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flautert

Expressing "to do the best one can"

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flautert

Hi all,


I came across this sentence which construction I cannot really understand:

他跑得能有多快就有多快。
tā pǎo de néng yǒu duō kuài jiù yǒu duō kuài .
He ran as fast as he could.

 

What is the logic behind it? Should I just accept and memorize it?
 
If I want to say, for instance, "I am doing the best I can", could I say:
我在做能有多好就有多好
Wǒ zài zuò néng yǒu duō hǎo jiù yǒu duō hǎo

 

Thanks!

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somethingfunny

Where's Publius?

 

I'd say you'd need to add in an extra 得 in your example, like in the original.

 

Grammatically, I believe that 能有多快就有多快 is an adverbial phrase, modifying the verb 跑 - this is why there is the 得 which has the grammatical function of connecting a verb and adverb.

 

So your sentence is basically the same as:

 

他跑得快

 

However, rather than just 快, we've now got:

 

1. 能有多快 which is, literally, "able-have-much-fast", or "as fast as able".

2. 就有多快 which is, literally, "then-have-that much-fast", or "then that fast".

 

Note that the meaning of 多 changes from the first part to the second part.

 

Maybe someone else can provide a more succinct explanation.

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roddy

You've got two bits, everything up to and including the 得 and everything after. 

 

For the first bit, you've got a degree complement. Someone's running, and what comes after the 得 is going to tell us in what manner they're running. It could be very fast, it could be like a drunkard, it could very nearly anything.

 

The second bit is similar to this, but with 能 instead of 想 - so instead of 'to the extent one likes' it's 'to the extent one is able'

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somethingfunny

That second link is pretty much exactly what the OP needs to read.

 

Also, isn't the degree complement the bit after the 得?

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roddy

You're right. Sadly, I'm not Publius.

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Publius
6 hours ago, flautert said:

If I want to say, for instance, "I am doing the best I can", could I say:
我在做能有多好就有多好
Wǒ zài zuò néng yǒu duō hǎo jiù yǒu duō hǎo

No. Just because "I am running as fast as I can" and "I am doing the best I can" effectively mean the same thing, doesn't mean they have the same structure.

"The best" is a superlative, whose scope needs to be qualified, either by a relative clause as in this case "that I can", or by a prepositional phrase such as "among us" or "in my life".

"As fast as I can" is a comparison of equality. It has the same structure as "as fast as a snail" or "as fast as you can imagine". The fist "as" being a degree adverb, the second "as" a conjunction.

Moreover, "do one's best" is idiomatic, which means the syntax and semantics are more or less fixed. "I am running the fastest I can" is a bit awkward, while "I am doing as well as I can" is just confusing. Conclusion: your two English expressions use different mechanisms. You're applying apple rules to orange (or android).

 

In the Chinese sentence 他跑得能有多快就有多快, the logic is similar. The notion is superlative, but the syntax involves a comparison. Only the Chinese grammar requires that the modifying phrase ("as is possible" or "as he can") precedes the modified ("快/fast"), so it becomes "as-is-possible-ly fast".

The modifier-modified rule has an exception: certain adverbial phrases can follow the verb they modify. It's called a complement. In your sample sentence, 得 marks the phrase that follows it as a complement (of degree or result) to the verb 跑. The lack of a complement marker makes your self-made sentence ungrammatical.

 

Somethingfunny's literal glossing is quite good.

I just want to add one point. Note the red parts:

他跑得快。(very fast)

他跑得有多快?(how fast)

他跑得能有多快就有多快。(as fast as fast can be)

 

Since "I am doing the best I can" is a different idiom, we express it differently.

There is a chengyu, 尽力而为:

我已经尽力而为了/我正在尽力而为。

Or more wordily:

我已经尽我最大的努力了/正在尽我最大的努力。

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hoshinoumi

So, following OP's sentence pattern could we use it for two syllable adjectives or verbs?

For example: 他看书看得能有多快就有多快。

他做饭做的能有多好吃就有多好吃。

I'm sure the second one doesn't sound quite right.

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Publius

@hoshinoumi, your two-syllable verbs aren't truly two-syllable. They are "verb + object" compounds where the object can move around.

他饭做得要多好吃就有多好吃 works fine with me.

To illustrate your point, you need verbs whose two syllables can't be separated, for instance, 激动:

他激动得要多??就有多??  The choice is quite limited. Maybe 夸张 works here.

Or 他哭泣得要多??就有多?? I can't seem to find a word that fits, maybe because it's a bit too literary. But the monosyllabic version 他哭得要多难看就有多难看 is fine. (EDIT: 他哭泣得要多悲切就多悲切 seems to be fine.)

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flautert

Thank you all very much. I think I get it now.

 

Another, more basic question, occurred me while reading your answers: can I say 他很快跑 instead of 他跑得很快?

 

Thanks!

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evn108
10 hours ago, Publius said:

Since "I am doing the best I can" is a different idiom, we express it differently.

what about just 盡量

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Publius

@flautertNo, you can't. It's not a well-constructed Chinese sentence.

In Chinese, the number of syllables matters. 他很快跑 leaves the sentence unfinished.

他很快跑开了 is okay. But here 很快 means "with little delay", not "at a fast speed". Different kinds of adverbials go to different slots.

 

@evn108 尽量 is an adverb. It can be used as a short response in an exchange, but it's not a complete sentence.

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flautert

Thanks, Publius!

 

Speaking of word order, in this phrase of the SpoonFed Chinese Anki deck it is suggested that the adjective can be placed before the verb:

 

You worked too hard.
nǐ gōngzuò tài nǔlì le. (also ni tai nuli gongzuo le)
你工作太努力了。

 

Is it because of the presence of the 太? What I mean is, to mean "you work hard" could I say 你工作努力 as well as 你努力工作?

 

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dwq

形容詞 (adjectives) modifies nouns / pronouns. Since 太 is modifying 努力, it is not an adjective, but rather a 副詞 (similar to an English adverb).

 

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flautert

I knew that, thanks.

What I'd like to know is if to mean "you work hard" I could say 你工作努力 as well as 你努力工作. If not, that would be because of the absence of the adverb, I guess.

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dwq

現代漢語辭典 gives 努力工作 and 學習很努力 as examples.

 

I thought 努力 would be 副詞 since it is modifying a verb but it is classified as 形容詞 in the dictionary, someone claims that it is used as 狀語 in this case.

 

https://zhidao.baidu.com/question/374737672.html

 

Take the following with a grain of salt:

 

If you explicitly say 努力地 , that would be 副詞 I guess?

 

Also, I feel adding 很 makes it sound more natural, if my boss says 你努力工作 I might take it as an order to work hard (like 你要努力工作) whereas if he says 你很努力工作 or 你工作很努力 I would take it as a compliment.  I would not be sure what he means if he says 你工作努力, it sounds kind of incomplete.

 

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