Cantonese Grammar Lesson 3
Predicate Adjectives

New Vocabulary

Function words

















\hoi\ \sam\




 this much








Predicate Adjectives/Stative Verbs

English uses the format NOUN + "to be" + ADJECTIVE to connect both a subject to an adjective as well as a subject to a noun.  Examples:

He is happy.

They are busy.

I am tall.

It is pretty.

Cantonese uses one verb to link nouns to nouns (haih), but does not use a verb to link nouns to adjectives.  Instead, the adjectives act as verbs.  The pattern given in this lesson is only used to link a noun to another noun.  The second pattern is generally NOUN + (ADVERB) + ADJECTIVE.


The adjectives in these sentences function both as a descriptor and as the verb of the sentence.  They are often referred to as "stative verbs" because they are verbs that assign a state of being to the subject.  The adverb that precedes these adjectives can be omitted, but is usually included.

/hou/ is exceptional in many ways.  It not only functions both as an adjective meaning "good" and an adverb meaning "very", it is also the default adverb.  While it can modify the adjective, adding the idea of "very" to the sentence, it can also simply act as a link between noun and adjective (without acting as a modifier) to make the sentence sound better.  For example:

Equative + "ge"

In the previous grammar lesson, it was explained that the equative verb haih is used only to link a noun to another noun.  While this is true, it can be used in a special structure to link a noun to an adjective.  This structure can serve to give rhetorical emphasis to the speaker's statement.

The basic form is:

 NOUN + "haih" + ADJECTIVE PHRASE + "ge"

can also be said

This can be looked at as simply a pattern that adds emphasis to the description, and that in this structure haih is not functioning as an equative verb but as a linking verb.  Or, this can be seen as a structure with an understood predicate nominative.


haih /hou/ \gou\ ge (/keuih/)
subject linking verb adjective phrase attributive (understood predicate nominative)

An equivalent English way of saying this would be "He is one who is tall."  In this way, the equative verb is still linking two nouns together and the adjective is modifying the understood noun.

Additional Information

** "/gam/" and "ge" both have Cantonese characters.  However, they are not used in standard written Chinese.  Instead, "/gam/" is d by "/nah/ \moh\" 那麼 and "ge" is d by "-dik-" 的.

The character /hou/ 好 has many functions in Chinese.  In Cantonese it can mean "good", "very", or "well" and can function as an adjective, adverb, an aspect marker, and even a verb.  In written Chinese, however, a different character (/han/ 很) is used as a linking verb.

The character /gei/ 幾 serves multiple functions in Cantonese.  It often acts as a question word asking "how much?"  It also functions to mean "however much", or "an unspecified amount".  As an adverb in the above structures, its meaning can range from "somewhat" to "very much".

In common speech, native Cantonese speakers may at times use a predicate adjective without an adverb, for example "/keuih/ \gou\".  There are certain contexts where this is acceptable (such as in response to a "why?" question).  Cantonese speakers may also use the equative verb to link a noun to an adjective without the use of "ge".  They might say, "/keuih/ haih /hou/ \gou\" and omit the "ge".  Just as in English some native speakers might say "I am doing good" rather than "I am doing well", there are more and less proper ways of speaking in Cantonese.  The patterns presented above are certainly acceptable.

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