A Concise Grammar of Classical Chinese

Last revised November, 2010.

This project, with faults time and attention would have remedied, has been put on the back burner due to my employment crisis. A great pity, this, since I was just finishing an essay (with some translations) on the Dao De Jing which would have been a splendid pendant to the Confucius essay. I mean to return to Chinese as soon as possible, but alas, that day may be delayed by years.


Yakov Rabinovich






Remarks on Format and Organization

Recommended Book


Basic Principles





I, We

You, You plural

He, She, It, They


Poetic Uses of the Possessives


Verbal Usages

Indirect Discourse

Putative Adjective

Active and Passive

As the Verb "to be."

Omission of with Adjective and Numbers

with Verbs

Ongoing Action


Adverbs and Adverbial


Temporary State

With a Complementary Infinitive

To Indicate Completion

Yě Yǐ Yǐ


Relative Clauses


Implied Relative Clauses




Classical Chinese is taught in American colleges, if at all, with the greatest reluctance. Students are required to first take two or three years of modern Chinese, and only then exposed to classical texts. These are elucidated almost exclusively by bad translations into the modern language --- as though classical Chinese were nothing but modern Chinese with a lot of words left out.

Not only does this method not teach classical Chinese, it rarely works even to impart the modern tongue. Because of the difficulty of memorizing the characters, and the added trouble of all the words being monosyllables that sound like nothing in particular (though all too much like each other), learning Chinese is at best tortuous. One must review and re-review the same material, till it seeps at last, drop by hard-won drop, into long term memory. Now, if the material one is passing ever and again before one's eyes consists of banalities that, once mastered, will only enable one to annoy people in restaurants --- well, most men of imagination simply quit. Even if one does persist for years, and chokes down all the ugly simplified characters and the diet of trivial chatter, one is still quite unable to read a Tang poem or a line from Confucius.

How much better it would be to begin with the classical language! Because of the great simplicity of Chinese grammar, one could plunge into real literature on day one. There is no long apprenticeship (as there is for Indo-European languages) during which one must memorize noun and verb paradigms. One can learn the grammar with the vocabulary as one goes along. But instead students are made to suffer through years of conning how to buy bus tickets, ask directions and tell time (to list the principal marvels imparted.) Only then may they be exposed to a real literature which they could have read at once. This is a piece of malignant stupidity which one would be hard put to parallel.

Yet there is more. Not only is the student deprived of the immediate and easy rewards of his work, the hard work itself is made far harder. Memorize one must, there's no way around it. But one can get the same result by memorizing poetry and aphorisms rather than random vocabulary lists. Which is easier, which is likelier to live in memory and enrich the learner's life? Likewise the writing system is acquired with far less trouble via the traditional characters. Admittedly these have more lines, but they carry with them the traditional visual etymologies. More often than not these give accurate glimpses into the concepts the characters express. In the cases where they fail to do this, they are at least a rich source of folklore. Even if these two great intellectual treasures were lacking, the traditional etymologies make the meanings of the characters, and often the sounds as well, instantly memorable. Even if one's ultimate goal is knowledge of the modern language, this can be more easily attained via the ancient tongue than by starting with modern conversation, for the simple lexical reasons noted above.

I shall here present a concise grammar of the language. I assume a knowledge of pinyin and pronunciation, and the ability to copy characters, such as one may acquire from the first chapter of any good modern Chinese textbook.

I cannot here offer suggestions as to what online dictionaries are best, since this changes with greater frequency than the updatings of this grammar. I myself find that it is essential to have Mathew's Chinese English Dictionary and Karlgren's Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese, as well as The Far East Chinese English Dictionary.

In addition, I have saved countless hours of hunting for characters with the Wenlin software (http://www.wenlin.com) which has numerous further advantages, including a library of character-linked classical texts. Still, one should consult Mathews or Karlgren for the meanings: the Wenlin entries, though excellent, are not comprehensive.

Pulleyblank's An Outline of of Classical Chinese Grammar is also indispensable. Despite its shortcomings in analysis of syntax, it is invaluable for its treatment of important individual words. The excellent index is a treasure map to lexical understanding.

The student would also do well to invest in a Chinese language word processing program. I have acquired the NJStar (http://www.njstar.com/) with which I am abundantly satisfied, though the functionality of the pen feature is problematic. Being able to copy Chinese texts from the internet and read them using the various dictionary features of NJStar has saved countless hours, and this little book of mine would have been impossible without the program.

One would also do well to acquire the Legge set of The Chinese Classics, which one can acquire from a second-hand online bookseller for about two hundred dollars. These texts are the indispensable foundation of a knowledge of good literary Chinese, and, just as important, they have been carefully proofread. The Chinese texts one can find on the internet, and even in the the programs I have recommended, suffer from a certain number of exchanged characters. Beware of modern editions, which are almost all in simplified characters! The student will have enough to do learning the traditional ones.

This is a work in progress, which I shall be updating on a regular basis. I post it now since, even in its incomplete and provisional form, since the clarifications I offer on number of topics are vitally important to the reader of classical Chinese, and nowhere else to be found. I shall be grateful to anyone who brings to my attention errors or omissions.

A word may here be added about the proliferation of translations of Chinese poetry, among which one should add the translations (now more than 250) of the Dao De Jing into English. Since a scientific understanding of Classical Chinese grammar has never been general, virtually all of these are either fraudulent reworkings of earlier translations, or unfounded interpretations of the texts themselves. Even the really good translations, (e.g., Waley, Karlgren, Hawkes) are not without shortcomings in understanding the grammar (for which they can't be blamed --- the information was not available before Pulleyblank's book). And these responsible scholars were, none of them, lyrically gifted.

I mean to remedy this lack myself, and am presently working on the Dao De Jing, of which I mean to offer a study with selections soon. Then I shall be turning my attention to Mencius, for the sake of completing this grammar: he is the Cicero of Classical Chinese, and is the one true school in which a mastery of syntax may be acquired. Thereafter I shall complete the Classic of Poetry translation, and make a study of the I Ching with selections of its poetic passages.






The Chinese themselves did not make a scientific study of their classical grammar, such as the Greeks or the Indians did. The traditional Chinese approach to the language is purely lexical. One learns the special idiomatic uses of the words by studying examples. Because of the great simplicity of Chinese, this approach is effective for handling most, though by no means all, points of syntax.

Traditional instruction in the Chinese classics is pretty much the same as what you'd find if you studied the Talmud at a yeshiva. The teacher reads and paraphrases into modern idiom as he goes. Sooner or later the student, who already knows Hebrew, picks up the closely cognate language of the Talmud, Aramaic. He develops "a feel" for the grammar. The merit of this approach is that it favors intuitive understanding. The shortcoming is that a really complete control of the grammar's fine points will remain elusive.

The scientific study of Chinese begins only with the grammars written by Christian missionaries in the 17th century. Though our knowledge of the modern language has made great strides, and is now close to being complete, the grammar of classical Chinese has been neglected. This is due both to the Chinese' own indifference to it, and the purely mercantile motives of nearly all modern western language teaching.

Edwin G. Pulleyblank's Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar is the standard, and indeed the only serious work on this subject. I have relied upon it heavily for my own work, but even this fine book has a number of defects which it will be instructive to point out.

First there is the sheer obscurantism. Really, there is no reason to use words like "anaphoric" and "transformationally" if the intention is to be understood. And saying "adnominal" instead of "adjective" pays unnecessary tribute to Rome. Another vice from which Pulleyblank is not entirely free is "linguistics." The linguistic approach is to describe a language with meaningless elaboration, rather than prescribing and establishing the clear rules which a language will necessarily obey. Finally, Pulleyblank continues the lexical tradition of the Chinese, and most of his book consists of overblown dictionary entries, rendered less useful by the above-mentioned obscurantism and linguistics.

Pulleyblank's is the most useful grammar book I have found for Classical Chinese, and I am sorry to take it so seriously to task. But since it suffers from the above defects to the extent that I now have to write my own grammar of Classical Chinese, I think I may be forgiven a little plain speaking.

It will no doubt be promptly objected by some that I am imposing the terminology of traditional western grammar, which comes to us from the study of Latin, on an inappropriate object. The reply is that the terminology of Latin grammar, which is in turn based on that developed by Alexandrian scholars for the study of Greek, came about as a result of a thousand-year study of these classical languages, and is a splendid tool for understanding and describing any language. Whatever the actual mechanics of a given language, the basics remain the same. Tense, number, person, relation, degree of possibility and so on must be indicated somehow, regardless of whether they are so by specific forms (as in Latin) or by specific words and word order (as in Chinese.)

I use, for example the term "gerund" to describe a phenomenon in Chinese grammar. Now of course there are no gerunds in Chinese, in the sense that there are no special verbal forms that may be so denominated, but there are fixed combinations of verb and particle that do exactly what a gerund does: make a verb (like "write") into a noun by making its action continuous ("writing"), thus making a quasi-noun, which may stand as a subject ("writing is tiresome") and is able to take a direct object ("writing a grammar.") A thing which is, in most of its uses, a gerund, may be conveniently referred to as a gerund, and indeed must be, if the aim is to communicate clearly to the reader. The proper way to teach is to make the known a bridge to the unknown. To invent unheard of terms to describe unfamiliar concepts is a capricious proceeding.

But the proof of my assertions, and the vindication of my method, will come from a perusal of the texts I translate and comment on in the grammar itself. If I make the meaning clear by explanations which are consistently effective in explaining the so far intractable problems of Classical Chinese grammar, then I should in fairness be taken seriously as one whose works have in some measure superceded those of my predecessors.



