- 1 Introduction
- 2 Vocabulary
- 3 Before getting started: the written version 的
- 4 How to use ge in Cantonese #1: Possession
- 5 How to use ge in Cantonese #2: Emphasis
- 6 A special case – when the two usages of 嘅 overlap
- 7 How to use ge in Cantonese #3: Softening the tone using 嘅
Last time, we discussed the usage of some Cantonese classifiers and their nuances, today we’re going to go back to the more “grammar” feeling lessons and look at how to use ge in Cantonese. This is one of the more important lessons (not the most, but still very important) in Cantonese, so I hope you’ll continue reading / listening to the end.
S/W/B = Spoken / Written / Both
|to be missing||唔見咗||m4 gin3 zo2||S|
|to rest assured||放心||fong3 sam1||B|
|to be good (for the body)||有益||jau5 jik1||S|
|grandfather (dad’s side)||爺爺||je4 je4||B|
|grandmother (dad’s side)||嫲嫲||maa4 maa4||S|
|eye drop||眼藥水||ngaan5 jeuk6 seoi2||B|
|character (person)||人品||jan4 ban2||B|
Before getting started: the written version 的
As you’ll recall, I said that my philosophy of presenting Cantonese at Cantolounge will be to share how to differentiate between spoken Cantonese and written Chinese whenever appropriate, and this is one of the occasions.
The written version of 嘅 (ge3) is
But it’s important to note that 的 itself can translate back to spoken Cantonese a few ways, including: 的 (dik1) itself, 嘅 (ge3), and also 啲 (di1). Each of these are used in different words, and it’s wrong to assume they’re interchangeable. (We’ll cover some of these in later lessons, but I wanted to make this distinction clear today.)
How to use ge in Cantonese #1: Possession
The first usage of 嘅 we’re going to look at is the most commonly used one, and also the simplest one: possession.
What is possession?
By possession, I mean saying things like “Peter’s wallet is missing”, “the knapsack is mine”, or “the puppy’s eyes are brown”. In these examples, “Peter’s wallet” indicate that the wallet belongs to Peter from the “‘s”, the knapsack belongs to “me” based on the “is mine” part, and we know we’re talking about the eyes of the puppy based on the “‘s”.
So here we’ve looked at two types of possession: (1) possession indicated by the apostrophe s, and (2) possession indicated by possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his / hers / its, etc.).
But really, possessive pronouns also fall under the first type, because
mine = my + ‘s
yours = your + ‘s
his / hers / its = his / her / it + ‘s
ours = our + ‘s
theirs = their +’s
At this point, you’ve probably already guessed what I’m about to say next. In Cantonese, it turns out that we have an equivalent for the apostrophe s to indicate possession, or our word of the day: 嘅.
Its usage is as straightforward as it can be – you literally just sub in the apostrophe s with 嘅 and you’re good.
Let’s have a look at how those three examples above could be translated back to Cantonese.
Examples with the possessive particle 嘅
Peter’s wallet is missing.
Peter ge3 ngan4 baau1 m4 gin3 zo2 。
The knapsack is mine.
go3 bui3 nong4 hai6 ngo5 ge3 。
*The puppy’s eyes are brown.
zek3 gau2 zai2 deoi3 ngaan5 hai6 fe1 sik1 ge3 。
*If you’ll recall from the previous lesson in classifiers, in Cantonese, it’s a common practice to replace the word 嘅 with the appropriate classifier. But here, I’ll also add on to that by saying that while it’s common practice, it’s perfectly fine to use 嘅 as well. Natives do it too.
Also, we’ve used the classifier “對” to mean “a pair”, but it could have been “隻” as well. It would be a bit strange though, partly because we’ve already used 隻 for our puppy, but also because it’s like implying only one of his eyes is brown and the other isn’t (隻 means on of a pair).
How to use ge in Cantonese #2: Emphasis
In the next lesson, we’re going to talk about Cantonese adjectives. The reason I’m saying this is because there’s a use 嘅 that breaks one of the rules we talk about over there. We’ve also mentioned it in a previous post, but because it’s so important, I’ll repeat it here: when you want to say that “something is + adjective”, you must NOT use 係 to translate “is” – instead, you have to use 好.
But there is one occasion where we can break this rule – when we want to emphasize something with 嘅.
To be more precise, the full construct is “係…嘅”, but many times, a lot of people just drop the 係, so please feel free to do so as well.
Please note that this is by no means the “only” way to emphasize something – it’s a way to do so. But it’s a pretty common way used by native speakers.
I also understand that reading through long grammar texts can be a bit dreary, so let’s do it backwards – this time, we’ll start with examples and work our way backwards to the usage.
