6.6 Modifier-Modified Adjectives
A common grammatical structure in Putonghua is adverb + adjective, where the adverb serves to modify and qualify the adjective. Such a structure is usually regarded as a phrase and its two components written separately, thus: hěn hǎo (very good), bù dà (not large), zuì cháng ("most long"; longest), gèng hóng (even redder). If the element modifying the adjective is not an adverb but some other part of speech, then the whole forms a single word rather than a phrase and should be written as a single unit. Different types of adjectives fitting this form are introduced below.
- Noun + adjective
- xuě (snow) + bái (white) - xuěbái (snow-white);
- zǎo (date) + hóng (red) - zǎohóng (date-red, purplish-red);
- bīng (ice) + liáng (cool) - bīngliáng (ice-cold);
- huǒ (fire) + rè (hot) - huǒrè (red-hot);
- bǐ (pen) + zhí (straight) - bǐzhí (straight as an arrow);
- kǒngquè (peacock) + lán (blue) - kǒngquèlán (peacock blue);
- yúdù (fish belly) + bái (white) - yúdùbái (fish-belly white).
It may be seen that the noun component in a noun + adjective construction is used in a metaphorical sense: xuěbái (snow-white) = as white (bái) as snow (xuě). The construction as a whole expresses a single concept (in this case, a color), and so is written as one word.
- Numeral + adjective
- liǎng (two) + nán (difficult) - liǎngnán (caught in a dilemma);
- wàn (ten thousand) + quán (complete) - wànquán
- shí (ten) + zú (full) - shízú (100%, sheer, pure).
Be aware that some adjective constructions that fit the form numeral + adjective are actually shortened forms of longer phrases.These short forms should be written as two separate units:
- sān (three) + hǎo (good) - sānhǎo ("three good"; shortened form of the slogan "good health, study, and work");
- sì (four) + měi (beautiful) - sìměi ("four beautiful"; shortened form of the slogan beautiful spirit, speech, behavior, and environment").
- Verb + adjective:
- fēi (to fly) + kuài (fast) -- fēikuài (at lightning speed);
- gǔn (to boil) + rè (hot) -- gǔnrè (boiling hot);
- tòu (to penetrate) + liàng (bright) -- tòuliàng (translucent);
- chuí (to hang) + zhí (straight) -- chuízhí (vertical);
- bǐ (to force) + zhēn (real) -- bǐzhēn (lifelike).
- Adjective + adjective:
- dà (big) + hóng (red) -- dàhóng (scarlet);
- qiǎn (light) + lǜ (green) -- qiǎnlǜ (light green);
- dàn (pale) + huáng (yellow) - dànhuáng (pale yellow);
- qióng (poor) + máng (busy) -- qióngmáng (busy);
- zǎo (early) + shú (ripe) -- zǎoshú (precocious; also, early-ripening);
- chòu (stinking) + měi (beautiful) -- chòuměi (smug);
- kuáng (crazy) + rè (hot) -- kuángrè (fanatical).
- Adverb + adjective:
It was mentioned at the beginning of this section that an adverb and an adjective in combination are ordinarily treated as a phrase and written as two units. Some adverb + adjective constructions, however, undergo a change in meaning so that they express a single concept rather than two independent concepts; such transformed adverb + adjective constructions are considered single words and written as single units. Consider the examples below:
- bù (not) + mǎn (full):
- Tǒng li de shuǐ hái zhuāng de bù mǎn. (The bucket's not full of water yet.) -- bù mǎn (not full);
- Tā duì zhèyàng chǔlǐ gǎndào fēicháng bùmǎn. (He feels extremely dissatisfied with this way of handling things.) -- bùmǎn (dissatisfied).
- bù (not) + kuài (fast, sharp):
- Zhè bǎ dāozi hěn bù kuài. (This knife is dull.) -- bù kuài (dull, not sharp);
- Zuìjìn chūle hěn duō máfán de shìr, shǐtā gǎndào bùkuāi. (All the problems that have come up lately have made him unhappy.) -- bùkuài (unhappy).
- zuì (most) + jìn (near):
- Cóng zhèr dào Běijīng Dàxué zǒu nǎ tiáo lù zuì jìn? (What's the closest (quickest) way to Beijing University from here?) -- zuì jìn (closest);
- Zuìjìn tā dào Hángzhōu qùle yī tàng. (She made a trip to Hangzhou recently.) -- zuìjìn (recently).
- zuì (most) + gāo (tall):
- Zài wǒmen bān shang, tā de gèzi zuì gāo. (He's the tallest student in our class.) -- zuì gāo (tallest);
- Tā gàodào zuìgāo fǎyuàn qù le. (He appealed the case to the Supreme Court.) -- zuìgāo (Supreme).
- bù (not) + mǎn (full):