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What is the difference in connotation between intensifier + adjective and 是 + adjective + 的?

For instance, what would the difference be between

他非常高

and

他是非常高的

I'm aware that there are similar questions on the site (e.g. here, here, here), but they don't seem to answer this question.

3 Answers 3

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These two phrases both are "comments" on the special trait of something or somebody. The difference lies in that the former is a plain, standalone, comment on a single object, and the latter is an emphatic comment on a single object among many (implies comparison).

For example, a 6' tall girl in a room full of 5' tall girls, you will point at her and say to your companion: "那個女孩,(她)非常高" (那個女孩 = 她). You can also say "她是非常高的" with "在這些女孩中(among the girls)" as the hidden message (在這些女孩中,她是非常高的).

When the same girl passes you on the street, you can repeat the former comment "她非常高", but here, the latter phase - "她是非常高的" does not sound right, unless rephrase it as "在人群中,她是非常高的", with 是非常(很)...的 emphasizing the special trait (高) of her.

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"是" usually simply applies emphasis on how tall the person is.

This "是 ... 的" construction also places emphasis.

Link

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  • Thanks DialFrost. Just checking I've understood your answer. The link you've given is about a different construction (for instance 我 (是) 走 来 的) where 的 is used for emphasising information (usually noun phrases if I've understood correctly). Are you saying that the same also happens with adjectives: that using the 的 construction places more emphasis than the intensifier one? Does that mean my examples are roughly equivalent to "He is very tall" versus "How very tall he is"?
    – ATJ
    Jun 22, 2022 at 10:34
  • Actually, 他非常高 is not a complete clause or sentence, so I'm not sure, but 他是非常高的 means "he is very tall" @ATJ
    – DialFrost
    Jun 22, 2022 at 10:35
  • 他非常高 isn't a complete sentence? I thought 他很高 is a complete sentence; is there something different about 非常? How would you make it a complete sentence?
    – ATJ
    Jun 22, 2022 at 12:24
  • Oh sorry I messed that up, both your sentences mean "he is very tall"
    – DialFrost
    Jun 22, 2022 at 12:25
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    Can anyone find the structure of 是....的 in pre-1900 text? I don't remember seeing such a structure in pre-1900 novels. I believe this is just a lousy translation, e.g. she is beautiful -> 她是美麗的。
    – joehua
    Jun 22, 2022 at 13:27
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这两个没有本质区别。只是北方人习惯用前一种,南方人喜欢用后一种。我在上海的时候,就发现他们很喜欢用第二种句式。

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