Basic Examples with 嘅 used for emphasis
Let’s start with two basic examples.
ngo5 zyut6 deoi3 m4 wui5 aak1 nei5 ge3，nei5 ho2 ji5 fong3 sam1
I’ll definitely not lie to you, you can relax.
ne1 di1 joek6 deoi3 nei5 ge3 san1 tai2 jau5 jik1 ge3
These medicines are good for your body.
With these two, as you can see, 嘅 comes at the end. But you have to be careful – it comes at the end of a clause, not a sentence. It would, for example, be incorrect to put the 嘅 at the end of the sentence after 放心.
But to get a more complete picture of this, I strongly recommend you listen to how the sentences are pronounced in the video. Emphasis is not so much grammar in terms of adding a word, as it is about tone. It’s the same with English. (We have some examples later to demonstrate this.)
Comparing an emphasized sentence with the original
Next, let’s compare what it’s like to emphasize a sentence with its original form.
All of these translate similarly to “she’s clever, but sometimes she’s a bit arrogant”.
A1: keoi5 hou2 cung1 ming4，daan6 hai6 jau5 si4 hau6 jau5 di1 giu1 ngou6 lo1
This is the plain version that just says “she’s clever”.
A2: keoi5 hai6 jat1 go3 cung1 ming4 ge3 jan4，daan6 hai6 jau5 si4 hau6 jau5 di1 giu1 ngou6 lo1
This is an alternative version of the plain version above – please refer to the next lesson on Cantonese adjectives to learn more about its usage.
B: keoi5 hai6 cung1 ming4 ge3，daan6 hai6 jau5 si4 hau6 jau5 di1 giu1 ngou6 lo1 。
This is the emphasized version.
The difference between A1 and B can be summarized as:
A1: She’s clever, but sometimes she’s a bit arrogant.
B: She is clever, but sometimes she’s a bit arrogant.
Yes, the difference is like reading the second sentence out loud emphasizing the bolded “is” (but not the first one).
So how would we compare the situations in which these two might be used?
A1: Imagine your friend, John, is asking about another one of your friends, Susan. John doesn’t know Susan. And you describe Susan to John.
B: Imagine, similarly, you have a friend, John. John doesn’t know Susan well, but he knows of Susan, and thinks she isn’t clever. You then correct John by saying otherwise.
Can you see the difference?
For A1, it’s a very generic situation. But B would be used when something is different from what you’re trying to emphasize.
Comparing different points of emphasis
Without changing a sentence, it’s perfectly possible to change the focus of emphasis and what it implies. Let’s take this simple sentence as an example.
ne1 bou6 din6 waa2 hai6 keoi5 ge3
This is her phone.
Now let’s compare two different versions of it where different words are emphasized.
A: ne1 bou6 din6 waa2 hai6 keoi5 ge3
B: ne1 bou6 din6 waa2 hai6 keoi5 ge3
C: ne1 bou6 din6 waa2 hai6 keoi5 ge3
Can you hear the difference?
A: This phone is hers (and not the computer – maybe you misheard me).
B: This phone is hers (you say it isn’t, but I’m certain it is).
C: This phone is hers (and not someone else’s).
So this is pretty much the same for English – I wanted to get this across.
Next, let’s look at another example where changing the focus of emphasis actually changes where 係 is placed in the 係…嘅 construct.
Changing the focus of emphasis and the position of 係 in 係…嘅
I previously said that a lot of people drop the 係, but there are a lot who don’t either. So let’s look at an example that uses the “full emphasis form”.
This time, let’s start with the English sentence.
I visit my grandparents every Saturday.
Not terribly exciting, I know, but it’ll do for now. And for the emphasized versions.
A: I visit my grandparents every Saturday. (and not my spouse’s)
B: I visit my grandparents every Saturday. (and not my parents)
C: I visit my grandparents every Saturday. (not occasionally…every Saturday)
D: I visit my grandparents every Saturday. (not Sunday…Saturday)
Let’s look at how they can be emphasized in Cantonese:
A: 我每個禮拜六係會探我嘅爺爺嫲嫲嘅。/ 我係會每個禮拜六探我嘅爺爺嫲嫲嘅。
A: ngo5 mui5 go3 lai5 baai3 luk6 hai6 wui5 taam3 ngo5 ge3 je4 je4 maa4 maa4 ge3 / ngo5 hai6 wui5 mui5 go3 lai5 baai3 luk6 taam3 ngo5 ge3 je4 je4 maa4 maa4 ge3
B: 我每個禮拜六係會探我嘅爺爺嫲嫲嘅。/ 我係會每個禮拜六探我嘅爺爺嫲嫲嘅。
B: ngo5 mui5 go3 lai5 baai3 luk6 hai6 wui5 taam3 ngo5 ge3 je4 je4 maa4 maa4 ge3 / ngo5 hai6 wui5 mui5 go3 lai5 baai3 luk6 taam3 ngo5 ge3 je4 je4 maa4 maa4 ge3
C: ngo5 hai6 wui5 mui5 go3 lai5 baai3 luk6 taam3 ngo5 ge3 je4 je4 maa4 maa4 ge3
D: ngo5 hai6 wui5 mui5 go3 lai5 baai3 luk6 taam3 ngo5 ge3 je4 je4 maa4 maa4 ge3
(Don’t worry about 會 for now – this is a word for a later lesson where you’ll see that tenses don’t necessarily match between English and Cantonese.)
