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'Can' may also be expressed by a potential complement

The form is:
affirmative: Verb 得 de [Potential Complement]
negative: Verb 不 bu [Potential Complement]

Which potential complement to use depends on the verb.

It is easier to understand by looking at examples:

那个箱子重得拿不动。 Nàge xiāngzi zhòng de nábudòng.
‘That suitcase is too heavy to carry.’
So 拿 ná 'carry' takes the potential complement 动 dòng to produce 'can carry'.

There may be some exceptions to this rule, but most resultative complements and directional complements may be turned into potential complements by inserting 得 de after the first character (or 不 bu for the negative form).

出 Chū

出来 Chūlái

到 Dào

动 Dòng

及 Jí

见 Jiàn

来 Lái

了 Liǎo

起 Qǐ

去 Qù

完 Wán

下 Xià

着 Zháo

See also

from Centre for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, University of Oxford.

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