Remarks on Format and Organization

All Chinese texts are given in Pinyin, Chinese, and literal translation. The object of these translations is to make it transparently clear to the student what the Chinese means, thus I will always prefer awkward English to a smooth translation that hides the "watch-works" of the sentence. For the translations that appear with each quotation in Chinese:

I shall always indicate words that I supply by enclosing them between square brackets [ ] .

Sometimes I have had to paraphrase, because a word-for-word rendering would have been, by itself, unintelligible. In such cases I shall use parentheses and the word "literally" ( literally, " . . . " ) to show what the Chinese really says.

In the translation portions I shall give Chinese names in my own style of sound-equivalence, which is simply the best approximation of the sound which decent English orthography allows. Pinyin should only be used in transcriptions: to foist its mysteries on the unprepared reader is just scholarly malice.

At times I refer the reader to the entry for a word in Mathews' dictionary. This will look like this (M. 6771). The "M" is for Mathews and the number is for the entry. When I quote from the Mathews definition without change, I place the words in quotation marks. At times I will have recourse to Wang Li's Ancient Chinese Dictionary for the clarification of an archaic word. In this case I will use the abbreviation W.L. Unfortunately Wang Li's work is only available in Chinese, and is not yet available to us even via Internet booksellers. A last authority which I will be citing for lexical matters is Karlgren's Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese, abbreviated as K. Karlgren is an absolute authority for the archaic and early-classical meaning of any given word, superceding even Mathews and Wang Li.



Basic Principles


Though Chinese is not an easy language, it is a very simple one. Once we grasp the full extent of this simplicity, and the problems which it causes, we arrive at a truly scientific understanding of the language and our work in learning it becomes immeasurably easier.

Chinese does not mark person, number, tense, mood, voice or case in the forms of its nouns and verbs. This simplicity in the form of the language entails that word order is rigidly fixed. (Word order is considerably more flexible, however, in poetry.) The following rules are the very essence of Classical Chinese syntax:

1) The subject must precede the predicate, but

a) this order may be inverted in an exclamation

2) A modifier --- be it adjective, possessive, adverb, negation, another noun, a verb used as and adjective (liú shuǐ "flowing water"), whatever --- must precede the word it modifies.

3) A verb must precede its object, but

a) an object or any other post-verbal element may be fronted for emphasis;

b) interrogative pronoun objects precede the verb ("What are you doing?")

c) pronoun objects are placed immediately before the verb when the verb is negated ("He did not me deceive.")

d) in archaic texts, a fronted object may be recapitulated by a zhī or shì placed in front of the verb. ("The Dog, him I walked.")

e) zì, is the object "self" and is always placed right before the verb (Only myself have I troubled.")

4) Normally the subject precedes the verb, but

a) a passive is formed by putting the object in front of the verb, and the object, if clear from context, may be unexpressed. For example, the word wéi used all by itself may mean "[it] was done."

5) Normally the object follows the verb, but

a) interrogative pronoun objects precede the verb.

b) when a verb is negated, personal pronouns are placed between the negative particle and the verb.

6) Any noun, adjective or verb may be used as a causative verb. (lǎi , "[he] comes." But, lǎi zhī , "[he] makes him come."

7) The functions of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, in fact, of virtually every part of speech, are potentially interchangeable. Context and word order are the only reliable guides to how a word is to be understood.

8) Indirect objects come between the verb and the object, as in English ("I bought him a book.") However, when there are two objects, one direct and one indirect, both come after the verb, indirect first, just as in English. ("I gave Robert a book.")

There are a number of exceptions to these rules of word order, but these relate to particular words, not general principles. They will be addressed individually below when the words themselves are described.



These will receive no special treatment here, since their employment is straightforward and without nuance. They precede the verb or noun negated. The different negating words may be found at the end of this book, and their description there will be found adequate for a sound practical understanding. The one matter which must be particularly noted is that, after a negation, be it a negation of a verb or of the sentence's subject, an object pronouns will placed before the verb. ("He did not me visit." "Not he me visited.") In a sentence without a negation, the pronoun object, like a noun object, follows the verb. ("He visited me." He visited New York.")


The placement of zhī in the lines below is good complex example of negations in action.

Zì mù guī tí, xún měi qiě yì.

Fěi rǔ zhī wéi měi, měi rén zhī yí.

荑,洵 異。

美,美 貽。

From a shepherd came [this] reed [pipe], truly beautiful and unique.

[It is] not you [who] made it lovely (literally, "it made lovely") [but] a beautiful person's giving [it]. (Shi Jing 42)

In the second line (you) is the negated subject of the implied verb "is." The pronoun object zhī (it), since it follows a negation, is placed before the verb.


Easily inferred words are frequently omitted, and so the most fundamental part of learning Classical Chinese is coming to know what to supply. When a word which is typically omitted is in fact given, we may assume that it is so to give additional emphasis, or to avoid ambiguity

Subjects are more often than not unexpressed in declarative sentences. This is particularly the case when:

the subject is easily understood from context, ("He ran home, [he] picked up the newspaper, [he] scanned the ads.")

when it is indefinite ("[One] should always do [one's] best"),

and when it is impersonal ("[It's] raining.")

Note however that in commands, the subject "you" is often expressed, without implying any special emphasis.

The pronoun object of the verb is also frequently omitted if the subject which it would have referred to to is evident.

All tenses are expressed by the present tense form of the verb. Other tenses must simply be inferred when required. Frequently the tense required will be signaled by a particle.

Often, we must not only give the verb its subjects or objects, but also supply the conjunctions. Typically omitted are the conjunctions which give one verb an adverbial relation to another: when, because, although and if (and of course their synonyms.) Coordinating conjunctions, like and and then must also, ordinarily, be supplied.

There is no "that" in classical Chinese to mark a subordinate clause. Thus the second Chinese verb in a sequence may begin a subordinate clause. For example, it may indicate the purpose of the first verb, in which case we must preface it with a phrase like "in order to." The subordinate clauses are actually learned rather easily, by the traditional method of studying the Classical Chinese with a modern gloss. Recognition of these structures is easy for us because English already expresses subordinate clauses of purpose, result, intention and so on without any special moods or introductory particles, usually just by adding an infinitive ("He worked hard to get into medical school." The idea here is a purpose clause: "He worked hard in order to get into medical school.")

The particle may always be omitted where it is clearly implied. This is true with nouns as with verbs. The use of is discussed in detail below.

Some of the most common omissions are the least obvious to the beginning student. Most common among these is the omission of ("at") at the beginning of a sentence. This is particularly common before yǒu "there is/are". Thus Chinese would say "[At] the house there are guests." Yǒu is by no means the only such word that may be prefaced by an place-phrase with the omitted.

Equally common is the omission of a place-phrase like "there is" before words like huò , "someone," and mò , "no one," which in these cases are read "There is someone . . ." and "There is no one . . ."

Wú dùn zhī jiān, wù, mò néng xiàn yě.

堅﹐物﹐莫 也。

My shield's thickness [is such that], [among (yú)] things, [there is] nothing that can pierce [it]. (Hán Fēi Zǐ, 15: 2B)

The possessives zhī and , however, are never omitted. If we find a phrase like "king throne" we cannot correctly read it as "king's throne." We may take the first word as an adjective (royal throne) or assume some words have been omitted ([to the] king [a] throne [is]) but even these proceedings are dubious, and could only be justified in poetry, and there only if we have the strongest support from the context.

The only interesting problems Classical Chinese poses to the western linguist arise from the ways in which it truly differs from an Indo-European language. These appear in the ways it supplies its most pressing lacks: relative pronouns, and infinitive and participle forms for making nouns out of verbs. For these matters, example is not better than precept and we must carefully analyze the structures.



There is no distinction between singular and plural for the pronouns. Where a pronoun is known to be limited as to number, I have noted this. All pronouns may be used as subject or possessive, while only some are also used as object or emphatic. The latter are indicated. The descriptions are at the moment somewhat tentative, based mainly on the unsatisfactory descriptions in Pulleyblank and Matthews. It may be that a satisfactory description of the archaic and rare pronouns will never be possible due to the scarcity of examples, and that the general principles given in bold in this paragraph are as much as one actually has by way of rules. There will surely be exceptions in archaic texts and among archaizing authors. Experience with the pronouns' actual use must be one's guide, and as mine increases I will add my findings to the following notes.

Note carefully that, as stated above under Basic Principles, a pronoun object always immediately precedes its verb when the verb is negated! This rule may occasionally be ignored for the sake of giving strongest emphasis.

In the following I will occasionally give the original meaning of a word which came to be used as a pronoun. This is purely a matter of etymological interest and almost never affects the sense of the pronoun.

I, We

common in classical writing:

(M. 4778) Always object/ emphatic in classical usage.

(M. 7188) On rare occasions may appear as an object between a negative particle and a verb.

archaic and rare even in classical writing:

áng (M. 44) Original meaning: "high; to raise."

(M. 6008) The original meaning was "Three Stars in Ursa Major, hence: eminent; exalted." With this sense, the character is pronounced tái.

(M. 7605) Only used in the singular. Also object/emphatic. In the oracle bones this is used almost exclusively by the king.

(M.7601) Only used in the singular. Also object/emphatic

zhèn (M. 316) In the oracle bones this is used almost exclusively by the king.


You, You (plural)

Common in classical writing:

ěr (M. 1754) Also object/emphatic. Also used to mean "Thus, so."

(M. 3142) Commonly written , also object/emphatic. No convincing case has been made for a distinction in meaning or use between ěr and rǔ.

