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'Can' may also be expressed by a potential complement

The form is:
affirmative: Verb 的 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。 Nà ge 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'.

得睡不着觉 Shuìbuzháo jiào 'Can't (get to) sleep'


听到这个好消息,我兴奋得睡不着觉。 Tīngdào zhè ge hǎo xiāoxi, wǒ xīngfèn de shuìbuzháo jiào.
‘After hearing this good news, I was too excited to go to sleep.’

我兴奋得睡不着觉。 Wǒ xìngfèn de shuìbuzháo jiào.
‘I’m too excited to sleep.’

明天要去英国,他激动得睡不着觉。 Míngtiān yào qù Yīngguó, tā jīdòngde shuìbuzháo jiào.
‘He will go to the UK tomorrow, and is so excited he can’t sleep.’

听说他住院了,她担心得睡不着觉。 Tīngshuō tā zhùyuànle, tā dānxīn de shuìbuzháo jiào.
‘She heard that he is in hospital; she is too worried to sleep.’

看了恐怖片,她怕得睡不着觉。 Kàn le kǒngbùpiàn, tā pà de shuìbuzháo jiào.
‘After watching a horror film, she is so scared she can’t sleep.’

明天要演讲,他紧张得睡不着觉。 Míngtiān yào yánjiǎng, tā jǐnzhāng de shuìbuzháo jiào.
‘He will make a speech tomorrow, so he is too anxious to sleep.’

See also

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Potential Verb Complement

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

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