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Location phrase as adverbial vs complement

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AFAIK, this is correct:



but these not:




Why? I can´t figure out the difference



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Don't know for sure but my first reaction was: monosyllabic vs disyllabic?

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Agree with Publius. I think the verb that follows location expression with 在 normally consists of more than one syllable (in your examples: 学习 and 工作).

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Haven't come here for a long time. It seems that verbs with static meaning are put before locations and verbs emphasizing motion are put after them. For example,









Some verbs can be in both positions, with some difference in meaning:



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The way that I logically look at it is that the word order kind of reflects a chronological or a cause/effect relationship. When the location phrase is used as an adverbial, it means that you first go to the location and then do some action there. But when it's used as a complement, it means that being at a location is the result of the action. This distinction is more obvious when there's a direct object, e.g. 把书放在桌子上.

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Have just checked Basic Chinese by Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington, and it says that for verbs which denote actions that will naturally end up in a location (e.g. 住,坐,躺), the location expressions are placed after the verb. For verbs which do not denote actions that will naturally end up in a location (e.g. 学习,工作), the location expressions are usually placed before the verb.

Hope this helps.



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Nice to see different ideas about this phenomenon. I don't think Basic Chinese has given a very convincing explanation though, because we have sentences like:


I don't think standing, waiting or blooming naturally end up in a location, at least not more natural than studying and working.


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Yeah, eddyf is right.


From Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar (2nd edition) by Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington:


8.2 在 zài with location expressions

To indicate location, the preposition or coverb2zài ‘(exist) in or at’ usually combines with a location expression.

The 在 zài coverbal phrase can be positioned earlier or later in a sentence depending on the meaning it contracts with the verb. It comes before the verb if the initiator of the action (usually the subject) has to be at a particular location before the action can be carried out, and it is placed post-verbally if the location indicates the position a particular being or object reaches following the action expressed in the verb. In other words, a pre-verbal location expression is usually concerned with the whereabouts of the subject (the initiator of the action) and a post-verbal location expression is more often than not concerned with the whereabouts of the object (which is usually topicalised).3 We will discuss the complemental (post-verbal) use of location expressions in §8.4 below, but here we are concerned with the adverbial use of location expressions with 在 zài, which come between the subject and the verb:


    xuéshengmen dōu zài túshūguǎn (li) kànshū
    The students are all reading in the library.

2 Coverbs have already been mentioned in §6.5 and they will be discussed in detail in Chapter 11.
3 The object is regularly brought forward before the verb or topicalised through use of the 把 or notional passive construction, see Chapters 12 and 13.



    yùndòngyuánmen zài cāochǎng shàng pǎobù
    The athletes are running on the sportsground.


    yǒu bùshǎo rén zài hǎi li yóuyǒng
    There are quite a few people swimming in the sea.


    xuěhuā zài kōng zhōng fēiwǔ
    The snowflakes are dancing in the air.


    wǒ zài jiù shūdiàn wàibian pèngjiàn le yī ge lǎo péngyou
    I bumped into an old friend outside the second-hand bookshop.


    yǒu xǔduō wàiguó shāngrén zài zhōngguó dōngnánbù jiànlì le qǐyè
    Many foreign traders set up businesses in southeast China.

If the main verb is monosyllabic or does not have an object, the descriptive marker 着 zhe will have to be added to obtain a disyllabic rhythm:4


    niǎor zài shù shàng zhīzhīzhāzhā de jiào zhe
    The birds are chattering in the trees.

    xiǎo māo zài huǒlú páng shuì zhe
    The kitten is dozing beside the stove.

    xǐ hǎo de yīfu dōu zài liàngyīshéng shàng liàng zhe
    The clothes are drying on the line.

    jīnyú zài yúgāng li bùtíng de yóu zhe
    The goldfish swims unceasingly round its tank/bowl.

    yǒu liǎng ge wèibīng zài ménkǒu (páng) zhàn zhe
    There are two guards standing at the entrance.