Archaic and rare even in classical writing:

ér (M. 1755) Also used as a particle to mark the imminent end of a clause.

nǎi (M. 4612) Also used to mean "then, thereupon."

róng (M. 3181) This may also mean "war; weapons; military."

ruò (M. 3126) Also object/emphatic. Also used to mean "like, similar to."


He, She, It, They

There is no subject pronoun for the third person singular or plural. At need, one employs the demonstratives shì , , or . Shì is most common and neutral of the three, and is employed when no special emphasis is required. Shì is the demonstrative of choice to refer back to something just mentioned ("Cash liquidity: this (shì) was the problem." When and are used together, means "this (here)" and means "that (there)." The three are similar to the Latin is, hic and ille ( roughly, an emphatic "the," "this" or "that.")

There are however pronouns for the third person direct object and the possessive. Zhī may always be used as the direct object pronoun, and is frequently a reflexive possessive pronoun. These uses are discussed in detail below. is the non-reflexive possessive pronoun.

Postclassical third person pronouns include ,, and (the standard modern third person pronoun.) This last begins to appear with its modern meaning in colloquial post-Han texts. It is interchangeable with (M. 6439) "That; another; he."


The main use of zhī is as a direct object pronoun. ("him/her/it/them). This use presents no difficulties, and needs no special comment here. Refinements in this use of zhī include:

Zhī is usually omitted after , so that alone is often to be read as meaning , "by it."

Zhī forms a number of contractions: for these see the glossary under zhū , zhān , and yān .

Pulleyblank would have it that there is a special use of zhī with adjectives (and also certain intransitive verbs) which cannot be understood as a direct object.

Bǎi xìng ān zhī

The common people were peaceful [under] him (Mèng 5A/5)

It would probably be fair to call this a dative use. In plain English, this means we should translated this construction by adding the words "to" or "for." ("The common people were peaceful to him/ were peaceful for him.") The "to" or "for" indicates the party who is intended in, or who is expected to benefit by, a given action. "To" and "for" are the prepositions of choice to translate the dative because, though sometimes (as here) inelegant, one or the other will always give a translation whose meaning is clear.

Zhī also acts as a possessive but in a way quite different from .

Zhī, meaning his/ her/ its/ their, comes immediately after its subject, and acts pretty much like an apostrophe with "s" ('s). It may be helpful however to think of it as being like the archaic English use of the possessive pronouns, for example: "Robert his book," for which modern English would say ""Robert's book."

Zhī may also be understood as a reflexive possessive, meaning his/ her/ its/ their own.

is used when the possessive is separated from its subject by other words ("Robert is tall, his () coat however is short.")

Zǐ wèi Zǐ Chǎn yǒu jūn zǐ zhī dào sì yān: qí xíng jǐ yě, gōng; qí shì shàng yě, jìng; qí yǎng mín yě, huì; qí shǐ mín yě

: , ; , ; , ; 使 , 義。

The Master said Zih Chan had the [true] gentleman's four traits in him: his [Zih Chan's] deportment was courteous, his service to superiors, respectful; his care of the people, compassionate; his use of the people, fair. (LY 5: 16)

Here is used repeatedly to refer back to Zih Chan. Also note here the use of the reflexive pronoun , "[him, her, it] -self, [them] -selves." The reflexives are discussed below.


may also mean his/ her/ its/ their in the sense of someone else's.

English does not have reflexive as opposed to a possessive pronouns (as Latin does with suus as opposed to eius). Thus in English, when we have more than one pronominal possessor in a sentence, we have to add parenthetical information to clarify our meaning. We might say for example, "He lent his (his own) car to his (his friend's) brother for the afternoon."


The above description of zhī and is securely true, and will be adequate to understand the vast preponderance of cases where these possessives are used. However the simplicity and clarity of these usages tempted the ancient Chinese to make more subtle use of the possessives. Not infrequently we find sentences where the original sense of zhī and has become, so to speak, metaphorical. Instead of meaning "his (his own)" and "his (another's)" pure and simple, is used to indicate a shift in focus and zhī a resumption of topic.

Suī zài léi xiè zhī zhōng, fēi qī zuì yě

中,非 也。

Though [he was] in bonds' [and] fetters' midst, it [was] not [through] his wrong-doing. (LY 5:1)

Here the zhī acts as an 's (indicating that the thing belongs to the immediately preceding subject --- the bonds and fetters: it is their midst he was in. The shifts the topic back to the person.

Another example:

Mèng Wǔ Bó wèn xiào.

Zǐ yuē, Fù mǔ, wéi qí jí, zhī yōu.


, , , .

Mung Wu Bo asked about the filial piety [due from the young] .

The Master said, The mother and father, their [their children's] illness [should be] their (that is, the parents') only worry. (LY 2: 6)

Poetic Usages of the Possessives

In ancient poetry, as in the classical language, zhī subordinates the preceding word to the following one. For example, in the phrase Wáng zhī shū "the king's book," the king is reduced to a mere adjective subordinated to, and giving more information about the book.

In the Shi Jing the action of of zhī is is used to indicate subordinate relations other than possession. For these uses, we would do better to translate it with the word "of" rather than adding an apostrophe and an "s". The non-possessive use of zhī may indicate the object to which some action is directed, as in "thoughts of Spain" or "control of the peninsula." (To speak technically, this is an objective genitive.) Note however that the word order is the opposite of what one would expect from English usage: Chinese will say "Spain of thoughts" to mean "thoughts of Spain."

Xiān jūn zhī sī, yǐ xù guǎ rén.

思,以 人。

[By] thought of the ancient lords (literally, "[By] ancient lords of thought"), thereby [I] encourage [myself], a paltry man. (Shi Jing 28)

Also the zhī may indicate material, as in "cloth of gold" or "hours of fun", though this is written "gold of cloth" &c.

Yù zhī zhèn yě, xiàng zhī tì yě,

yáng qiě zhī xī yě!

也,象 也,


Jade earplugs (literally, "jade of earplugs",) an ivory backscratcher (literally, "ivory of a backscratcher,") and forehead's whiteness. (Shi Jing 47)

I am not entirely sure whether this last usage, zhī to indicate material, is a correct interpretation. It may be simply a resumptive possessive ("Jade, her earplugs;" &c.) Confirmation must await a further and less ambiguous example.

Zhī may be used to mean "this", a rare usage later, though not uncommon in the Shi Jing.


Nǎi rú zhī rén, xī!

Then [you are] like this a man, ah! (that is, "you are a man like this"). (Shi Jing 29)

may have an emphatic rather than a possessive meaning.

Jī gǔ, qí táng!

鼓﹐其 鏜﹗

[They] strike the drums, how they thud! (literally, "their thud!") (Shi Jing 31)

Běi fēng, qí liáng,


How cold the north wind is! (Literally, "The North wind, its coldness!" (Shi Jing 41: 1)

The effect of using , (which does not normally follow the possessor directly), where one expects a zhī (which does follow the possessor directly), is to imply a comma after the possessor, and this pause makes what follows emphatic. The effect may be conveyed in English thus: "The drums, the thudding of them!" and "The wind, the coldness of it!"

zhī with

The demonstrative may combine with zhī to form what amounts to a third person possessive pronoun,

féng bǐ zhī nù.

Literally, "[I encounter of these [people] the anger." meaning, "I encounter their anger." (Shi Jing 26:6)

Similarly, zhī may be combined with , "this":

Wǒ sī féi quán, zī zhī yǒng tàn.

泉,茲 歎。

I think of the inexhaustible fountain, the everlasting sobbing of it. (Shi Jing 39)


, is the reflexive particle, supplying the subject or object "self" (myself, yourself, &c.) and the possessive "own" (my own, your own, &c.)

As subject:

Fū, rén zhě, jǐ yù lì ér lì rén, jǐ yù dá ér dá rén.

, , , .

A man, a good one, himself wishing to be established, establishes [other] men; himself wishing to be made great, he makes [other] men great. (LY 6: 30)

As object:

Wú yǒu bù rú jǐ zhě.


Don't have a friend who doesn't resemble [your] self. (LY 1:8)


is the object "self" and is always placed right before the verb, referring back to the subject of the verb. It may itself be either subject or object. As object,

Wáng zì shā.


The king killed himself.

As subject,

Wáng zì shā zhī.


The king himself killed him.

Shēn "body, person" may also be employed as a reflexive pronoun "him/her/it self; themselves."


Verbal Usages

Indirect Discourse

When someone's speech or thought is reproduced without change, this is called Direct Discourse. Direct Discourse is the quote that goes inside quotation marks. When, on the other hand, someone's language or thought is made to depend on a verb of saying, thinking or the like, this is called Indirect Discourse (which Sinologists, unhelpfully, have decided to call "the pivot construction.")

For example:

Direct Discourse: The master said, "This is what is expected of a gentleman."

Indirect Discourse: The master said that this was what was expected of a gentleman.

Consider the following example of Chinese indirect discourse:

Yuē wèi xuéwú bì wèi zhī xué yǐ

學,吾 矣。

[One might] say [he] hasn't yet learned, [but] I will say he has indeed learned. (LY 1: 7)

Those coming to Chinese with prior study of Indo-European languages are likely to consider the zhī as the accusative subject of an infinitive verb, (like "these truths" in the phrase "We hold these truths to be self evident . . .") and this is probably a good stratagem for understanding the construction. After all, zhī, insofar as it is a personal pronoun, is exclusively use as an object.

The shortcoming of mode of rendering is that the verb in Chinese is not really an infinitive like "to have studied." The most precise rendering would be "One might say . . . him study."

