly because I'd decided to learn Mandarin purely because I enjoy reading Chinese fantasy novels and HSK to me felt more geared towards people who seek accreditation rather than people who seek fluency Jan 29, 2020 at 9:13

We can take 不死骷髅 as a name in this case. Well, 不死骷髅 and 不死的骷髅 mean the same. We don't usually embrace 的 in a name. However, we use 之 in a name,such as 不死之身, 天王之王, etc.

P. S. 之 means 的 in traditional Chinese.


The case with .

If tend to emphasise either part of the word, you could say 不死的骷髅.
While emphasising 不死 means some undead and some can be killed,
emphasising 骷髅 means some skeleton and some monsters.
(usually emphasising happens in speaking or more details in words)

The case without .

When those two parts mean the same/one thing, or they r equally important, or they define an object together, you can omit the .

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