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cjbaker

Relative clauses with preposition

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cjbaker

This sometimes trips me up while speaking Chinese. Maybe I'm just missing some structure in Mandarin.

The problem is relative clauses with a preposition, which we use frequently in English (please ignore that I'm using the normal spoken word order, instead of the "prescribed" one, prepositions are bold):

1. The chair I'm sitting on [is too small].

2. The box the books are in [is over there].

3. The pen I wrote the letter with [is on the table].

4. The person I came with [has already left].

My translations into Chinese (please correct me if wrong):

1 我坐的椅子[太小了]。

2 书在里面的盒子[在那边]。

3 我写信那只笔[在桌子上]。

4 我和他一块来那个人[已经走了]。

As you can see, they all use different strategies for expressing an English relative clause in which the antecedent is a non-core argument of the embedded verb (i.e., it's not the subject or direct object, and the thematic relationship is expressed by the preposition). They don't use prepositions except 在 for location (because it can act as a main verb, unlike "at"), for example I don't think 用 would sound right in 3, even though the normal declarative sentence would be 我用笔写信。Is there some corresponding structure that I'm missing? Thanks.

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trevelyan

You're getting prepositional clauses and subordinate clauses confused. Prepositional phrases go before verbs. Subordinate clauses use verb constructs + 的 + nouns. These are all subordinate clauses modifying nouns:

The box is over there.

盒子在那边

The box with the books is over there.

有书的盒子在那边

有书在里面的盒子在那边

That person has already left

那个人已经走了.

That person with whom I came has already left.

跟我一起来的那个人已经走了.

In contrast, prepositional clauses precede the main verb:

跟我一起来的那个人已经跟我的女朋友一起走了.

That person with whom I came has already gone off with my girlfriend.

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goldie

我写信那只笔[在桌子上]。

我用来写信的那只笔[在桌子上]。

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cjbaker

Thanks for your comments, trevelyan and goldie. Agreed, prepositional phrases are different from subordinate clauses. What I'm talking about is when the relative (or subordinate) clause is related to the noun it modifies through an English preposition (or prepositional phrase), rather than having the relationship of core argument (like subject, which is straightforward, for example "The people reading", 看书的人). It appears that Chinese doesn't allow the corresponding structure for some reason (for example, *我用_写信那只笔).

In your examples, the English relative clause is translated by a couple of different structures in Chinese, specifically by using a different verb than the English version (有, 在) or an adverb, or by letting the listener assume the relationship (we know that letters are written with pens). I'll post a longer list of examples later, maybe we can find some regularities that would help with translation.

Here's one that I would have a hard time translating in one Chinese sentence: "The refrigerator I took this popsicle from was set too cold." We know how to say something like, A. 我从冰箱里拿了根棒冰, as well as B. 冰箱温度太冷了, but the 从 seems to make it impossible to make a relative clause out of A. I would translate the sentence in a completely different way, maybe something like 我从冰箱里拿了根棒冰,冰箱温度太冷了, or how about 我拿了根棒冰,冰箱温度太冷了。What do you think?

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trevelyan

Unless I'm mistaken....

The refrigerator is too cold

冰箱太冷

The refrigerator from which I took out this popsicle is too cold

我从里面拿出来这个冰棍的冰箱太冷

a little repetition helps make things clearer to the listener....

我从冰箱里面拿出来这个冰棍的那个冰箱太冷

我从冰箱里面拿出来这个冰棍 can function as a stand-alone sentence and follows regular grammar rules: subject + prepositional clause + main verb + object. Anyone else?

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Jonny Wang

I'm no grammatician or linguist, but one thing that jumps out at me about some (not all) of your Chinese translations, cjbaker, is that they omit a necessary 的。In grammar lingo,I think this 的 may be a subordiante clause "marker“ in these cases and is necessary to link the first (subordinate) clause to the subject in the proper way.

