use 死了 (si le) to intensify adjectives in chinese

Use …死了 (sǐ le) to Intensify Adjectives in Chinese: A Simple Guide

You probably hear native speakers using the expression “…死了 (sǐ le) ” in conversation again and again, and wonder why the word “die” appears so often in Chinese.

Well, in English, you may say “I am scared to death”. The expression “to death” can be used to stress the level of your scaredness. Similarly in Chinese, 死了 (sǐ le)  is often used to intensify adjectives, and it has very wide applications. In this article, we are going to look at how to use …死了 (sǐ le)  correctly in Chinese.

How to Use 死了 (sǐ le)?

The structure couldn’t be simpler, just add 死了 (sǐ le)  after the adjective and it’ll become an exclamation. A rough equivalent in English would be “extremely…” or “so…”.

Pattern

adjective + 死了 (sǐ le)

Let’s look at some examples!

  • 死了
    Lěng sǐ le!
    So cold! (cold to death)
  • 我真是气死了
    Wǒ zhēnshì qì sǐ le!
    I am indeed extremely angry! (angry to death)
  • 刚才我紧张死了
    Gāngcái wǒ jǐnzhāng sǐ le!
    I was extremely nervous just now! (nervous to death)
  • 他们伤心死了
    Tāmen shāngxīn sǐ le.
    They are so sad. (sad to death)
  • 不要烦我,我忙死了
    Búyào fán wǒ, wǒ máng sǐ le!
    Don’t bother me, I am extremely busy! (busy to death)
  • 我工作了一天,累死了
    Wǒ gōngzuò le yì tiān, lèi sǐ le!
    I worked for a whole day, so tired! (tired to death)
  • 你写好了吗?老板急死了
    Nǐ xiě hǎo le ma? Lǎobǎn jí sǐ le!
    Are you done with the writing? The boss is extremely anxious! (anxious to death)
  • 这只猫难看死了
    Zhè zhī māo nánkàn sǐ le.
    This cat is extremely ugly. (ugly to death)
  • 他们怎么还没到?慢死了
    Tāmen zěnme hái méi dào? Màn sǐ le!
    How come they still haven’t arrived? So slow! (slow to death)
  • 外面吵死了
    Wàimiàn chǎo sǐ le!
    It’s extremely noisy outside! (noisy to death)
it's extremely noisy outside

Obviously, the “死了” in these sentences don’t actually refer to death, but are used to intensify the adjectives.

The adjectives don’t necessarily have to be negative like “tired”, “angry”, sad, etc, it’s equally common to use 死了 (sǐ le)  with adjectives that have positive connotations in spoken Chinese.  

For example:

  • 今天你美死了!
    Jīntiān nǐ měi sǐ le!
    You are so beautiful today! (beautiful to death)
  • 他帅死了
    Tā shuài sǐ le!
    He is so handsome! (handsome to death)
  • 小狗小猫可爱死了
    Xiǎogǒu xiǎomāo kěài sǐ le!
    The puppies and kitties are so cute! (cute to death)
  • 迪士尼乐园好玩死了
    Díshìní lèyuán hǎowán sǐ le!
    Disneyland is extremely fun! (fun to death)
  • 拉面好吃死了
    Lāmiàn hǎochī sǐ le!
    The ramen is so tasty! (tasty to death)
  • 他们的技术先进死了
    Tāmen de jìshù xiānjìn sǐ le!
    Their technology is so advanced! (advanced to death)
  • 我的儿子开心死了
    Wǒ de érzi kāixīn sǐ le.
    My son is extremely happy. (happy to death)
  • 老人们高兴死了
    Lǎorén men gāoxìng sǐ le.
    The old folks are so glad. (glad to death)
  • 利物浦赢了!我激动死了
    Lìwùpǔ yíng le! Wǒ jīdòng sǐ le!
    Liverpool won! I am extremely excited! (excited to death)
  • 崔娃的脱口秀好笑死了
    Cuīwá de tuōkǒuxiù hǎoxiào sǐ le!
    Trevor’s talk show is so hilarious! (hilarious to death)
trevor's talk show is so hilarious

When to Use 死了 (sǐ le)?

“…死了 (sǐ le) ” is a rather casual way of saying “extremely…” or “so…”. It’s mainly used in spoken Chinese and among people who know each other (it’s probably not the best idea to overuse the word “die” with strangers), rarely do people use it in formal occasions and writing. In those cases, you can use some similar but more formal expressions like “…极了(jí le)”, “非常(fēi cháng)…”, etc.

For instance, you are not supposed to use “见到你们我高兴死了 (Jiàn dào nǐmen wǒ gāoxìng sǐ le)” in a public speech (save that for your pals instead). It’s more appropriate to say “见到你们我高兴极了 (Jiàn dào nǐmen wǒ gāoxìng jí le)” or “见到你们我非常高兴 (Jiàn dào nǐmen wǒ fēicháng gāoxìng)”.

Just note that while 死了 (sǐ le)  works with a wide range of adjectives in Chinese, positive and negative, don’t assume it’ll work with all the subjects.

For example, you can say

你的要求高死了!
Nǐ de yāoqiú gāo sǐ le!
Your demands are extremely high! (“高死了 gāo sǐ le” works with the subject “要求 yāoqiú”)

But, you will never hear native speakers say

这棵树高死了
zhè kē shù gāo sǐ le!
Wrong way to say “this tree is so tall”. (“高死了 gāo sǐ le” doesn’t work with the subject “树 shù”)

Confused? Well, this is not really about the grammar or the word itself, it’s more about colloquial habit. To native speakers, some combinations (like “树 shù” and “高死了 gāo sǐ le”) just don’t add up. Unfortunately, there is not really any logic or rule behind this to tell you when it works or not. (perhaps your boss’s high demands will kill you but the height of the tree won’t because…let’s face it – it’s just a tree)

Don’t worry, just observe how native speakers use the word in real life and you’ll pick it up quickly. If you want to play safe, you can always use the “太 (tài)…了 (le)” structure instead.

这棵树
Zhè kē shù tài gāo le.
This tree is so tall! (sounds perfect!)

Wrap up

“…死了 (sǐ le) ” is a very common way to intensify adjectives in spoken Chinese. It can be translated as “extremely…” or “so…” in English. It works with both positive and negative adjectives, however, some combinations may sound weird. If you are not sure if you should use it, use “太 (tài)…了 (le)” to play it safe. In formal occasions and writing, use …极了 (jí le) or 非常 (fēi cháng) 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!