Chinese grammar 所 (suǒ) structural particle

The character 所 (suǒ) has a few different uses. In this article we’re looking at its use as a structural particle. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that term means - you can still use 所 correctly without understanding the jargon around it!

Nominal constructions with 所

A nominal construction is something that can be used as a noun. 所 is used to form one kind of nominal construction. The basic structure for this is:

所 [verb] 的

As you can see, 所 is placed right before the verb and 的 right after it. This creates a meaning like “that which is [verb]ed”. Here are some short examples for this structure:

所吃的

suǒ chī de

that which is eaten

所知道的

suǒ zhīdào de

that which is known

所失去的

suǒ shīqù de

that which is lost

With this 所 construction, you can make compound terms that act as nouns in a sentence. We can expand the basic structure to include this:

所 [verb] 的 [noun]

Here are some examples of these compound nouns:

所吃的菜

suǒ chīde cài

the food that is eaten

所知道的事实

suǒ zhīdào de shìshí

the facts that are known

所学到的知识

suǒ xuédào de zhīshì

the knowledge that is learned

Note how each of these is nominal. That is, they could all function as nouns in a sentence. Now let’s expand the structure a little bit more again:

[noun] 所 [verb] 的 [noun]

The first noun is the agent. This means it is doing the action of the verb. The second noun is the patient. This means it is receiving the action of the verb. Let’s have a look at some examples for this structure:

我所吃的菜

wǒ suǒ chī de cài

the food I eat

他们所知道的事实

tāmen suǒ zhīdào de shìshí

the facts that they know

我们所学到的知识

wǒmen suǒ xué dào de zhīshì

the knowledge we have learned

Again, each of these makes a ‘chunk’ that can work as a noun in a sentence. Let’s do just that and have a look at some full example sentences:

我所吃的菜都是自然的。

Wǒ suǒ chī de cài dōu shì zìrán de.

The food I eat is all natural.

他们所知道的事实只有三分之一是正确的。

Tāmen suǒ zhīdào de shìshí zhǐyǒu sān fēn zhī yī shì zhèngquè de.

Of the facts they know, only one third are correct.

我们所知道的很少,而我们所不知道的却很多。

Wǒmen suǒ zhīdào de hěn shǎo, ér wǒmen suǒ bù zhīdào de què hěnduō.

What we know is very little, and what we don’t know is a lot.

軍人所失去的自由太多了。

Jūnrén suǒ shīqù de zìyóu tài duōle.

The freedom that soldiers give up is too great.

You might have noticed that in all the examples given here, 所 could be left out and it would still be grammatical. This shows that 所 is actually optional. It can be used to make something clearer or to add some formality, but it is not essential.

Some common compounds with 所

Whilst in theory any verb could be used with 所, there are a few that appear with it more commonly than others. These have almost become fixed vocabulary items. Some of the most common are:

所谓

suǒwèi

so-called

所得

suǒdé

that which is gained

所有

suǒyǒu

“that which exists” (i.e. all)

所以

suǒyǐ

“that which because of” (i.e. so)

所想

suǒ xiǎng

“that which is thought” (i.e. one’s thoughts)

Let’s have a look at some example sentences for these 所 compound words:

这种所谓的翻译非常不好。

Zhè zhǒng suǒwèi de fānyì fēicháng bù hǎo.

This so-called “translation” is terrible.

我要合计一下学生们所得的总分数。

Wǒ yào héjì yīxià xuéshēngmen suǒdé de zǒng fēnshù.

I’m going to total up the points gained by the students.

我所有的衣服都脏了。

Wǒ suǒyǒu de yīfú dōu zāngle.

All of my clothes are dirty.

这台电脑很旧,所以比较便宜。

Zhè tái diànnǎo hěn jiù, suǒyǐ bǐjiào piányi.

This computer is old, so it’s cheaper.

从长远来看,也许结果比你所想的要好。

Cóng chángyuǎn lái kàn, yěxǔ jiéguǒ bǐ nǐ suǒ xiǎng de yāo hǎo.

It might turn out better than you think in the long run.

As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions, please share them in the comments below!

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Hugh Grigg

About the author:

Hugh Grigg graduated from Cambridge with a degree in Chinese Studies. After living in Qingdao and Shanghai, he is now based in London.