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To 着 or not. .... and a question about postpositions and verb placement.


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I'm going through an exercise in Basic Chinese: A Grammar and Workbook, and there are a couple of “Key to exercises” I'm unable to understand.


Exercise text: “Decide which of the following sentences is incorrect and make corrections where necessary, paying special attention to the use of appropriate postpositions.”


Here are the three sentences that puzzle me:



(As they appear in the exercises)


她在门前站。She was standing in front of the house. (lit. in front of the door)


奶奶坐在沙发上。Grandmother is sitting on the sofa.


金鱼游在水池里。The goldfish are swimming in the pool.



(The corrections given in the “Key to exercises” section)




奶奶坐在沙发上。 (no alterations, correct as it is)






What confuses me is:


1) In the first sentence a is added, because “she” was standing. In the third sentence, a is also added, because the fish are swimming. However, in the second sentence there is no after , although the grandmother is supposed to be sitting. Why is this an exception?


2) Secondly, in the third sentence the verb is moved behind the postposition. And in the first sentence too, the verb comes after the postposition. But in the second sentence, the verb comes before. I first thought this may be optional (the verb can come before or after, it doesn't make a difference), but the fact that the authors chose to move it behind in the “correct“ version of the third sentence would suggest that this is not the case. Or?


Thanks in advance!



Edit: Never mind the second question. A more careful reading of the chapter gives the answer... "Location expressions are used (i) before the verb, in conjunction with words such as 在 'in; at', 到 'to', 从 'from', etc., to indicate location, destination or direction; (ii) after a verb which denotes an action that will naturally end up in a location. [...]"

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A friendly advice: don't try to translate 着 (or any other grammatical words) into -ing (grammatical words used in other languages).

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奶奶坐在沙发上 -> plain description of the situation : grandma is sitting on the sofa. (Could be an answer to the question where is grandma).

奶奶在沙发上坐著 -> stress is put on the fact that she is sitting on the sofa. (could be an answer to the question what is grandma doing).

Both are correct depending on what you want to emphasize. 


Now 金鱼游在水池里 and 她在门前站 seem unnatural but I wouldn't be able to explain why. They just sound "abrupt".

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Angelina: Thanks, but I'm not really trying to translate 着 as much as understanding why it is used in two of these sentences but not all three, when it seems to be the whole "ongoing process" aspect that's relevant to whether it's to be used or not.

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There is more to 着 than what a simple "ongoing process" definition can describe, it's not the -ing type of event quantification anyway.


Let me think about it for a while and edit this post later. I haven't found one book on Chinese grammar I like, it's not my fault. 

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I think perhaps it is best for you to see this as a stupid exercise that was designed poorly because it doesn't reveal to you what it wants you to take away from the lesson even in the answer key.


1a. 奶奶坐在沙发上

1b. 奶奶在沙发上坐着


2a. 她站在门前

2b. 她在门前站着


3a. 金鱼游在水池里

3b. 金鱼在水池里游着


I think you need to consider the type of verbs 坐, 站 and 游 are, because this would be crucial to why their combination with 着 will result in different nuances. I don't know if I'm missing something, but all of the above seem grammatically acceptable to me, but some of them don't work as well as stand-alone sentences.

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Some verbs take a location object.


Like 我希望住在豪宅裡 but never 我在豪宅裡住著.


坐 is a verb that does this as well. Many verbs can be made to work this way, but as far as I know, verbs like 坐 and 住 and I guess 放 counts too kind of have this as their default setting.


坐著 sound like there needs to be a primary action like: 坐著 probably for that reason, though I have not gone through the effort to actually test this theory out to see if 坐 behaves like 住 in other contexts.

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Grammar books are not clear on these differences, but below is what I have gathered from them.


1a. 奶奶坐在沙发上  (The last element is generally the most emphasized, so this form emphasizes the location of a state or the destination of an activity)

1b. 奶奶在沙发上坐着  (This form emphasizes the activity or state that takes place in a location)

1c. *奶奶在沙发上坐 (This form is generally not permitted when there is a monosyllabic verb with nothing following.  Using 着, or in fact any other relevant verbal element, would make the sentence acceptable.)


2a. 她站在门前  (Same as 1a)

2b. 她在门前站着 (Same as 1b)

2c. *她在门前站 (Same as 1c)


3a. ?金鱼游在水池里 (I would guess that a motion verb like 游 might not readily be used with 在 unless the motion verb implies a destination.  For instance, would 跑在路上 be acceptable?)

3b. 金鱼在水池里游着 (Same as 1b)

3c. 金鱼在水池里游 (Same as 1c)

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?金鱼游在水池里 (I would guess that a motion verb like 游 might not readily be used with 在 unless the motion verb implies a destination.  For instance, would 跑在路上 be acceptable?)

My understanding is that it probably has to do with the fact that 坐 and 站 let you do something else, which you can precise after the location :




But 游 doesn't let you do something else: you swim or you don't, thus it should be located at the end of the sentence, as in





It's basicaly how Chinese sentences work: the important piece of information comes at the end. 

游 being what you want to put the stress on in this sentence, it should come at the end. Same for 站, if you want to emphasize the fact that the person is standing, you say 她在门前站著。

And if you want to put the stress on the fact that the fish are in the pool, then you don't even need to say what they are doing there, it's irrelevant: 金鱼在水池里. This is also perfectly valid. But as soon as you want to precise what they are doing there, it becomes the important part, and thus, should come at the end.


Anything to add/correct, anyone?

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My take of the above patterns

a) ... [V+在]...

b) 在... [V+ 着].

is like this: the fact that the V (verbs) are monosyllabic is important in understanding the patterns. When the verbs are in the middle of the sentences, they can combine with 在 to become multi-syllabic phrases. When at the end of the sentence, they still require something to pair with (着 in this case). This seems to be  part of the prosody of Chinese, the reason for monosyllabic verbs to sound quite awkward on their own at the end of the sentence.

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Thanks for all the suggestions. I have a bit of a tendency to get hung up on details when I see an inconsistent ordering of sentence components in the answers section, even those that are not really the focus of the relevant chapter. It's been useful to read through your replies.

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I certainly see "游在水里" to be an acceptable construction, and I hear it and imagine I probably say it (though less often). I would favour it over 在水里游着, but 在水里游泳 is the best and most natural.


That being said, things like "游在水里的鱼" or "跑在路上的人" are totally fine, are they not? I am still waiting for someone to come along and tell me I'm crazy.

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