Among potential complements are some ending with 得起. Some examples (from here and here) are:

This restaurant is too expensive. We can't afford to eat here.

We can afford lobster.

This makeup is very expensive. I can't afford it.

We can afford electricity.

The Chinese Zero To Hero YouTube video 动词+得/不+起 gives an idea of the conversion: basically, 不能[verb] = [verb]不起 and 能[verb] = [verb]得起. But then 吃不起 should mean 不能吃 = "I can't eat [something]" and 吃得起 should mean 能吃 = "I can eat [something]" (and likewise for 用). So I'm not following the logic here.

Question: How do 用不起 / 用得起 and 吃不起 / 吃得起 mean (un)affordable?

  • Although both 不能 and 不起 are negative, they are not equivalent. 不能 is cannot; 不起 is, as you have pointed out, cannot afford. Cannot is not the same as cannot afford.
    – joehua
    Oct 12, 2020 at 9:16

2 Answers 2


In China, we more of use this as a fixed phrase for (cannot) afford. For example, we would use 吃不起 or 用不起 or 买不起 to show that we cannot afford to eat/use/buy something. The simple logic is this:

-得起 means that you can afford to do an action

-不起 means that you cannot afford to do an action

This is probably a fixed phrase you need to memorize.

P.S. When we use -得起 or -不起, we do not necessarily mean afford in the monetary context. For example, we can say 我承担不起这个后果 to mean "I cannot bear (承担) this consequence (后果)".


得起 and 不起 is part of common expression in Chinese for can/cannot afford.

If you broke characters, generally means to support, to lift. So the express literally translates into you are able to support(lift)/ you cannot support(lift).

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