This same structure, found in indirect discourse, is also used in after verbs of wishing, wanting, willing, and so forth, (Example: "I want him to arrive tomorrow.") But none of this requires analysis here, since precisely the same structures and rules are used in modern English. Thus comparison of the Classical Chinese with an accurate translation will more than suffice to give the student an intuitive mastery of the structures.


Putative Adjectives

Chinese adjectives behave in many ways like verbs, for example, in the words (like bu ) used to negate them. Thus the Chinese for the phrase "she [is] beautiful" could be understood as "she beautifuls."

Further, because any Chinese verb may be interpreted causatively, the phrase "she [is] beautiful" could be understood as "she makes beautiful." This causative use of the adjective is also used to show how one makes something seem, to oneself or another.

Qí měi zhě zì měi . . .


His beautiful one considers herself beautiful (literally, "beautifuls herself.") (Zhuāng Zǐ 7:bB) 

This usage, unattractively but usefully called the putative (from the Latin putare, "to think") is, in effect, a kind of indirect discourse. (Note that the reflexive pronoun is always placed in front of the verb.)


Active and Passive

As noted above under General Rules, any transitive verb may become passive in meaning by placing it after its object. Thus

shā rén

[He] kills a man.


rén shā

a man is killed

The passive may be indicated with greater clarity by the insertion of jiàn (M. 860) before the verb. In this idiom the jiàn is not translated or translatable. It serves only as a marker of the syntax.

rén jiàn shā

a man is killed

To express agent, one uses

rén shā yú wáng

a man is killed by the king

One could have a sentence like the above with a jiàn as well. The two uses are not mutually exclusive.

The passive can be given further coloring by inserting a word before it, such as "sufficient", nán "difficult", "easy" or "possible"

rén kě shā

a man may be (literally, "is possible to be") killed

"to use" also forms a special passive with which is translated actively.

wáng kě yǐ shā rén

a king can kill a man

The nucleus of this phrase is basic passive structure, verb placed after its object: here this is wáng yǐ, "a king is used." The modal verb is inserted between the object and verb, yielding wáng kě yǐ "a king is able to be used." This phrase is followed by what amounts to a complementary infinitive shā rén "to kill a man."

Thus we arrive at "a king is able to be used to kill a man," which we translate into adequate English by "a king can kill a man."

One could also count among the passives a special construction with wéi : this is discussed in the chapter on wéi.

functions as the verb "to be." It is employed as often as one wishes to say that something is something else. It is placed at the end of the phrase ("Noodles delicious are.") Though frequently omitted, it is usually expressed.

is also employed after a verb, with a result very much like adding an "-ing" to an English verb. It extends the action of the verb out over time, and suggests that the action is not yet complete (in contrast to which shows that the action is fully realized.) The use of after a verb is entirely optional. The meaning desired, not a formal necessity, dictates its employment.

These are the primary uses of , on which all others depend:

As the Verb "to be"

is used whenever we want to say that something is something else. For example, "Socrates is a man" would be expressed:

Sū-gé-lā-dǐ rén yě.


To negate a noun, one uses with fēi (and never bu ). Thus, if Socrates were not a man, we would say:

Sū-gé-lā-dǐ fēi rén yě.


Fēi is also used to negate when the latter makes a gerund ("-ing") construction with a verb,

Zǐ yuē, Cì yě, fēi ěr suǒ jí yě.

, , .

The master said, as for [you] Tsi, [this] is not your attaining. (That is, you haven't accomplished this yet.) (LY 5:12)

In this example, the does double duty as "is" and as the gerund-ending. The use of suǒ is discussed below under "Relative Clauses."

may be placed after a noun to introduce it as the subject.

Lǐ yě, sǐ, yǒu guān ér wú guǒ.

也﹐死﹐有 槨。

As for Li, [when he] died, [he] had a coffin but didn't have a coffin case. (LY 11/8)

Literally, Lǐ yě means "[It] being Li." As usual in Classical Chinese, the subject ("it") is not expressed when it is impersonal. (see Basic Principles, Omissions, above.)

A single at the end of a sentence may serve as the verb "to be" for several preceding phrases as well. In this way it helps mark the end of the clause.

Rán ér zhì cǐ jí zhě, mìng yě fú?

者﹐命 也﹐夫﹖

Thus [that I am] a reacher of this extremity, it's fate, isn't it? (Zhuāng 6: 97)

may combine with other particles. For example, when a sentence ending in adds on the emphatic particle , the two particles to form . (For other cases of in combination, see the glossary.)

Fú fēi jìn rén zhī zǐ yú (= yě hū) ?

(= )

Aren't we all (some) far-offman's sons? (Mèng 7A/36)


Omission of with Adjectives and Numbers

A standard use of Chinese adjectives is, quite simply, as adjectives. They come immediately before a noun to modify it. For example, "high mountain" is gāo shān .

A predicate nominative is a statement that something is something else, like "a bear is an animal" or "death is inevitable." In a predicate nominative where the predicate is an adjective, Classical Chinese does not require yě. The phrase "The mountain is high" is expressed: shān gāo . (Literally "the mountain highs.") Here the Chinese adjectives behave like verbs, and indeed, in this use the adjective is negated, as a verb would be, by bu , not fēi .

Classical Chinese also omits the with numbers, which in English require the predicate nominative form. (For example, "The profits were fifty dollars.") This is because numbers are adjectives in all languages, and Chinese treats them as it does all the other adjectives.

Bú kè sòng, guī ér bū qí yì, rén sān bǎi hù.

, , .

[If one can] not bear the controversy, he goes home [and] returns [to] his town, [its] population [is] three hundred households. (Yì Jīng 6)

is omitted where it is clearly implied. Certain words create the anticipation of the verb "to be" at the end of the sentence. In such cases, the may be omitted. This is frequently the case with exclamations and questions. The merest hint of special emphasis suffices to suggest the verb "to be."

Thus is often omitted with the common exclamatory particle zāi , and also with wéi "only:"

Zhī qí zuì zhě wéi Kǒng Jù Xīn.


The only knower of his faults is Kong Ju Sheen. (Mèng 1B/4)

is also omitted after yóu "yet, still, even, especially" (for which yóu is often used), and after , which makes questions expecting a negative answer.

Shì qǐ shuǐ zhī xìng zāi?


[In] reality, surely this isn't the nature of water? (Mèng 6A: 2)

also tends to be omitted when the verb has any sort of an emphatic future sense. For example, after jiāng "about to" and , "certainly, must, will, necessarily":

Wàn shèng zhī guó, shì qí jūn zhě, bì qiān shèng zhī jiā.

國﹐弒 者﹐必 家。

[As for] a country of ten thousand chariots, a murderer of its monarch will [be the head of] a family of one thousand chariots. (Mèng 1A: 1)

In a conditional sentence this is also often the case.

Neither nor are ever used with imperatives.

Used with Verbs

Ongoing Action

The most common, and probably the most basic use of , is to show ongoing, uncompleted action, as English does by prefacing the verb with "is" and adding to the verb the ending "-ing." (for example, "is walking.")

after several verbs modifies them all and indicates the conclusion of the sentence.

Ordinarily a verb with is negated by bu, but it may also be negated by wèi, "not yet," which produces the sense "never."

Wèi yǒu rén yì ér yí qí qīn zhě yě.


There never was (literally, "there not yet was existing") one who was benevolent and righteous [yet] abandoned his parents. (Mèng 1A/1)


However, is to be taken with the modal verb where there is one, and not with the verb that follows the modal Thus serves to bracket the entire modal verb phrase, and helps define the units of meaning in a sentence.

Yuē, Wú dùn zhī jiān, wù, mò néng xiàn yě. Yòu yù qí máo, yuē, Wú máo zhī lì, yú wù, wú bú xiàn yě.

, , 物﹐莫 . , , , , .

[He] said, My shield's thickness [is such that among] things, [there is] nothing [that] can ever pierce [it]. Further, [he] praised his spears, saying, My spears' sharpness [is such that] among things there is not [a thing it couldn't] ever pierce. (Hán Fēi Zǐ, 15:2B)

In the first half of this sentence, the goes with the néng, and emphasizes that the impenetrability of the shield is an ongoing condition ("ever pierce."). It does not serve as the verb "to be"! The non-existence of a thing that could pierce the shield is taken care of by the mò, "[there is] nothing." And cannot take a yě. In the second half of the sentence, the final goes with a néng implied between the and the xiàn. Not with wú, which cannot take a .


A gerund is a noun formed from a verb (for example: "writing.") It may still act as a verb (for example, by taking a direct object: "writing a book.") In English, a gerund ends in "-ing" and the "-ing" ending provides the best way of translating this use of .

The gerund is frequently used in Classical Chinese to create an abstract noun. For example, the phrase wéi yě , by itself, means "doing" and may be translated "activity." A gerund is an abstract noun. Do not confuse this use of with zhě , which makes a concrete noun out of a verb. Wéi zhě 為者﹐means "doer", not "doing."

No second is added when a final forms a gerund which is also a predicate.

Shì bù-wéi yě, fēi bù-néng yě.

也﹐非 也。

This [is] not-doing, [it is] not not-being-able. (Mèng 7A: 36)

In both of its appearances in this sentence, the final both makes the gerund and supplies the "is." Note that use of fēi shows that "not-being-able" is a verbal noun. If it were a verb, it would be negated by bu .


The gerund may be the direct object of a verb.

Hé yóu zhī wú kě yě?


Through what do [you] know my being able? (Mèng 1B: 7)


Often the gerund will produce what amounts to a relative clause. See the chapter below, "Relative Clauses."


I have not yet determined whether the gerund may be the direct object of a preposition.

The gerund may take a direct object.