*The underlined bits indicate where the 係 and 嘅 start and end for each sentence.
This is where we need to be concerned about nuance. Adding the 係…嘅 alone doesn’t add a lot of emphasis – you actually have to place emphasize on a specific bit vocally to emphasize a specific bit.
You’ll also notice that A and B have two alternatives – you can put the 係 in two different places. Some astute readers might ask – “which shifts the emphasis more – changing the 係 or actually vocally emphasizing on the 我 or 爺爺嫲嫲?” This is an excellent question to ask. The answer is still “vocally emphasizing it”. The reason I introduced the notion of changing the position of 係 is to let you know that it’s possible, but it actually has a much smaller effect on emphasis.
There is a more important implication of the position changing, though. Another question the read might wonder is “for C and D, can you also change the position of the 係?”. Another excellent question with a very important conclusion – you can’t.
If we think about it, the entire “係…嘅” structure is supposed to emphasize. But it would be very strange for it to be able to emphasize things that aren’t in between 係 and 嘅.
I hope that clarifies some points of confusion.
A special case – when the two usages of 嘅 overlap
There is a special case when the two usages overlap. I guess overlap isn’t the best word for it – I think “placed in close proximity” might describe it better.
Let’s have a look at an example to clarify.
This is my pen.
Based on what we’ve discussed so far, it’s perfectly reasonable to translate it into something like
ne1 zi1 bat1 hai6 ngo5 ge3 bat1 ge3
ne1 zi1 bat1 hai6 ngo5 zi1 bat1 ge3
(In case you’re wondering, it’s okay to repeat the classifier, or to use 嘅 directly if you’re fond of avoiding repetition. It’s just a personal choice.)
But it would be wrong.
By wrong, I don’t mean astronomical wrong – I just mean it’s missing a word.
As you can see, when 嘅 used for posession is used in close proximity to 嘅 used for emphasis, it turns out that it helps to add one small word to help make it sound smoother: 嚟 (lei4) as in 嚟嘅.
So the above sentences would then become:
ne1 zi1 bat1 hai6 ngo5 ge3 bat1 lei4 ge3
ne1 zi1 bat1 hai6 ngo5 zi1 bat1 ge3
Let’s take a look at a better example that sounds a bit smoother. This requires that you have already gone through the Cantonese adjectives lesson to understand the structure used, but you are very welcome to follow along with intuition too.
This is a bottle of water imported from France.
呢樽水係 法國進口嘅水 嚟嘅。
ne1 zeon1 seoi2 hai6 faat3 gwok3 zeon3 hau2 ge3 seoi2 lai4 ge3
I’ve separated the two parts so you can see a little better. The first 嘅 acts to describe the water, and the second one is used to emphasize.
Next, I want to discuss another nuance of the word 嘅.
How to use ge in Cantonese #3: Softening the tone using 嘅
This usage is very interesting. I thought for a bit trying to describe what it feels, and “softening the tone” was the best I could come up with. But again, you really have to listen to it to feel how it’s different.
I typically hear this when I’m being sold to, but of course, it’s not just limited to those situations. Try to hear how I say those examples out loud – expression and all.
Let’s have a look at a couple of examples.
Examples of softening the tone with 嘅
ne1 zek3 gei1 gam1 hou2 zik6 dak1 tau4 zi1 ge3
This fund is worth investing in.
ne1 zek3 ngaan5 joek6 seoi2 hou2 zi1 jeon6 ge3
This eye drop is very moisturizing.
keoi5 ge3 jan4 ban2 hou2 hou2 ge3
His character is really good.
keoi5 kei4 sat6 hou2 zung1 ji3 keoi5 ge3
He actually really likes her.
This is very hard to describe in words – you’re kind of emphasizing on what you’re saying, but not being too insistent on it, and not wanting to sound intrusive. Again, I have to refer you to the video to really feel how it’s said.
That’s about it for this lesson. I hope it was helpful. As I’ve said, this is one of the most fundamental Cantonese grammar points you’ll encounter, and a very important one at that. So I hope if there’s anything you didn’t understand, you’ll read over this again, and as usual, feel free to drop in and leave a comment if you have any questions or ideas.
See you next time!