…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.
adjective + 极了 (jí le)
Let’s look at some examples!
Tā cōngmíng jí le!
He is extremely smart!
Zhège diǎnzi hǎo jí le!
This idea is extremely good!
Nǐ kànshàngqù piàoliàng jí le!
You look extremely pretty!
Nǐmen de bǎobao kě’ài jí le!
Your baby is extremely cute!
Nǎichá hǎohē jí le!
The milk tea is extremely tasty!
Lǎorén men gǎndòng jí le.
The old folks are extremely touched.
Tiàosǎn cìjī jí le!
Skydiving is extremely thrilling!
Nàge jiāhuo yǒuyìsi jí le!
That dude is extremely funny!
Bǐsài yào kāishǐ le, guānzhòng men xīngfèn jí le!
The game is about to start, the audience are extremely worked up!
Jīntiān de miàohuì rènào jí le!
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.
Tā hěn cōngmíng.
He is quite/fairly smart.
Tā fēicháng cōngmíng.
He is extremely smart. (stating a fact)
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.
Jīntiān rè jí le!
It’s extremely hot today!
Tā yùmèn jí le.
He is extremely depressed.
Gāngcái wǒ jǐnzhāng jí le。
I was extremely nervous just now。
Xiǎomāo hàipà jí le.
The kitten is extremely scared.
Tā de yīfu chǒu jí le.
Her clothes are extremely ugly.
Zhège wèntí chǔn jí le!
This question is extremely dumb.
Nǐ de jièkǒu kěxiào jí le!
Your excuse is extremely laughable!
Gǒugou sǐ le, wǒ de nǚ’ér shāngxīn jí le.
The puppy died, my daughter is extremely sad.
Tāmen de huà ràng wǒ gāngà jí le.
Their remarks made me extremely embarrassed.
Máng le sān tiān sān yè, yīshēng men lèi jí le.
Having been busy for three days and nights, 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
Tāmen jí jí le.
Wrong way to say “they are extremely anxious”.
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.
Tāmen jí sǐ le.
They are extremely anxious. (literally, anxious to death)
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.
Tā men fēicháng jí.
They are very very anxious.
Zhè zuò shān fēicháng gāo.
This mountain is very very high.
“…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!