Jí bù rěn qī hú-sù, ruò wú zuì ér jiù sǐ dì, gù yǐ yáng yì zhí yě.

即 不 忍 其 觳 觫﹐若 無 罪 而 就 死 地﹐故 以 羊 易 之 也

Now I could not bear its fearful trembling, like a guiltless man approaching the execution ground, [and] therefore my exchanging it for a sheep. (Mèng 1A: 7)

Note that here the gerund yì . . . yě takes the direct object zhī, which comes as expected after the verb, but precedes the. The always goes to the end of a gerund phrase, and so helps mark the end of a clause.


A gerund may occur after a possessive like zhī or .

Yǐ shì zhī qí tiān yě.


[I] know that it was heaven that was doing it. (Literally, "By this [I] know its being heaven.") (Zhuāng 3: 13)


In the literal rendering we can see clearly how does double duty as the verb "to be" (in "its") and as the gerund ("being.")

But the presence of the possessive before the gerund may make it it clear enough that a gerund is required and so the may not actually be expressed. The logic here is this: since a possessive introduces a thing, if the word following the possessive is a verb, it would have to be a gerund, that is, a verbal noun. The following example is instructive:

Huò wèn dì zhī shuō. Zǐ yuē, Bù zhī yě. Zhī qí shuō zhě zhī yú tiān xià yě, qí rú shì zhū sī hū, zhǐ qí zhǎng.

. , . , , .

Someone asked the imperial ancestor sacrifice's meaning. Confucius said"[I] am not knowing it. A knower-of-its-meaning's relation (literally, "being related to") [all] beneath sky, surely it's like [if one should] show all this," [he] pointed to his palm. (LY 3: 11)

The idea is that the imperial ritual is so profound and rich in meaning that one who understood it would also understand all else, and be able to reveal it as easily as one shows one's palm.

Now the which one would expect after zhī shuō is unexpressed because the zhī requires a noun and so implies it. Next we have a which is given because Confucius wants to stress that his ignorance of the meaning is an ongoing condition. He does not know it, and he does not expect to. The last makes a gerund ("being related") out of the preposition .

Note that Chinese prepositions behave like verbs in many ways, which is why Sinologist call them (horribly enough) "co-verbs."


Adverbs and Adverbial

Virtually anything placed immediately before a verb may serve as an adverb. A noun,

rén lì

[he] stood up [like] a man

a place-word

shuǐ sǐ

he died [in] the river (literally, [in] water)

This last usage is usually explained, perhaps unnecessarily, as the omission of a yú :

[yú] shuǐ sǐ

[] .

[in] water he died

But we might with equal justice read it as (literally) "wetly he died," that is, "his was a watery death."

A part of the body may also appear adverbially

Zǐ yù shǒu yuán tiān xià hū?


Do you want me to rescue the world [with] my hand? (Mèng Zǐ, 4A: 18)


Adjectives (which include numbers!) and verbs may also function as adverbs, but the above examples with nouns should adequately prepare the student to cope with this.

may make an adjective into an adverb,

Bì yě, lín shì ér jù, hào móu ér chéng zhě yě.

也﹐臨 懼,好 也。

Necessarily, one who watches over an affair and is cautious, one who likes to plan in advance and follows through, [him I would be taking as my partner.] (LY 7: 11)

Bì yě, literally "[it] necessarily being", is rendered into decent English by "necessarily." In such an adverbial phrase, the acts rather like a comma, separating the adverb from the individual parts of the sentence and indicating its application all of its clauses.

The final in the above quote goes with the verbs, suggesting one who habitually acts thus. The bracketed words at the end of the translation are implied by the foregoing context, not the grammar.

may also be combined with a preposition to form an adverb.

Bù wǒ yǔ; qí, hòu yě, chǔ.

與﹔其﹐後 也﹐處。

She [wouldn't bring us] along, but afterwards, [she] would have us dwell [with her.] (Shī Jīng 22)

Another example:

Zǐ yuē, zhōng rén, yǐ shàng, kě yǐ yǔ, shàng yě; zhōng rén yǐ xià, bù kě yǐ yǔ, shàng yě.

曰﹐中 上,可 語﹐ 也﹔中 下,不 語﹐上 也。

The master said, A mediocre man, [who is striving to raise himself] upwards, [one] can always speak [to him], improvingly; a mediocre man, [who is striving to bring himself] downwards, [one] can never speak [to him], improvingly. (LY 6: 21)


The second half of each side of this sentence ends with shàng yě, giving the adverb "improvingly."

There are a few other matters worth clarifying in this passage. With reference to the phrases yǐ shàng and yǐ xià, note that often combines with prepositions to (for example, yǐ qián miàn means "in front of"). Thus yǐ shàng means, literally, "upwards" and yǐ xià downwards." There is also a play on words here. Yǐ shàng can also be an idiom meaning "in order to be taught," and yǐ xià may be taken to mean "to be made more ignorant."

The two that conclude the halves of the saying should also be taken with the preceding modal (see above, "Ongoing Action.") I have expressed this ongoing aspect of the modal with the words "always" and "never"

In both halves of the sentence the object (the mediocre man) is fronted for emphasis. This object ("the mediocre man") is in both cases followed by a relative clause (who is striving, who tends) which is only implied by the phrases yǐ shàng and yǐ xià. For this elliptical method of making a relative clause, see below the chapter on "Relative Clauses."



Temporary State

Wéi is used instead of where one is describing a temporary rather than a permanent state. (Consider estar as opposed to ser in Spanish). One might literally translate it, as I shall, with the phrase "acts as." This overstates the case slightly, but has the virtue of making the difference very clear.

Mèng Zǐ wéi qīng yú Qí.


Mencius acted as a minister of state in Qing. (Mèng 2B: 6)

In the Analects we find

Zǐ wéi shuí?


Sir acts now as who? (LY 18: 6)

The question here is directed at finding out what the man's role is in the business, his right and reason to be there. We could capture the flavor of this pert inquiry by translating it, very idiomatically, "What's it to you?" or "Who wants to know?" Were the speaker really interested in finding out the other man's identity, he would have asked shuí yě 也﹖"Who are [you]?"

The above examples emphasize how wéi can suggest role or function, but the basic meaning is a condition which is only temporary in contrast to a truly permanent state.

Xiào dì yě zhě, qí wéi rén zhī běn yǔ


One who is filial and brotherly, surely he would act as the root of goodness? (LY 1: 2)

The contrast here is between what one is (which is permanent) and what one does (which is temporary.)

With Complementary infinitive

Zài shàng, wéi wū yuān shí; zài xià, wéi lóu yǐ shí

, ; , .

Above, [I will] be [for] crows and kites to eat; below, [I will] be [for] mole-crickets and ants to eat. (Zhuāng 32: 51)

This isn't really indirect discourse, nor is it really a passive construction (though it is generally so translated, thus: "I will be eaten by . . ."). What we really have is wéi introducing a phrase with a complementary infinitive and an unexpressed "for" in front of the nouns. Perhaps the construction is most easily understood by the similar English usage one sees in phrases like: "It's for me to know, and for you to find out."

In later (Han) Literary Chinese this construction will be enriched with the addition of suǒ , without making any change in the basic syntax. Thus the phrase from Chuang Tzu given above would become

Zài shàng, wéi wū yuān suǒ shí; zài xià, wéi lóu yǐ suǒ shí.

上﹐為 食﹔在 下﹐為 所食。

Above, [I will] be [for] crows and kites what to eat; below, [I will] be [for] mole-crickets and ants what to eat.


To Indicate Completion

is the converse of yě. Whereas makes the action of a verb ongoing, makes it complete. It is really a marker of the perfect tense ("did, has done") as opposed to the present ("does, is doing") or imperfect ("was doing.") In a logical extension of its completion meaning, may also give an emphatic sense to a verb. The notion is, the action is not only complete but completely done.

Suī yuē wèi xué, wú bì wèi zhī xué yǐ.


Though one might say [he] hadn't yet learned, I would surely say he had indeed learned. (LY 1: 7)

At times is used purely to intensify some word which has no real verbal meaning:

Qiǎo yán lìng sè, xiān yǐ rén!

,鮮 仁!

[One who has] a skillful tongue and a goodly appearance [is] very very rarely virtuous! (LY 1:3)

If the had gone in its normal place, at the end of the sentence, we would have translated it with one "very." Putting the after the xiān puts extra emphasis on that word.

Just like , is to be taken with the modal where there is one, and not with the following verb.

Zǐ yuē, wēn gù ér zhī xīn kě yǐ wéi shī yǐ.

曰﹕ 新,可 矣。

The master said, One who warms (brings life to) the past knows the fresh (the present) really can act as a teacher. (LY 2: 11)

The idiom kě yǐ means "it is possible." Obviously the final can only be taken with a conjugated verb like and not with the infinitive complement like wéi. (The terms "conjugated verb" and "infinitive complement" here describe the functions of the verbs, not their unchanging forms.)

Yě Yǐ Yǐ

Though never follows immediately, it does combine with in the formula yě yǐ yǐ , often abbreviated as or or 已矣. The is for ongoing action, the is a particle meaning "already," and the final signifies completed action. Thus the formula yě yǐ yǐ creates a present perfect tense. It describes a new ongoing condition that has come fully into being,and should be literally translated with the formula "has become." For example "It has become quite late."

Even though this structure is often used to express something one has just become aware of ("Look at the clock, how late it has become!") it does not necessarily indicate a change in awareness only, as Pulleyblank would have it.

