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:
that which is eaten
that which is known
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:
the food that is eaten
the facts that are known
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:
the food I eat
the facts that they know
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:
The food I eat is all natural.
Of the facts they know, only one third are correct.
What we know is very little, and what we don’t know is a lot.
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:
that which is gained
“that which exists” (i.e. all)
“that which because of” (i.e. so)
“that which is thought” (i.e. one’s thoughts)
Let’s have a look at some example sentences for these 所 compound words:
This so-called “translation” is terrible.
I’m going to total up the points gained by the students.
All of my clothes are dirty.
This computer is old, so it’s cheaper.
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!