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Making Sense of Grammar
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How does Chinese express definite and indefinite nouns?
asked Mar 4 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by admin (24,470 points)

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Unlike English, which expresses the definiteness and indefiniteness of nouns by adding definite and indefinite articles (thea/an, and some), Chinese expresses the (in)definiteness of nouns by word order. The preverbal subject and object are interpreted as definite, whereas the postverbal subject and object are interpreted as indefinite:

1a.    rén   lái   le

        The person(s) has/have come.

1b.    lái   – le rén   le

        come – LE person LE

        Some person(s)has/have come.

2a.    wǒ zài mǎi shū  le

         I  ZAI buy book le

         I am buying a book.

2b.    wǒ bǎ shūmǎi le

         I BA book buy LE

         I bought the book.

2c.    shū   wǒ mǎi le

        book I buy LE

        The book, I bought it (topic/contrastive).

2d.    wǒ shū  mǎi le

         I bought the book(contrastive). (Li & Thompson, 1989, pp. 20-21) 

In (1a), the preverbal subject is definite, whereas in (1b), the postverbal subject is indefinite. Similarly, shūin (2a) is a postverbal indefinite object, whereas it is a preverbal definite object in (2b-d).


Li, C. N., &Thompson, S. A. (1989). Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar. Univ of California Press.

answered Mar 4 by admin (24,470 points)
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