Zǐ yuē, Jūn zǐ shí, wú qiú bǎo; jū, wú qiú ān; mǐn yú shì ér shèn yú yán, jiù yǒu dào ér zhèng yān. Kě wèi hǎo xué yě yǐ.

: , ; , ; , 就有 . , .

The master said, [When] a gentleman eats let him not seek satiety; [when he] settles in a place, let him not seek ease; [let him be] quick to work and cautious in speech, follow [those who] have the Way and be corrected by them. [Then] it is possible to say, He has become [one who] loves learning. (LY 1: 14.)




The particle zhě makes a concrete noun out of an adjective or a verb. One will translate it with "one" when it is applied to a person, and "thing" when it is applied to a thing.

Note also that zhě may be used for both singular and plural.

Here two adjectives become nouns to describe an inkeeper's two wives.

`E zhě guì ér měi zhě jiàn.     

The ugly one was prized [while] the beautiful one was held cheap. (Zhuāng Zǐ 7: bB) 


Here is an example of zhě in the sense of "thing:"

Zǐ yuē, sān rén xíng, bì yǒu wǒ shī yān: zé qí shàn zhě ér cóng zhī, qí bú shàn zhě ér gǎi zhī.

, 行,必 : , .

The master said, [when with] three men [I] walk, necessarily I will have my instructor among them: I take their good qualities (literally, "their good things") and follow them, their bad qualities ("things") and alter them [in myself.] (LY 7: 22)

In a logical extension of its vague concretizing nature, zhě may be combined with a noun or noun-like phrase to make it less distinct. Added to a name, for example,Qiū zhě 丘者, it means "a certain [Mr.] Chu." (Literally "a Chu one.") Here is an instance of it being applied in this sense to a thing:

Yú suǒ pǐ zhě, tiān yàn zhī!

, !

"My whatever [I have done] badly, may Heaven loathe it! (LY 6: 28)

Suǒ pǐ by itself means "what [I have done] badly." The addition of zhě makes it, literally, "the-what-I-have-done-badly thing." In decent English, "whatever I have done badly."

In this next example zhě is combined with a time expression

者﹐吾 矣。

Xī zhě, wú yǒu cháng cóng shì yú sī yǐ.

[In] former times (literally, "old things,") my friend always unfailingly conducted [his] affairs according to this [principle.] (Lún Yú 8: 5)

Zhě may be combined with in ways that require precise understanding of both particles, as is clear from the following

Xiào dì yě zhě, qí wéi rén zhī běn hū


Ongoingly filial [and] brotherly [ones], would [they] constitute the root of goodness? (LY 1:2)

Here "Filial-[and]-brotherly" are two adjectives being used as verbs: their meaning is extended over time ("ongoingly") by the . The zhě makes the gerund expression concrete, and we express this in English here with the word "ones."

Here is an example of zhě producing a relative-clause-like construction,

Wú yǒu bù rú jǐ zhě.


Don't have [as] a friend one who does not resemble yourself (literally, "a not-resemble-self one.") (LY 1: 8) 

The classical Chinese relative clause will be examined in detail in the following now.


Relative Clauses


Chinese has only one relative pronoun, suǒ , "which." (It is not used for who or whom!) But the classical language is so accustomed to merely implying a relative clause, that the suǒ is often as not omitted. Since there are no otherrealitve pronouns, Chinese has difficulty making relative clauses like "the man who came to dinner."

Chinese supplied its lack of relative pronouns in a number of ways. One can make a verb or and adjective into a substantive (a noun or noun equivalent) by adding zhě , as discussed at the end of the last chapter --- that is, one can say in Chinese "a reader" in place of the inexpressible "a man who reads," but there are other means as well.


We can also make a relative clause using zhī . In his Chapter VII, Noun phrases and Nominalization, Pulleyblank makes a very complicated business out of the two very simple structures used for this purpose. He derives the phrases from supposed proto-phrases and represents it all in algebraic style. This is the very madness of linguistics.

Here's how matters actually stand. Take a phrase like

shā rén zhī wáng

Shā rén means "kills a man" and wáng is "king," but the zhī is not readily translatable. It no longer has its ordinary meaning, to show possession, like an apostrophe plus an "s" in English. Rather, the zhī shows that what comes before it is subordinated to what follows it. To render the phrase analytically, we could have to say something like "kills-a-man: this describes the king."

(The subordinating role is in fact an extension of the possessive meaning of zhī: possession shows syntactical subordination. When we say, for example, "Robert's book," Robert, regardless of the dominant role his ownership gives him in the real world, is syntactically only there in a subordinate role, to give more information about the book. In Chinese the subordinating quality of the possessive was developed in a way nothing in English approximates.)

Because the phrase "kills a man" shā rén is subordinated to word after the zhī, we must render it in a way that expresses that subordination, so we will have to render it as a gerundive (a verbal adjective), yielding the phrase "a man-killing king."

There is a variant of this structure in which it is a noun that is subordinated to a verbal phrase:

wáng zhī shā rén zhě

Very analytically, this means "king: this describes a man-killer." Because the noun "king," wáng, is subordinated to verbal phrase after the zhī, we must render it in a way that expresses that subordination, so we will have to render it as an adjective, yielding the phrase a royal man-killer."

To recapitulate: we can subordinate a verb-phrase with zhī to say "a man-killing king," Or, we can subordinate a noun with zhī, to say "a royal man-killer." The two formulations are interchangeable. The only difference is that one ("a man-killing king") emphasizes the fact that he's a king, and the other ("a royal killer") that he's a killer.

The examples about the homicidal king given above are unusually simple. The following instance shows the elaborate use this structures often enjoys:

Yáng Zǐ yuē, Dì zǐ, jì zhī: xíng xián ér qù zì xián zhī xīn, ān wǎng ér bú ài zāi?

曰﹐弟 子﹐記 之﹐ 心﹐ ?

Yang Zi said, [My] disciples, remember this, [a man with a] worthy-doing self-praise-setting-aside heart, where could [he] go and not be loved? (Zhuāng Zǐ 7:bB) 

The two verb phrases "do-worthy" and "set aside self praise" are subordinated to "heart" by the zhī. Note the reflexive pronoun has the peculiarity of always preceding the verb that takes it as an object.


Implied Relative Clauses

Another way Classical Chinese can supply its want of relative pronouns is to employ the particle ,

Zǐ yuē, jiàn xián, sī qí yān; jiàn bù xián, ér nèi zì shěng yě.

, , 焉﹔見 , 自省 也。

The master said, Seeing a worthy [person], [one] considers [how to] emulate him; seeing an unworthy person, one examines oneself inwardly (for similar faults). (LY 4: 17)

The ("-ing") applies to both jiàn's, ("see") and in effect implies as subject the impersonal "one who." We could fairly translate the sentence "One who sees a worthy person considers how to emulate him; one who sees an unworthy person . . ." English, unlike Chinese, allows us to give the relative "who" explicitly.

Confucius uses this structure because to say "When you see a worthy person . . . " might carry the impolite implication that the person he is addressing is particularly beset with faults.

Another example:

Zǐ yuē, zhōng rén, yǐ shàng, kě yǐ yǔ, shàng yě; zhōng rén, yǐ xià, bù kě yǐ yǔ, shàng yě.

曰﹐中 人﹐以 上,可 語﹐上 也﹔中 人﹐以 下,不 語﹐上 也。

The master said, A mediocre man, [who is striving] upwards, [one] can speak [to him] improvingly; a mediocre man, [who tends] downwards, [one] cannot speak [to him] improvingly. (LY 6: 21)


The mediocre man is here twice followed by an adverbial phrase with ;, which, as the English translation shows, implies a relative clause. (This quotation is examined in detail above under "with Verbs.")

In the following example, the construction with is used in place of one with suǒ, which might just as easily have been used.

Zǐ Gòng yuē, Wǒ bù yù rén zhī jiā zhū wǒ yě, wú yì yù wú jiā zhū rén.

曰﹐我 也,吾 人。

Zih Gong said, [That which] I don't want a man's inflicting it on me, I also do not that I should inflict it upon a man. (LY 5: 11)


Rather than multiply examples like the two given, I suggest as a rule that a relative clause may be suggested by the mere juxtaposition of a phrase which can fairly be understood as descriptive of a given or implied subject or object. Apposition alone is enough to produce a relative clause. The final test of the presence of an implied relative clause is of course the clarity and consistency of the translation, and one is not at liberty to infer the presence of a relative clause unless it is actually required by the context.




The learning of Chinese is often a purely lexical matter. This list of words with complex usages is thus as much the grammar as the grammar proper, and no mere word list.

I always give the citation for Mathews, so the student can consult this dictionary for its many helpful examples of usage. For the really important and common particles, he is generally imprecise, giving a welter of approximate and non-literal meanings. Pulleyblank's definitions are almost invariably excellent, and these I have followed dogmatically, except where his linguistic bias makes him offer more descriptive elaboration than is really helpful. If neither Mathews nor Pulleyblank suffice, I may cite Karlgren or Wang Li.

My object is to provide definitions for the most common and versatile words that are simple, clear, and invariably applicable. The meanings I offer are not always exhaustive, but for the primary meanings I have striven for completeness, and mean by this list to supercede the prolixity of Mathews, the ingenuity of Pulleyblank, and the supplement at times the sparseness of Karlgren.

A further principle should be noted. A part of my task is to prune back the accumulation of occasionally apt but actually imprecise definitions offered by Mathews. My touchstone here is clear development from root meaning. Words always extend their sense with a certain logic: for example, a word may come to be used less literally, or build new a meaning on the basis of its obvious associations, But a logic there will always be, and where this is lacking, the definition is untenable.


