We here collect, for general reference purposes, the grammar function abbreviations which were used in the annotations to texts included in the Ancient China in Context series. See the separate Grammar Topics page for such general topics as sentence position and verb aspect.
Most of these abbreviations are mnemonic (S for subject, P pronoun, V verb, O object). A few, of necessity, are arbitrary (Q for qualifier, but G for a qualifier placed after the word it qualifies).
- A. Assertion; noun predicate. The noun is simply stated, without any verb of existence or identity. The implication is either existential ("N exists") or identificational ("It is an N"). This is the second of three basic sentence types (see the note on the Grammar Topics page).
- B. Before-verb position, or by extension, an adverb which occurs only in that position. Enough words are specific to that function that B amounts to a word-class.
- C. Coverb; an object-taking verb that is not the main verb of the sentence. Most are etymologically derived from full verbs, and a full verb usage of a given word may continue in use alongside its derived coverb. The inevitable comparison is to prepositions in English. A coverb and its object (CO) make a phrase which may appear in either the B or F position in the sentence, depending on local rules.
- D. Directional complement verb, usually "come" and "go" as final elements of compound verbs. Compare R (resultative complement verb). For demonstratives, see P.
- E. Exclamation. May be inarticulate, and may be an entire sentence. This is the first of the three fundamental sentence types in the language. See the note on the Grammar Topics page.
- F. Following-verb position (cf B). This is the preferred location of many adverbials in the early language. F elements can be called "complements," and often have an adverbial function. As the Chinese language evolves, over centuries, elements once at home in the F position gradually migrate to the B position. This process was already under way in our period, and it has become nearly complete in modern Chinese (it is possible, though not profoundly correct, to analyze modern Chinese as having only B adverbs). For a parallel tendency, see the note under G, next entry.
- G. Post-nominal modifier (an arbitrary symbol; it is meant to resonate visually with Q or Qualifier, which is a modifying word in the normal or pre-nominal position). QH, qualifier-head, is the standard noun phrase. The HG phrase, with its postposed modifier, is exceptional. It may originally have been the normal noun phrase construction, but it is now most often found in surname-name constructions. Apart from these, it appears most often in what appear to be archaizing phrases. The historical trend, if such it was, from G (post-noun) to Q (pre-noun) position for noun modifiers would then be broadly parallel to the migration from F (post-verb) to B (pre-verb) as the normal position for verb modifiers. A famous HG example in our period is Shvn Nung. This is usually construed as QH and accordingly translated "the Divine Husbandman," but it is more likely to have been an original archaic or archaizing HG form, with the meaning "the God of Agriculture." Compare the note under F, previous entry.
- H. Head, a noun in construction, the center of a noun phrase. There are some basic types:
- QH: A noun modified by a preceding element. See Q.
- HG: a noun modified by a following element. See G.
- HL: a noun followed by a locative element. See L.
- HH: nouns in apposition. Wo Ju-Rung HH "We, the Rung" (the meaning is, H = H)
- H/H: coordinate compound. Yin/yang "Yin and yang" (the meaning is, H and H)
- I. Indirect (or oblique) object. See under O (Object). The usual order when both types of object is present is VIO. Note that either I or O may be represented in a sentence by the general object pronoun jr1. Thus yw3 jr1 N, VIO "gave him [an object]," but we also have both yw3 jr1 VO "gave it" and yw3 jr1 VF "gave to him."
- J. Coordinating conjunction linking two nouns or two predicates.
- K. Subordinating conjunction; "although" etc. Marks the following clause as not the sentence predicate. See the note on Nominalization, below.
- L. Locative postposition. An example is shan1-jung1 HL "in the mountains." Locative phrases function in turn, in the sentence, as either B or F.
- M. Measure word, a counting auxiliary following the numeral #. For the position of the #M phrase, which can vary with respect to the noun being counted, see #, below. Measure words are not too common in our period, but become much more highly developed in later times. This is another category (see also F and G) that is affected by long-term linguistic evolution within Chinese.
- N. Noun. This abbreviation can be used to classify words in dictionary entries. In practice, that is, in marking the words in an actual text, nouns always have some applied function, such as B, E, H, or O. For structures built of nouns, see H (noun in construction).
- #. Number, numeral. The usual construction for counted nouns is #H (san1-rvn2 "three men"). In lists or other enumerations, and in some perhaps archaizing phrases, we get instead H# (Shr1 san1-bai3 "Poems 300 = The Three Hundred [Classical] Poems"). If we think of the numeral as a type of modifier, then it is possible that the "listing" usage is older, in which case we have a historical shift H# > #H, which might be parallel to the HG > QH shift noted above under entry G.
- O. Object; a noun, pronoun, or clause which is the object of a verb. A special case exists where the object of one verb (VO) is also the subject of the next (SV), giving the double function VO/SV, where the O and the S are the same word. We mark this by calling the second verb a governed verb (W, rather than V), and coding the phrase as VSW. (We used to give the noun in the middle the name "pivot," since it has one function with respect to the preceding verb, but another with respect to the following verb. That extra term has not proved to be necessary for understanding the construction as encountered in reading). We may think of the construction as an SV clause which, as a whole, is the object of the preceding verb, thus: V(SV). Dropping the parentheses, it is handy to be able to write VSW instead.
