As Syz will attest, children are a lode of linguistic gold.

One Chinese grammar pattern I find especially interesting, mainly because it is so much more flexible than its English cousin, is called a complement of result. The English version belongs to a structure called a predicative complement.  An example is she called him an idiot.  The verb called is followed by two noun phrases, but they are not both objects, as would be the case in I gave Sally my book.  The noun phrase an idiot is a property that is assigned to the object him in that clause.  In English, predicative complements can be noun phrases, like an idiot, or adjective phrases, like stupid (she called him stupid).

In Chinese as well, complements of result are a kind of predicative complement that can be an adjective phrase, like 我吃饱了 (wǒ chī baǒ le; I’m full), 他累坏了(tā leì huaì le; he’s exhausted), or 玩儿腻了(wánr nì le; bored of playing (with this)).  All of them show the state of something after something happens; you eat until you’re full, are tired to the point of exhaustion (note that 累 is an adjective—adjectives can serve as complete predicates in Chinese), you play with something until you’re bored of it.

But they can also be verbs!

My kids were playing a video game in which one creature would scratch another creature until it exploded.  To describe this, one of them produced 挠爆炸了(náo bàozhà le; scratched until (it) exploded).

(This is an example of how Chinese is a more high context language than English; you don’t have to specify what or who is being scratched, and what or who exploded as a result, because that can be understood from the context.)

When I first became aware of this structure, I thought it was quite limited, with complements like 完 (wán), and 好 (hǎo), both meaning “completed”, as in 做完了 (zuò wán le) and 做好了 (zuò hǎo le).  A few more specific situations might produce things like 没 (méi)  or 掉 (diào), as in 发没了 (fā méi le; passed (them) all out) or 摔掉了 (shuāi diào le; fell down), but we can see that in fact, this structure is quite unlimited.

If you have come across other creative examples, please comment!

16 responses to “Itchy?”

  1. Tony says:

    The way I understand this “complement of result” is that it serves the function of the English adverbial adjunct, and therefore is not too different from the English analogue.

    The example you gave above, 挠爆炸了, can be translated as “scratched [something] until it exploded.” English grammar will tell you that “until it exploded” is an adverbial phrase — and adverbial adjunct, in fact, modifying the verb “scratch,” indicating to what extent or to what result this scratching action was carried out.

    Other examples I can think of:

    赶他走 — shoo him away (“hurry him to leave”)

    请我吃饭 — take me out to dinner, etc. (“invite me to dine”)

    追他跑 — pursue/chase him (“chase him to run”)

    In these examples, the English “to leave,” “to dine,” and “to run” are adverbial adjunts modifying the main verbs, in the same way the Chinese complement of result is an adverb of sorts, modifying the main verbs 赶,请,追. Just my interpretation.

  2. Lily says:

    @Tony: I’m not sure if your examples are exactly what Randy is talking about here. It seems to me that your examples are merely of an infinitive verb (in English) completing the meaning of another verb, while complements of result express a result of performing an action to a certain extent. You could say that 吃饭 is a result of 请, but I’m not sure it’s the same as how 饱 is a result of the *extent* of 吃.

  3. Louis says:

    I don’t understand why you are connecting predicative complements with resultative complements.

    I. A resultative is a phrase that indicates the state of a noun resulting from the completion of the verb. (wikipedia)

    (1) 把盤子舔光光
    ‘lick the plate clean’

    II. A predicative complement is the complement that is predicated by a predicate. (wikipedia)

    (2) She looks ill.

    (3) The clown made the children very excited.

    (4) John is in the garden.

    Although, there is a relationship between the two, defining resultatives as predicative complements is misleading. (Notice none of the above are resultatives.)

    Thus, I think it would be better to say that in English there are resultative predicative complements, and these often correspond with resultative complements in Chinese.

    By the way, phrases headed with ‘until’ are not predicative complements; they are adjuncts.

    Side note: I have noticed more flexibility in the usage of resultative complements in English. One that sticks out is from the most recent Cage movie: “I want to shake you naked.” I found this sentence to be the best part of the movie.

  4. Louis says:

    I made a mistake:

    Thus, I think it would be better to say that in English there are resultative predicative complements, *and that some resultative complements in Chinese correspond to them. (Although I wish all did; I scratched it exploded)

  5. Tony says:


    Perhaps what I am confusing here is the grammatical terminologies. Your example “I want to shake you naked” you claim is a resultative complement. Note that the complement “naked” is not a verb. It is normally an adjective modifying a person, but in this sentence turned into an adverb modifying shake (indicating the extent of the shaking). Similarly, in the phrase “lick the plate clean,” “clean” is an adjective normally modifying plate, but turned in this sentence into an adverb indicating the extent of the licking.