(M. 5093) "That, the other, another, those, there." Often is combined with another word in a sequence the reverse of what English would use:

Luǎn, bǐ zhū jī; liáo yǔ zhī, móu.

孌﹐彼 姬﹔聊 之﹐謀。

Beautiful, all these (literally, "these all") women, [I will] talk with them, take counsel. (Shi Jing 39)

céng (M. 6771) "Already; past. Sign of the past." Pulleyblank defines this as "once," which is fine, if we understand it in the sense of "once upon a time" and not "once or twice." The same character is used for zēng (see below).

(M. 6161) "Get." Also a helping verb, meaning "manage to, be able to, can" (as in the English idiom "I got to ride in an airplane."

ér (M. 1756) This word does not have any translatable meaning. It is pure punctuation, and may be accounted for by inserting a comma, a semicolon or a period after the verb or verbal phrase that follows it. Only appearing before the last verb in a series, never appearing between two nouns, ér indicates that a phrase or sentence ends with the following verb or verbal phrase. One must strongly resist the impulse to translate ér automatically as "and." Often one will obtain a very satisfactory translation by so doing, but this is because words like "and" must ordinarily be supplied to Chinese verbs. See "Omissions" above.

fēi (M. 1819) Negation of nouns and pronouns, used with . Used by itself, fēi can mean "wrong, bad" and is opposed to shì in its sense of "right."

In pre-classical Chinese, fēi is sometimes written fěi or fěi .

Fēi may also mean "[It] is not," as in

Rǎn qiú yuē, fēi bù shuō zǐ zhī dào, lì bù zú yě.

曰﹐非 道,力 也。

Ran Choo said, [It] is not that I don't enjoy the master's teaching, my strength is not adequate. (LY 6: 12)

Here the subject "it" is as usual unexpressed, and the appears at the end of the the second phrase.

Fēi was originally condensed from the phrase bù wéi , "is not." In this phrase wéi had its preclassical meaning "is."

Later wéi comes to mean "only," and we find wéi with this new meaning negated to produce a phrase meaning "not only." It may be expressed either fēi wéi or bù wéi .

fǒu (M. 1902) "No. Not." Originally written bu, and still to be found so written in early texts, fǒu is the form bu assumes when the verb it negates is omitted. The meanings are as follows:

"No." Since Classical Chinese has no word for "no," one expresses "no" by negating the verb. Thus, in answer to the question "Do you ride?" one can respond in the negative only by saying "I don't ( bu) ride." Or one can use fǒu and omit the verb, which gives us the equivalent of "no."

This "no" can also be used at the end of a sentence in the sense of "or not?" Thus: "Do you ride, or not (fǒu)?"

Fǒu, as the negation of an omitted verb, logically finds use in conditional sentences: "If you have a horse, you ride; if not (fǒu) you must walk."

This example shows fǒu creating an implied relative clause:

Zhī kě, fǒu: zhī yě.

知可, : 知也。

To know [what] is possible and [what] is not: [that's] knowing. (Zhuāng Zǐ 10: 12)

The character originally stood for another word, "bad, evil," and appears with this value in the phrase zāng pǐ, "good [and] evil." It is also the title of one of the hexagrams in the I Ching.

(M. 1908) Noun: "man."

when pronounced , it may have the following meanings:

Demonstrative pronoun: "that one, he."

Introductory particle indicating a new turn in thought, like "Now then" or "Regarding this matter" in English.

may be combined with the interrogative pronoun , giving which means "whatever, however," &c. In a similar spirit, it may combine with shuí ("who") to produce fú shuí "whoever."

Final particle: "is it not?" (like the French n'est-ce pas?). In this last use it represents a fusion of bu and , and does not represent an development of (man) or (he, that one.)

(M. 1981) A less common variant of bu .

gài (M 3199) "Cover, hide." May be used to indicate hypothetical agreement

Gài yǒu zhī yǐ, wǒ wèi jiàn yě.

, .

Granted that this is actually the case, I haven't yet seen it. (LY 4: 6)

Both Pulleyblank (p. 441, citing Meng 5B/3) and Karlgren (K. 75) assert that gài may mear "for in fact." I take this on faith for the moment, but am awaiting an unambiguous example.

(M. 2109) Interrogative pronoun ("what?"), adverb ("how, why?") and adjective ("which?") Not an intensifier, as in the English "How lovely you are!"

precedes all other words in an expression. However, in preclassical usage, we find these exceptions : follows:

wéi when it means "is": wéi hé , "is what?" (In the classical period wéi will change its meaning to "only.")

Qí diào wéi hé? Wéi sī, yī mín.

(variant of ) 何?維 絲﹐伊 緡。

Her fishing [technique] is what? [It's] silk, this fishing line [of hers]. (Shi Jing, 24)

also follows

"resemble", rú hé "[it] is (literally, "resembles") what?"

yuē and yún , whether they mean "say" or "is called" are followed by .

In (nearly) all other cases, precedes. As an interrogative pronoun, it always precedes the verb (including verbs of motion!) or the preposition that affects it. Thus, hé yù "what do you want?" hé yǐ "by means of what?" hé zhī "where is [he] going?"

It precedes , "is". Thus, hé yě , meaning "[it] is what" and sometimes "[it] is for what reason; why?"

But follows the verb when it is the second object of two.Thus we find wèi zhī hé "call it what?" (as opposed to hé wèi "designates what?") Note the common idiom rù zhī hé (literally, "make it resemble what?")

Shǐ mín jìng, zhōng yǐ qín, rú zhī hé?

使 , , 何?

To make the people respectful, loyal and diligent, what will you do (literally, what will [you] make it resemble)? (LY 2:20)


When used as an adverb, precedes the verb. In this use it means "how; why." Thus, Wáng, hé bì yuē lì? , ? "Why must the king say 'profit'?"

When used as an adjective, hé of course precedes the noun in accordance with the rule that modifier precedes modified. Thus we find hé rén what (sort of) man" and hé gù "[for] what reason?"

Special idioms with :

Hé yǒu, literally "has what?", has the idiomatic meaning "has what [lack/failing/shortcoming]."

Zǐ yuē, Yóu yě, guǒ; yú cóng zhèng hū hé yǒu?

曰﹐由 也﹐果﹔於 有﹖

The master said, as for Yo, he is strong-willed; for the management of government, really, what [shortcoming] does he have? (LY 6: 8)

A very common and at first sight quite puzzling use of is

Hé rú


[This] resembles what?

is here placed, as always, before the verb (, "like," is a verb here). The phrase reads then "resemble what?" The subject, "this," need not be given in the Chinese because it is clearly implied.

The actual meaning of this idiom is "What do you think about [this]?" or "What should one do about [this]?"

Another common idiom has preceded by ruò or , both of which mean "be like, resemble."

ruò/rú X hé?

/ X 何﹖

Make X like what?

Here ruò/ is used as a causative verb, "make to be like." Ruò/ takes two objects here: X and , which is why the is placed at the end of the phrase. The meaning of the literal rendering "make X like what?" is "What is one to do about X?" or "How is one to deal with X?"

In this idiom the object which follows ruò/ may be a long phrase, or it may be a single word, like the pronoun zhī . In the latter case, some authors (Mò Zǐ, Zhuāng Zǐ) will replace ruò zhī with nài , which acts like a fusion of ruò and zhī.

(M. 2119) "Why not?" Contraction of hé bú or hú bú . (for , see below.)

(M. 2154) An exclamatory particle, which could be translated "really" or "indeed." It is often used after questions as well, but it only adds emphasis, and does not itself turn a statement into a question.

As a preposition, used as a variant of . ' s meanings as a preposition are: "in; at; to; from," from the Shī Jīng onwards. is never found at the beginning of a phrase.

with adjectives expresses comparison, "than."

with passive verbs, expresses agency, "by."

(M. 2167) The interrogative "how? why?" is not the intensifying "how" of the English "How lovely you are!" M.'s assertion that it may be used as an emphatic interjection (citing the verse below) is simply wrong. I give the correct translation

Hú rán ér tiān yě? hú rán ér dì yě?

也﹖胡 也﹖

How did [she manage to] resemble heaven? How did [she manage to] resemble a deity?" (Shi Jing 47)

huò (M. 2402) "Some; someone; something;"

huò also has an adverbial meaning "somewhat" (usually translated "perhaps" which is not correct.)

When it means "somewhat," we sometimes find huò combined with zhě: .

jiāng (M. 656). "Bring; lead an army." It's most common use is as a modal verb of futurity, "about to, be going to, intend to."

(M. 3381) "May, can, might, able to."

The combination kě yě 可也 means literally, "ongoingly possible." Mathews renders it ""it will do ---" a final phrase," and he is quite right. It expresses agreement, and its meaning could be rendered by "yes."

(M.4455) Archaic, used for "not have" in the Shī Jīng.

miè (M. 4485) Equivalent to "not have," usually followed by .

. . . .

. . . miè bú jì yǐ.

. . . there will be no not-succeeding (that is, all will be successful.) (Zuǒ Xì 10/fù)

(M. 4546) The essential meaning is "tip, end, tiny part." From this it comes to be used as a negation, "not at all," "not in the least." Especially common in the Lún Yú.

(M. 4557) "[There is] no one/nothing [who/that] . . ." In postclassical Chinese, it may mean "do not."

The following interesting use of comes from Shi Jing 41:

Mò chì fěi hú, mò hēi fěi wū.

狐,莫 烏。

[If] there is no red, [it's] not a fox; [if] there is no black, [it's] not a crow.