4 Monosyllabic rhythm may be possible in imperatives, e.g. 你在这儿等 nǐ zài zhèr děng, ‘Would you wait here’, 请在前面坐 qǐng zài qiánmiàn zuò ‘Please sit at the front’.
5 Disyllabic or trisyllabic nouns may combine with 在 zài to form location expressions without postpositions, e.g. 在图书馆 zài túshūguǎn ‘in the library’, 在门口 zài ménkǒu ‘at the entrance’ if there is no ambiguity as to the actual whereabouts.


Though the addition of 着 zhe ‘exist continuously in a particular manner’ is motivated by rhythm, the sentence with its presence becomes even more descriptive. This point will be picked up again in Chapter 21.


8.3 Location expressions as sentence terminators

If a location expression indicates the result of an action, it naturally comes after the verb. In other words, if a location expression emphasises the position the subject (the initiator of the action) or the topic (generally the notional object of the action) eventually reaches following the execution of the action implied in the verb, it is only natural for the location expression to come after the verb. Under such circumstances, the expression is always preceded by 在 zài ‘at; in; on’, etc. Location expressions as sentence
terminators are particularly common with 把 constructions or with notional passives.6 For example,

    tā bǎ dàyī guà zài yījià shàng
    He hung [his] overcoat on the coat hanger/stand.

    māma bǎ mèimei bào zài huái li
    Mother took/held younger sister in her arms.


    bàba bǎ qìchē tíng zài lùbian
    Father parked the car at the roadside.

    qián dōu cún zài yínháng li
    The money is all deposited in the bank.

    xìnxī dōu cún zài cípán shàng
    The information is all stored on the disk.

    yóukèmen dōu tǎng zài shùyīn xià
    The visitors all lay down in the shade of the tree(s).

    kèrenmen dōu zhàn zài fángzi qiánmian
    The guests all stood in front of the house.

6 See Chapter 12 for 把 constructions and Chapter 13 for notional passives.


If the emphasis is the verb itself, the location expression becomes a coverbal phrase. For example, the last three examples may be reworded as:

    信息都在磁盘上存着。xìnxī dōu zài cípán shàng cún zhe
    The information is being stored on the disk.

    游客们都在树荫下躺着。yóukèmen dōu zài shùyīn xià tǎng zhe
    The visitors are all lying in the shade of the tree(s).

    kèrenmen dōu zài fángzi qiánmian zhàn zhe
    The guests are all standing in front of the house.

We can see that the post-verbal complemental use of the location expression focuses on the location, while the pre-verbal adverbial use of the location expression focuses on the action itself. The only case where the alternative structures do not make any difference in meaning is the use of verbs like 住 zhù ‘to live’. However, there will be a difference in their function: the former is a descriptive (with a 在 zài location phrase), while the latter is an expository (with an unmarked verb):

    他们住在伦敦。tāmen zhù zài lúndūn
    他们在伦敦住。7 tāmen zài lúndūn zhù
    They live in London.

7 Note that in this case 住 zhù ‘to live; to stay’ is used monosyllabically without the addition of 着 zhe, or it would be a descriptive sentence again.

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Thank you everyone for the answers, what a marvelous forum have here.

Anyway, I still am not able to understand totally this. How do you apply this to the verbs 工作 and 住? Both have to start and end in the specified place, don't they?

Edit : Sorry,I didn't read the party saying that 住 is an exception

Enviado desde mi SM-N9005 mediante Tapatalk

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I warn myself that just because something is written in a book doesn't automatically render it right. (Is this sentence grammatical?)

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The Chinese grammar Wiki has the simplified account of this difference: https://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/Location_complement.


Pedagogically, this is how I generally structure the "rule":

You should always put the 在/到/... complement before the verb, remembering the 着 if required) unless

1) you have a 把 construction;

2) you have one of these exception verbs, 走 停 住 待 坐 站 [and even 开 as above].


Why these particular verbs allow the post-verbal exception is generally ascribed to "directed motion" of various kinds, and relates it to the resultative complements being post-verbal too. However, this is a subject of ongoing linguistic research. One approach that doesn't use "directed motion" is looking at the interaction of aspect and telicity of the verbs in question, and how the post-verbal form creates an event boundary, which has to be semantically appropriate to the verb in question.

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