    To me, this structure is identical to what we call adjuncts, except we replace the one-word adverb with a multi-word adverbial phrase. “Shake you naked” and “lick the plate clean” is the same thing as “shake you until you are naked” and “lick the plate until it is clean,” where “until you are naked” and “until it is clean” are but multi-word phrases serving as the adverb.

    Conclusion: An adjunct and a complement of result is the same thing, except an adjuct specifies that you must use an adverbial phrase instead of a one-word adverb.

    The reason why in English we use adjuncts a lot is because we do not have one-word adverbs for everything, and must sometimes rely on long phrases to express the meaning. So if 舔它光光 means “lick it clean,” then 挠它爆炸 means “scratched it [insert adjective-turned-adverb describing a state of explosion].” Unfortunately, such a word we desire does not exist in English (explodingish?), and we must express the meaning by using a long phrase like “until it explodes.”

    Second conclusion: This speaks more to the versatility of Chinese verbs themselves than to the versatility of the complement result structure. The grammatical disparity between English and Chinese lies in Chinese verbs’ ability to be transformed into adjectives and adverbs at all times, without having to rely on long phrases like in English.

  6. Chrix says:

    I’d agree with Louis here. As far as predicate complements go, in fact I often have trouble to find idiomatic ways to express type (2) in Chinese, like “you look ill”, “this sounds interesting”. I’ve been saying stuff like 看起來X 聽起來X, but have sometimes been told by native speakers that it sounds like translatese…

    Anyways, to get back on topic, I disagree with Randy that this structure is “unlimited”. The number of resultative complements is still very much limited, usually grammatical descriptions list about 40ish of them. There might also be some more less rarely used ones, but this still doesn’t make them unlimited. The list of resultative complements is not completely closed, and as such might be open to additions, but can’t be extended arbitrarily.

    Now one more thing: there’s a fundamental difference between English and Chinese here: Chinese makes use of verb serialisation for these constructions here, while English doesn’t. To borrow a term usually used for motion verbs, Chinese is a verb-framed language, while English is a satellite-framed language (

  7. Chrix says:

    “some more rarely used ones”…

  8. Louis says:

    Your observation about adjuncts is well taken. So is your understanding of verb liquidity in Chinese.

    My original point is that comparing Chinese resultatives with English resultatives is better than comparing Chinese resultatives with predicative complements, even though the syntactic nature of an English resultative is different from a Chinese one. In English, a “resultative adjunt” is an adjective, not a verb.

    (1) *I lectured him annoyed.
    (2) I lectured him until he was annoyed.
    (3) They beat him unconscious.

    As for your second conclusion, I’m not completely sold. We can turn English verbs into adjectives through suffixing -ed. However, such constructions still seem wrong.

    (4) I smashed the door.
    (5) The smashed door is useless.
    (6) *I kicked the door smashed.
    (7) I kicked the door until I smashed it.

    More evidence for something else is found in the object in resultative constructions; it either is fonted through a 把 construction or through a topic-comment structure.

    (8) A) 炸醬麵在哪裏?
    B) 炸醬麵我丟掉了 (Topic-comment structure)

    (9) 我把書看完了。

    I would like to see a convincing argument for either possibility.

  9. Daan says:

    With a headache, I’ll not comment on the grammatical discussion, but before I forget let me just note I heard someone say “zǒu mílù le” earlier today.

  10. Chrix says:

    Daan, hope your headache’ll get better soon!

    But a great example, this seems to be like one of those “new resultative complements”, and what I find intriguing it is disyllabic. Does anyone know of any others (the directionals excluded)…

    It’s reasonably productive, I tried 走迷路, 開迷路, 飛迷路, 跑迷路, and most importantly, they seem to be able to be used as potential complements, which is an important characteristic to set them apart from merely lexically expressed resultatives: 走得迷路, 開不迷路. (Many hits have the 迷路 part in scary quotes, so it seems like this is indeed something new).

  11. Tony says:

    Louis, I agree with you that Chinese resultatives and English resultatives is more comparable than Chinese resultatives and English predicative complements. I also agree that we can turn English verbs into adjectives by using their past participle form, and that using those past participle adjectives in a resultative structure seems wrong. Here’s why I think that’s so.