The only thing difficult about this line is the fact that the "if" is, as often, implied, not expressed.

nǎi (M. 4612) Archaic "you; your." Also used to mean "then, thereupon; also, but, however. "

nài , (M. 4615) Mathews gives us: "But, how. A remedy, a resource. To bear. To endure. A crab-apple, for which the second form is strictly used." Pulleyblank says that nài is interchangeable with ruò in the expression ruò zhī "do [what] about it." I shall settle this matter as I find more examples.

(M. 5349) "It is not possible." Contraction of bù kě . Uncommon.

(M. 525) "His, her, its; their." Beyond this Mathews offers a welter of particulate meanings. The truth however is quite simple.

When not a possessive pronoun, the meaning is always well conveyed by a "would" added to the verb which follows .

When used in combination with an interrogative, it asks a question that anticipates a positive answer. The meaning is correctly conveyed by a "surely . . . would" before the following verb ("Surely Robert would have written?")

As of the Warring States period, is used as a weak demonstrative, halfway between "this" and "the" in strength. Do not project this meaning onto earlier texts!

(M. 544) Question particle anticipating a negative answer, like the Latin num. In English, the sense may be conveyed by the formula "Surely X didn't Y? Thus, "Surely you didn't leave the gas on?"

rán (M. 3072) Mathews gives a series of disconnected meanings. The basic sense however is "thus," and this will do in all cases, even this one:

Zǐ yuē, Yǔ, wú wú jiān rán yǐ.

曰﹐禹﹐吾 矣。

The master said, [As for] Yu, I really wouldn't criticize him in this way (literally, "thus.") (LY 8: 21)


(M. 3137) "[is] like."

Adverbializing suffix, like "wise" in English. "Contrary-wise, you may not wish to do so."

May also be used with a verb to mean "if."

As an initial particle: "if, supposing, &c.," literally: "[were it] like [this]."

ruò (M. 3126) In preclassical use: "be like, agree, conform to;" adverbially" "thus." In classical use "be like;" and as a conjunction: "if;" repeated, it may mean "either . . . or."

. . . zhōng shì wén dào, ruò cún ruò wáng . . .

. . . , . . .

. . . [when] a middling [sort of] gentleman hears the teaching, either he treasures it or he loses it . . (DDJ 41)



ruò is also an archaic form for the second person pronoun.

shèn (M. 5724) "What? Who? Any. Very, extremely. More important than."

(M. 5574) "This; then (in the sense of "therefore, consequently").The logic behind the different meanings is that the word probably went from meaning "this" to meaning "to/at this" i.e., "this being so." Note, does not mean "thus, in this way"!

wáng (M. 7034) in its meaning "lose," is sometimes used as a substitute for in the sense of "not have."

wǎng (M. 7045) "Net," is sometimes used as a substitute for .

wēi (M. 7061) "Small." In the Shī Jīng and other early texts, this is used, like fēi to negate nouns. In the classical period it becomes rare, and tends to appear as the opening of a conditional sentence "If not for X, then Y . . ."

wéi , , , (M. 7064) In preclassical Chinese, this means "is/are" and is used instead of , but unlike , wéi comes between the subject and the predicate. In the classical language its meaning is "only." It can mean only as an adjective ("Only the wise man is free,") or it can be used, as in English, to introduce a further topic ("That's all very well, only, I'd still like to see for myself.") In this sense, both wéi and (see above) are often used, unnecessarily and rather pompously, in the Dao De Jing to introduce statements.

wèi (M. 7114) This negates an ongoing action, and may be used with . Used with , it is rendered "not already," "not yet," or "never." Wèi is never used with , the marker of completed action.

(M. 7180), with the variant form (M. 7173). The basic meaning is "not have; there is/are not" (the negative of yǒu ).

also functions as a softened prohibitive meaning "oughtn't; shouldn't; may . . . not." Thus: "You oughtn't to miss the chance." "May your majesty not blame the harvest." Since an "if" is ordinarily implied rather than expressed in classical Chinese, a phrase with may begin a conditional sentence: "[If] he should not do something . . . then . . ."

Along with its employment in conditional sentences, is used in other subordinate clauses where English requires a subjunctive

Suī yù wú wáng, bù kě dé yǐ.

, .

Although he wished he would not become king, it was not possible. (Mèng Zǐ 4A: 10)

The next example shows forming a rhetorical question

Wú chén ér wéi yǒu chén, wú shéi qī?

, ?

[If I] should have no retainers [yet] act [as one who] has retainers, who would I fool? (Lún Yú 9: 12)

(M.7193) properly a simple prohibitive "don't," but often confused with in texts from the time of Mencius on.

(M.7208) Both a negation ("doesn't") and a prohibitive ("do not.") A stronger equivalent of in its prohibitive use. It means "don't" while means "shouldn't."


yān (M. 7166) Yān is not a contraction of, but a circumlocution for, yú zhī or zhī , (which never occur, since neither of these propositions can directly precede zhī .) Usually it recapitulates some previously expressed phrase with or . It is common in classical texts from the Shi Jing onward.

As the meanings of are various, so are those of yān, for example, "in, to, from, by, than / he, she, it, them."

Yān is also the interrogative pronoun "why? how?"

In some texts yān can occur before the verb with the sense of yú shì , "then" (literally, "in addition to this.")

Zhān zhī zài qián, hū yān zài hòu

前﹐忽 後。

[One] sees it ahead, then suddenly [it's] behind. (Lún Yú 9: 11)

, variant : used for yě hū 也乎, euqivalent in meaning to (see below)

(M. 7312) see chapters above dedicated to this topic.

(M. 2936) Contra M., the meaning is "this." In postclassical use, it comes to mean "he, she, it."

Wǒ zhī huái yǐ, zì yí yī zǔ

矣,自 阻。

I go, longing indeed, , [I] myself bring this trouble. (Shi Jing 33)


, (M. 2932) "take; use; consider, regard as; with, by means of, through; on the basis of, in accordance with."

[zhī] : "by this" followed by zhī means "using this, by means of this" and "in order to." The zhī, however, is almost never written out. The sense "in order to" is seen in the idiom [zhī] shàng meaning "in order to be taught" (literally, "by [this] to be elevated.") Shàng is used here as a passive verb.

Zǐ yuē, Zì xíng shù xiū yǐ shàng, wú wèi cháng wú huì yān.

曰﹐自 上,吾 焉。

The master said, From [one who] brought [no more than] a bundle of dried meat [in fee] in order to be instructed (literally, "to be instructed in exchange for this,") [to the wealthiest student], I would have never [refused] to instruct someone. (LY 7: 7)

with verbs and prepositions forms an adverb. Thus + lái ("come") = "afterwards;"(literally "by this to come); + xià ("down") = "downwards" (literally, "by this to descend.")

may simply be used to mean "and":

Shǐ mín jìng, zhōng yǐ qín, rú zhī hé?

使 敬﹐忠 勤,如 何?

To make the people respectful, loyal and (literally, "with this") diligent, how does [one] make [it] like this? (Lún Yú 2: 20)

Yǒu yǐ means "have that by which [to];" wú yǐ means "not have that by which [to]."

Suǒ yǐ , "that by which" should be translated precisely. It does not mean "therefore" as it does in modern Chinese.

Wéi X yǐ Y, X Y, is an idiom meaning "take (consider) X to be Y" (literally, "make X by [this to be] Y.") Eventually this produced the compound word yǐ wéi, , which now means "to think." In classical Chinese however the phrase should still be rendered "consider to be."

combines with to form an expression of possibilility. This is discussed in the chapter Verbal Usages under "Active and Passive."

with expressions of giving: first note that two objects, the indirect then the direct, may follow one another in Classical Chinese as in English : "I gave Tom a book."

. . . shòu Mèng Zǐ shì . . .

. . . . . .

. . . I gave Mung Tzu a house . . . (Mèng 2B/10)

However, one may also use "by means of, using" to create an expression precisely analogous to the English "I gifted Tom with a book."

Yáo yǐ tiān xià yǔ Shùn

Yao with [all] under heaven endowed Shun. (Mèng 5A/5)

That is, "Yao gave Shun everything." Note that reverses the normal word order of a phrase with two objects so that the direct object now precedes the indirect object.

(M. 3021) "Also." Further definitions and grammatical musings are superfluous. The word does sometimes take on more color from its use in context, or may be entirely colorless --- exactly like "also." One must at times use one of the meanings Mathews offers: "and, also, moreover, likewise, further, however, then," but one should do so with an understanding of the root meaning "also"

is often used merely to separate an antecedent from a following negated phrase. In such a case it is best rendered by an m-dash ("---" which this word-processing program will not allow me to render in unbroken form.)

Zǐ yuē, hòu shēng kě wèi, yān zhī lái zhě zhī bù rú jīn yě? Sì shí, wǔ shí ér wú wén yān, sī yì bù zú wèi yě yǐ.

曰﹐後 畏﹐焉 也﹖四 十﹐五 焉﹐斯 已。

The master said, One may show respect to the young (literally, "late born"), how [can one] know those to be will not be like [those who have reached maturity] now? [If by age] 40, 50, [if one has] heard nothing of them then --- [they] have become unworthy of respect. (L.Y. 9.23)

yīn (M. 7407) "Because, in consequence of. A reason; a cause. Therefore; then; for this reason. To follow. To rely on. To accord with."

yóu (M. 7513) "Cause. From; through." sometimes the character is used to substitute for yóu .

yóu (M. 7528) "Like, similar to. As if, as. Yet, still, even, especially."

(M 7592) Verb, "to go." Used as a helping verb, thus:

huáng niǎo yú fēi

yellow birds go flying (literally, "go fly") (Shī Jīng 2)


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