In Singlish (Singaporean English creole), is 的 used? And if so, is it used for simple possession ("*Jenny de dog") or for introduction of a subordinate clause? ("*Jenny found last week de dog") Or both?

I would expect that the latter is more likely to be used because it's more different from how English would normally put it so there is more utility in deviating from standard English in this way. Possessive 的 is so similar to English's apostrophe-S that there would be little gained from the speaker's point of view by using the Chinese particle.


1 Answer 1


Although liao (from Minnan 了 "liau") is often seen in Singlish conversations, 的 is almost nonexistent in Singlish.

In fact, it is also almost nonexistent in the Chinese varieties the Singaporean Chinese population spoke in the past.

There are two types of structural particles in the Chinese language group with almost the same meaning and the same grammatical function, and their evolutionary paths are as follows (The papers I read on Singlish usage of the word "one" failed to mention this):

  1. Mandarin, Jin, New Xiang, Hui:

底 → 仂 (Hui) 的(地、得) (the rest)

  1. Wu, Old Xiang, Gan, Hakka, all Min languages (including Minnan), Yue (including Cantonese)

其? → 嘅(Cantonese) 个(the rest) → "one" (Singlish)

个 literally means "the one".

个 and 的 are homophones in Hokkien Minnan. Sometimes 个 is written as 的 in written Taiwanese Minnan. But these two words are essentially different. 个 is also different from 個.

Now back to your questionS.

  1. Is 的 used in Singlish?


  1. Is there a word that corresponds to 的 in Singlish?


  1. Is 的 in Mandarin similar to 个 in Minnan?


  1. Is 个 used in Singlish?


  1. Is there a word that corresponds to 个 in Singlish?

Yes. It's the English word "one" (Chow & Bond, 2022). Although they are not technically identical.

  1. Is it used for simple possession?


Example (Wong, 2005):

That man wear red shirt one Keng’s cousin. = The man who wears a red shirt is Keng's cousin.

Here the Singlish way of expressing simple possession is the same as in English. Keng's cousin is not expressed as "cousin Keng one".

  1. Is it used for introduction of a subordinate clause?

Sometimes yes.


That man wear red shirt one Keng’s cousin. = The man who wears a red shirt is Keng's cousin.

Here the "one" is a structural particle similar to relative pronouns in English.

Sometimes no.

Example 1:

This one free one. = This one is free.

The first "one" is an English "one", the second "one" is a Singlish nominalizer.

Example 2:

Nothing to see one. = Nothing to watch.

Here the "one" is used as a modal particle.

Note that in both cases the function of the Singlish "one" closely matches that of 的 or 个 in their respective languages/dialects.


Chow, S. Y., & Bond, F. (2022). Singlish Where Got Rules One? Constructing a Computational Grammar for Singlish. In Proceedings of the Thirteenth Language Resources and Evaluation Conference (pp. 5243-5250).

Wong, J. (2005). “Why you so Singlish one?” A semantic and cultural interpretation of the Singapore English particle one. Language in Society, 34(2), 239-275.

  • Brilliant! Many thanks. Does this sentence final use of "one" correspond to a sentence final use of "ge" in Minnan?
    – Buddy L
    Nov 20, 2022 at 13:38
  • @BuddyL Yes. They are both modal particles.
    – user
    Nov 20, 2022 at 15:14
  • That man wear red shirt one Keng’s cousin. Just to note that while such a use of one existed 20+ years ago, today it's mostly extinct. More commonly, today, the Singlish speaker would say, "That man wear red shirt is Keng’s cousin."
    – user103496
    Feb 8 at 3:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.