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'Can' may also be expressed by a potential complement

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


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 de after the first character (or 不 bu for the negative form).

出 Chū

出来 Chūlái

到 Dào

动 Dòng


去 Qù

完 Wán

下 Xià

着 Zháo

See also

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