我从冰箱里拿了根棒冰,冰箱温度太冷了 (doesn't have the needed 的 to link the first phrase to the second as a subordinate clause, but does have an comma trying to subsitute for the 的!)

我从里面拿根棒冰的冰箱温度太冷了. (I'm not sure my grammar is perfect here, but the necessary 的 is now present.

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cjbaker

Jonny Wang, your post is very helpful, I think this is along the lines of what I'm looking for.

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Quest
The refrigerator from which I took out this popsicle is too cold

我从里面拿出来这个冰棍的冰箱太冷

Sorry, I didn't really follow through the whole thread, but this sentence sounded strange.

Maybe this would be better: 我刚拿冰棍出来的那个冰箱太冷了。

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goldie

my attempt, not much different, but includes past tense markers...

我从里面拿了根冰棒的冰箱温度太冷了.

:conf

edit: just reread john wangs post and realised that mine is more or less the same, just with an extra 了. :oops:

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djwebb2004

I agree that this is an awkward thing in Chinese, probably the most awkward thing. Can I add 1) I think yizhibi for a pen uses 支 as the measure word; and 2) there is a lot of variation in the use of 的, often a sentence would sound overloaded with two many and a few are judiciously omitted.

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cjbaker

How about these:

1. The person I carried this bag for is gone. 我帮他拿这个包

2. The country I just came back from uses the Euro. 我刚从法国回来

3. The company I called makes computers. 我给苹果公司打电话

4. The chopstick I poked your arm with is on the floor. 我用筷子戳你的胳膊

5. The person I sold my bike to also lives in China. 我给他卖我的车

I listed the declarative version of the Chinese sentence I had in mind for each, though of course it doesn't need to be translated that way. It's just that I seem to think up these partial sentences just before tripping up. I'm not even going to try to give translations:help .

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HashiriKata
It's just that I seem to think up these partial sentences just before tripping up.
Since I've got much less experience of speaking Chinese than you so I can't give you translations of your sentences, but have you tried another strategy to avoid being tripped up? For example, think what it is that you want to say and say it in smaller, simpler chunks? This is not just trying to avoid problems, but is also out of an understanding that there are structures that may sound quite natural in one language but are awkward/ marginal in another.

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goldie

1. The person I carried this bag for is gone. 我帮他拿这个包

我帮他拿/提这个包的人走了

2. The country I just came back from uses the Euro. 我刚从法国回来

我刚从一个国家回来,在那他们用欧元. or 我刚从那里回来的国家用欧元.

3. The company I called makes computers. 我给苹果公司打电话

我打了电话的公司是制造电脑的.

4. The chopstick I poked your arm with is on the floor. 我用筷子戳你的胳膊

我用来戳你胳膊的筷子在地上(呢)

5. The person I sold my bike to also lives in China. 我给他卖我的车

买我自行车的人也住在中国 or 我把自行车卖给(他?)的那个人也住在中国

This is my attempt, I did it more for a challenge really, just to see if I could. I'm no good at explaining the whys and the wherefores so someone else who's better might be able to A) tell me if i've got it wrong and B) explain what the grammar points are?

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djwebb2004
1. The person I carried this bag for is gone. 我帮他拿这个包

2. The country I just came back from uses the Euro. 我刚从法国回来

3. The company I called makes computers. 我给苹果公司打电话

4. The chopstick I poked your arm with is on the floor. 我用筷子戳你的胳膊

5. The person I sold my bike to also lives in China. 我给他卖我的车

Let me embarrass myself by getting some of these wrong!

1. 我拿包的人走了. (sounds wrong, but I can't do any better; can you say 我帮忙拿包的人走了?)

2. 我刚去过的国家是用欧元的.

3. 我打电话的公司是制造计算机的.

4。我戳你的胳膊的筷子在地上.

5。我卖自行车的人也住在中国。

Actually these all sound wrong, and it just goes to show that Chinese lessons in China do not address at all the major difficulties met with my English speakers learning Chinese!

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