- P. Pronoun. Pronouns are often weakly stressed, and participate in special constructions after negative verbs; see under X (negative).
- / [mark of the Pivot construction as spelled out, VO/SV, where the O/S noun is the pivot word. See the discussion under O above]
- Q. Qualifier, a word placed before and modifying a noun. Compare G.
- R. Resultative complement verb; an example is chyou2-dv2 VR "seek and find," or if one likes, "find as a result of seeking." RV compound verbs may take a negative between V and R: chyou2-bu4-dv2 VXR "sought but could not find." This degree of precision about the attempted action and the actual outcome action is greater than English normally requires. A culturally adequate translation of the last example is thus "could not find" (it being taken for granted, in English, that an attempt was made to find it).
- S. Subject of the sentence. A very simple concept, but compare T.
- T. Topic. The topic position is a zone at the beginning of the sentence. More exactly, an assembly platform before the sentence proper has begun. Words in that position give an idea of what the sentence is going to be about. They are not yet the sentence, but they limit the discourse framework of the sentence. Like a Warring States ruler setting a topic for Mencius to talk about, the T material suggests a context within which the actual sentence, following, will operate. Nouns in this position can have the appearance of distant subjects, preceding a proximate subject S. More generally: the Chinese language does not like to have the end of the sentence, its action statement, crowded up with a bunch of things. It prefers to pile them up front instead, and if it does so in a given case, the T area is the place where it puts them. An object can be parked in the T area, in which case the sentence proper may begin with a "resuming" pronoun (typically shr4): "The Rung and Di: them he repressed" (Shr 300). We call this the "floating construction." Compare the Japanese distinction between a remote topic (or floating object) marked by "wa" and the immediate subject marked by "ga." We might also cite the standard French construction exemplified by "Moi, je dis . . . " ("As for me, I would say that . . . ). The "as for" translation is ubiquitous as a device for rendering Chinese T phrases (as it is also for Japanese "wa" phrases).
- U. Verbs of saying. They take the following quote as their complement, but those quotes are sometimes so long that it is not useful to mark them as such. The symbol U means that the reader should not look for a concluding O, but simply analyze the quote as an independent bit of language.
- V. Verb. The third and most frequent of the three fundamental sentence types in the language; see the note on the Grammar Topics page. A verbal sentence does not require a subject. I ask, "What's it like outside?" You stick your head out and answer, "Cold." That is a V sentence. Any word can in principle temporarily occupy the verbal slot in a sentence, but some words specialize in that function. These may be called the lexical verbs. There are several subtypes, depending on the behavior of the verb with other elements in the sentence:
- V0 temporary verb; a noun or other word acting as a verb
- V1 a verb that may or may not take a direct object without altering its active/passive status; see next
- V2 a verb that normally takes an object, but when it does not, becomes passive (or otherwise shifts meaning)
- V3 a verb that normally does not take an object (many of them are adjectival in feeling), but when it does, becomes causative (or otherwise shifts meaning)
- V4 certain verbs of motion with special characteristics
- Verbs of saying; see under U.
- W. A governed verb: a verb which, or whose clause, is the object of another verb. Often in a pivot construction (whose full form is VSW or simply VW; see the discussion under O).
- X. Negative; always a prefix on a following verb. There is however a wrinkle in Warring States Chinese: If a negated verb (XV) has a pronoun object (XVO, but in the specific case where the O happens to be a pronoun, we may for precision write XVP), that object is by rule preposed, and comes between the negative and the following verb, thus XVP > XPV. Now, a pronoun object by definition is more weakly stressed than a noun object (it carries less information). The negative is also weakly stressed (it carries less information than the verb). The weak X and P, being for grammatical reasons juxtaposed, may easily yield a contracted form, where the initial consonant of the pronoun is added as a final consonant on the negative, and the rest of the pronoun is phonetically lost. This leads to pairs of negatives which are phonetically identical except that they either lack of possess final -t, the -t being the residue of a lost pronoun "it." This preposed-object rule no longer obtains in Han, and its absence defines one stylistic boundary of the Warring States language. (Of course, some Han writers imitate the classic style of the pre-Imperial period, more or less successfully. Life is not as simple as one might wish. But the complications are literary and stylistic; they are not linguistic).
- Y. Auxiliary verb; "can, ought, should," and similar notions. The construction is YV. Auxiliary verbs make explicit aspect differences which may also be conveyed implicitly, by the verb alone. See the note on the Grammar Topics page.
- Z. Sentence particle or other unanalyzable function word. Not all of them occur at the ends of sentences (as our symbolism might imply); they may occur after (or before) verb or noun phrases.
- # [numeral; see above, following letter N]
Grammar exists. Words behave in certain ways and not in other ways, and those patterns of behavior can be described. The above abbreviations are a device for recording those patterns of behavior. They are meant to be small enough to write into a Chinese text you are studying.
Remember that the words in a sentence are not sending you signals that will allow you to decode the sentence, especially if you were born two thousand years too late, and don't know either the language or the culture in which the language subsists. No. The sentence never heard of you, and it has other things in mind anyway. Learn Chinese grammar by memorizing (and thus internalizing) the texts, whatever ones are available to you. Understand Chinese grammar by coming back to this page now and then.
26 Feb 2002 / Contact The Project / Exit to Resources Page