Intensify Adjectives with ...极了 (jí le) in Chinese

Intensify Adjectives with …极了 (jí le) in Chinese: The Beginner’s Guide

…极了 (jí le) is one of the most common ways to intensify adjectives in Chinese. In this short guide, we will look at how this expression is used in practice, and when native speakers like to use it.

How to Use 极了 (jí le)?

The character 极 (jí) means “extreme”, or “utmost”. And when it’s combined with the particle 了 (le), it becomes the adverb of degree “extremely (utmostly)”.

Unlike in English, where you use the words before adjectives (i.e. extremely good), in Chinese, you can only use 极了 (jí le) after the adjective to express exclamation.

Pattern

adjective + 极了 (jí le)

Let’s look at some examples!

  • 他聪明极了
    Tā cōngmíng jí le!
    He is extremely smart!
  • 这个点子好极了
    Zhège diǎnzi hǎo jí le!
    This idea is extremely good!
  • 你看上去漂亮极了
    Nǐ kànshàngqù piàoliàng jí le!
    You look extremely pretty!
  • 你们的宝宝可爱极了
    Nǐmen de bǎobao kě’ài jí le!
    Your baby is extremely cute!
  • 奶茶好喝极了
    Nǎichá hǎohē jí le!
    The milk tea is extremely tasty!
  • 老人们感动极了
    Lǎorén men gǎndòng jí le.
    The old folks are extremely touched.
  • 跳伞刺激极了
    Tiàosǎn cìjī jí le!
    Skydiving is extremely thrilling!
  • 那个家伙有意思极了
    Nàge jiāhuo yǒuyìsi jí le!
    That dude is extremely funny!
  • 比赛要开始了,观众们兴奋极了
    Bǐsài yào kāishǐ le, guānzhòng men xīngfèn jí le!
    The game is about to start, the audience are extremely worked up!
  • 今天的庙会热闹极了
    Jīntiān de miàohuì rènào jí le!
    The temple fair today is extremely lively!
The temple fair today is extremely lively.

“…极了 (jí le)” conveys a stronger tone than “很 (hěn)”. It’s at the same intensity level as “非常 (fēicháng)”, which literally means “abnormally” or “extraordinarily”. The difference is that “非常 (fēicháng)” is used for description, and “…极了 (jí le)” is used for exclamation.

Compare these:

  • 聪明。
    hěn cōngmíng.
    He is quite/fairly smart.
  • 非常聪明。
    fēicháng cōngmíng.
    He is extremely smart. (stating a fact)
  • 他聪明极了
    Tā cōngmíng jí le!
    He is extremely smart! (expressing approbation or admiration)

The adjectives before 极了 (jí le) don’t necessarily have to be positive like “good”, “interesting”, “smart”, it’s just as common to use the word with adjectives that have negative connotations in Chinese.  

For example:

  • 今天热极了
    Jīntiān rè jí le!
    It’s extremely hot today!
  • 他郁闷极了
    Tā yùmèn jí le.
    He is extremely depressed.
  • 刚才我紧张极了
    Gāngcái wǒ jǐnzhāng jí le
    I was extremely nervous just now。
  • 小猫害怕极了
    Xiǎomāo hàipà jí le.
    The kitten is extremely scared.
  • 她的衣服丑极了
    Tā de yīfu chǒu jí le.
    Her clothes are extremely ugly.
  • 这个问题蠢极了
    Zhège wèntí chǔn jí le!
    This question is extremely dumb.
  • 你的借口可笑极了
    Nǐ de jièkǒu kěxiào jí le!
    Your excuse is extremely laughable!
  • 狗狗死了,我的女儿伤心极了
    Gǒugou sǐ le, wǒ de nǚ’ér shāngxīn jí le.
    The puppy died, my daughter is extremely sad.
  • 他们的话让我尴尬极了
    Tāmen de huà ràng wǒ gāngà jí le.
    Their remarks made me extremely embarrassed.
  • 忙了三天三夜,医生们累极了
    Máng le sān tiān sān yè, yīshēng men lèi jí le.
    Having been busy for three days and nights, the doctors are extremely tired.
the doctors are extremely tired

When to Use 极了 (jí le)?

Though you will hear people using “…极了 (jí le)” every once in a while in conversation, the expression is used much more often in formal occasions and writing. When native speakers are engaged in casual conversations, they are more likely to use less formal expressions such as …死了 (sǐ le), “太 (tài)…了 (le)”, etc.

For instance, when you bump into an old pal who you haven’t seen for a while, you would not want to tell him “见到你我高兴极了 (jiàn dào nǐ wǒ gāoxìng jí le)”, because it would then ooze a formal, diplomatic feel as if you are no longer close friends. Instead, “见到你我高兴死了 (Jiàn dào nǐ wǒ gāoxìng sǐ le)” or “见到你我太高兴了 (Jiàn dào nǐ wǒ tài gāoxìng le)” would make you sound more sincere.

Also note that while 极了 (jí le)  works with a wide range of adjectives, positive and negative, don’t take for granted that it’ll work with all the adjectives in Chinese.

For example, you cannot say

他们急极了
Tāmen jí jí le.
Wrong way to say “they are extremely anxious”.

or

这座山高极了
Zhè zuò shān gāo jí le.
Wrong way to say “this mountain is extremely high”.

Well, there is not so much grammar behind it, it’s rather about colloquial habit. To native Chinese speakers, some combination of words (like the double “jí” in “急极 jí jí”) just sound awkward, and others may cause ambiguity (e.g. 高极 (gāo jí) sounds the same as the word “高级 (gāojí)”, thus misleading people to interpret the sentence as “the mountain is advanced”, which makes no sense at all).

In these cases, you can use other expressions to strengthen the degree.

他们急死了
Tāmen jí sǐ le.
They are extremely anxious. (literally, anxious to death)

这座山
Zhè zuò shān tài gāo le.
This mountain is extremely high. (literally, excessively high)

Though there is no concrete grammar rule that dictates which adjectives work with 极了 (jí le) and which adjectives work with the others, you’ll pick up the pattern quickly by observing how native speakers use the words in real life. You don’t have to worry about it at this stage. Worst comes to the worst, you can always use the safe word “非常 (fēicháng)” to strengthen the degree.

他们非常急。
Tā men fēicháng jí.
They are very very anxious.

这座山非常高。
Zhè zuò shān fēicháng gāo.
This mountain is very very high.

Wrap up

“…极了 (jí le) ” is a common way to intensify adjectives in Chinese. It’s translated as “extremely…” in English and is mainly used in formal occasions and writing.

极了 (jí le) works with both positive and negative adjectives, however, some word combinations may sound awkward to native speakers. If you are not sure if you should use it, use “非常 (fēicháng)” to play it safe. In casual conversations, use less formal expressions like “…死了 (sǐ le)”, “太 (tài)…了 (le)” instead.

Don’t forget to check other grammar articles on ImproveMandarin.Com’s Grammar Channel. Remember, grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together!