Notes on Chinese from gregorynyssa

In this article I attempt to condense some interesting information about Chinese I’ve learned in my recent discussions with gregorynyssa, a scholar of Chinese, Greek, and Latin, much after my own heart but far more advanced in all of these studies than myself.

Sentence Structure

According to gregorynyssa speakers of Mandarin Chinese, a language significantly lacking in grammar (such as explicit case), use these tricks with sentences to express more complicated ideas.

Since Chinese does not handle embedded clauses very elegantly, often speakers have a tendency just to avoid them.

Here are three techniques used by Mandarin speakers to express more complicated ideas.

Comma Splicing

Join two complete sentences with a comma. A result of this is there is no consistent distinction between commas and periods in Chinese writing.


Subject-periodic Construction

This involves combining sentences which share a subject.


Pivotal Construction

If the object of the first sentence is the same as the subject of the second, omit the latter and join the two sentences with a comma.


Digraphic Verbs, Improper Digraphic Verbs, and Monographic Verbs

Monographic verbs can’t serve as nouns.
Improper digraphic verbs can’t serve as nouns.
Most but not all digraphic verbs can serve as nouns.

The upshot of this is that it is necessary to learn the the noun forms for all improper digraphic verbs. For example, 睡觉 may not serve as a noun. In that case 睡眠 must be used. This partially explains why there are so many two-character words in chinese where both characters, according to the dictionary, mean exactly the same thing.

Improper digraphic verbs generally have a second syllable indicating direction or result.

Minor Grammatical Points

来 before a verb indicates the infinitive.
得 is more idiomatic when used vefore adverbs.
来到 is an improper verb meaning “come to.”
迅速 is used more often as an adverb in declarative sentences than 快, which is most often used in an imperative sense.
去 may only be used before place names, non-monographic verbs, and before terms indicating general vicinity1.

Further Reading

According to gregorynyssa, reading Disyllabic Words in Chinese and
Metrical Phonology have helped him fundamentally understand the nature 普通话(Putonghua). I haven’t yet read these papers and as of yet have no comment on them.

For a better understanding of how 普通话(apparently of relatively recent origin) differs from Ancient Chinese, read Peasant and Merchant as well as Rule of Law.

  1. Thus it is necessary to append 那边 to nouns like 超市 when expressing “going to <non-place name> []

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