I'm not sure if this is just a coincidence, but there's two related words:

  • 只得 (zhǐdé) = "be obliged to"
  • 得 (děi) = "to have to"

They have similar meanings, and share the character 得 (although with different pronunciation). It seems like they may be etymologically related.

Question: Is there an etymological connection between 只得 (zhǐdé) and 得 (děi)?

I wouldn't know where to begin investigating this, but Googling 只得 得 didn't help.


The pronounciation of "得 (děi)" is not a formal usuage, which is from a dialect.

"只得 (zhǐdé)" has two kinds of meanings in this pronouciation. 1, Meaning "only have": "我只得这么一个弟弟” - “I only have this one little brother”; 2, Meaning similar as "不得不” (have to), usually connect with a Verb, and indicating there is limitaiton from objective circumstance. While "只得 (zhǐdé)" usually follow by actions out of personal choice / decision, "不得不” usually follow by actions with no choice. e.g. "由于下雨,我只得取消徒步计划” - “I have to cancel my hiking plan since it is raining” (I can still go out for hiking but I decided not to)


Sure they are etymologically connected. Hanzi itself is the etymology mark.

This phenomenon is called Literary and colloquial readings of Chinese characters. Particularly in Putonghua, colloquial reading (dei in this issue) is from Beijing natives, and literal reading (de in this issue) from probably Nanjing pronunciation's (in Ming and early Qing) reading of Literary Chinese texts. It's basically similar to 'doublet words' in English, such as warranty from Norman, guarantee from French. As long as Chinese don't use an alphabet, the doublet words with the same etymology are written under the same character.

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