    The English verbal adjective derived from the past participle carries a very specific meaning–It means the thing being modified has already finished being the object of the verbal action.

    -a written essay is an essay that has already finished being the object of a writing action. (I wrote the essay; The essay is written.)
    -a beaten team is a team that has already undergone a beating. (The Reds beat the Blues; The Blues are beaten.)
    -a smashed door is a door that has already undergone a smashing. (I smashed the door; The smashed door is in my room.)
    -an exploded bomb is a bomb that has already undergone an exploding. (The terrorist exploded the bomb; The soldiers found the exploded bomb in the marketplace.)

    This kind of adjective is not appropriate for resultatives. Note that the adjectives that do work in English resultative constructions (I licked the plate clean; She painted the wall yellow; etc.) are all pure adjectives, not past participle adjectives. That’s because it doesn’t make sense for a result to describe a state of completed action. You cannot “kick a door smashed,” but you can “kick a door open.”

    The reason why “scratched him exploded” does not make sense is because it does not accurately translate the Chinese–the Chinese equivalent of that would be something along to lines of 挠他爆炸过的, which also does not make sense.

  12. Daan says:

    I’m not sure how new 成功 and 清楚 are, but they are disyllabic and if Google is to believe, they can be used as potential complements. Here are some examples for 成功:

    Hòulái tā jiù gàochénggōngle.
    ‘Later on, the courts ruled in his favour.’

    Zài Táiwān, hěn duō dōu méi yǒu gàochénggōng.
    ‘In Taiwan, many [people] have not won their lawsuits [for libel].’

    清楚 is far better documented I believe, and I don’t think it’s a “new” resultative complement, but that depends on what your definition of the word “new” is.

  13. Chrix says:

    Yeah, 清楚 is one you’d even learn from a standard textbook.

    If you include all complements, including those that can only combine with two (低, 懂) or even only with one (紅) (at least according to Cartier 1972), then you’d still be about 100.

    Li and Thompson (1981:54) do say “given the appropriate verb, one can freely create new resultative verb compounds”, I’m with Bisang here who finds their statement “overly optimistic”. There are just too many constraints…

    Cartier, Alice 1972. Les verbes résultatifs en chinois moderne.

  14. @Chrix: If there are too many constraints, then how do you explain 挠爆炸了? I doubt 爆炸 is in the list of 100. I think there are plenty more that are just waiting to roll off someone’s creative tongue.

    Can anyone think of any where the first element is two syllables?

  15. Chrix says:

    I’ve tested 爆炸 with several verbs such as 引 and 按, and the google results are inconclusive at best, especially when trying the potential complement test. The next step would probably be to ask a large number of native speakers to find out how acceptable 爆炸 would be. 撓爆炸 may have been a nonce formation that would be rejected by most native speakers as a generally well-formed expression.

    What I meant by “too many constraints” is that this construction does not allow for any V1 to be freely combined with any V2 that could be construed to be a resultative, with possibly wide variation in native speaker judgments (thus the need to ask as many as possible). But the system doesn’t seem completely closed, so new forms seem to be trickling into the system, while some are falling out of use. I think this would be a very interesting part of the language to take a much closer look at.

    (Also: I haven’t read Cartier 1972, so I can’t say if she say does include 爆炸 or not).

    Do you mean examples where both V1 and V2 have two syllables? I think it’s quite common for a disyllabic V1 to combine with a monosyllabic V2…

  16. Zev Handel says:

    In this discussion, let’s also keep in mind the role of language play — that is, native speakers coining odd- and amusing-sounding forms whose meaning is apparent even if their structure is dubious. Most of these forms will be transient one-offs, especially if they violate the general patterns of the construction. But occasionally they become adapted into the language. I think the word “spendy” illustrates this kind of thing in English. The -y ending doesn’t usually productively attach to verbs to make adjectives*, and that’s why “spendy” sounds a bit odd and amusing to me. But it’s rapidly becoming entrenched. Even so, I don’t think we’re going to see a lot more of similarly-formed words. But you can play around with them if you like, and people will understand you:

    “Look at all the new construction around here! I wonder if my old neighborhood is this build-y”.

    *Though we do have words like jumpy and itchy firmly entrenched in the lexicon. Which is why the Simpsons character “Scratchy” is a funny name.

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