City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
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asked Dec 15, 2020 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by Ariel (16,050 points) | 24 views

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Existence can also be expressed with the verb 是 shì , but the emphasis is somewhat different. With 有 yǒu the speaker is pointing out that something exists or is happening in a certain location or for a period of time and what is being described is usually of indefinite reference. Hence 有 yǒu is translated as ‘there is/are . . .’ in these expressions. 是 shì, on the other hand, as its basic meaning implies, has more of a defining function, and associates what exists or is happening directly with the location conveying at the same time the idea of pervasiveness. Hence, 是 shì is regularly used with 都 dōu or 全 quán ‘all, entirely’. Consider the contrasting sentences below:

地上都是水。

Dì shàng dōu shì shuǐ。

The ground is covered with water. (lit. On the ground all is water.)

地上有水。

Dì shàng yǒu shuǐ。

There is water on the ground.

商店里都是人。

Shāng diàn lǐ dōu shì rén 。

The shop is/was crowded with people. (lit. In the shop all is people.)

商店里有人。

Shāng diàn lǐ yǒu rén 。

There are/were people in the shop.

她身上全是泥。

Tā shēn shàng quán shì ní 。

She was covered in mud. (lit. She on body all was mud.)

她身上有泥。

Tā shēn shàng yǒu ní 。

There is/was some mud on her/she has/had some mud on her.

橱窗里是各种各样的商品。

Chú chuāng lǐ shì gè zhǒng gè yàng de shāng pǐn。

The shop window is full of goods of various kinds. (The display of goods is what you would expect in a shop window.)

商店里有各种各样的商品。

Shāng diàn lǐ yǒu gè zhǒng gè yàng de shāng pǐn。

There are all kinds of goods in the shop. (The variety of goods is what interests you.)

下星期六这儿有一场足球赛。

Xià xīng qī liù zhè ér yǒu yī chǎng zú qiú sài 。

There’s a soccer match here next Saturday. (What’s happening here next Saturday is a soccer match.)

下星期六这儿是一场足球赛。

Xià xīng qī liù zhè ér shì yī chǎng zú qiú sài 。

It’s a soccer match here next Saturday. (What’s happening here next Saturday is a soccer match.)

Note from the two sets of examples below that grammatically the object of 有 yǒu is of indefinite reference but what follows 是 shì may be either definite or indefinite:

宿舍后边是图书馆。

Sù shè hòu biān shì tú shū guǎn。

Behind the dormitory is the library.

宿舍后边是一个图书馆。

Sù shè hòu biān shì yī gè tú shū guǎn。

Behind the dormitory is a library.

宿舍后边有一个图书馆。

Sù shè hòu biān yǒu yī gè tú shū guǎn。

There is a library behind the dormitory.

卧室旁边是洗澡间。

Wò shì páng biān shì xǐ zǎo jiān。

Next to the bedroom is the bathroom.

卧室旁边是一个洗澡间。

Wò shì páng biān shì yī gè xǐ zǎo jiān。

Next to the bedroom is a bathroom.

卧室旁边有一个洗澡间。

Wò shì páng biān yǒu yī gè xǐ zǎo jiān。

There is a bathroom next to the bedroom.

[1] Yip, P. C., Rimmington, D., Xiaoming, Z., & Henson, R. (2009). Basic Chinese: a grammar and workbook. Taylor & Francis.

answered Dec 15, 2020 by Ariel (16,050 points)

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1,133 questions
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13 comments
7,389 users