Getting passive?

All right, here’s the solution I was looking for in regards to the puzzle that I posted last week.

Nà shì yīnwei zǒnggòng zhǐ yǒu sān gè rén.
That’s because in all there are only three men.

那三个人是: 祖父, 父親, 和兒子.
Nà sān gè rén shì zǔfù, fùqin, hé érzi.
The three persons are: the grandfather, the father and the son.

However, I wouldn’t argue with you if you had provided one of the following answers instead:

Māo chī diào le yī tiáo yú.
The cat ate one fish.

Yǒu yī tiáo yú bèi māo chī diào le.
One fish was eaten up by a cat.

The above two sentences convey the same fact. The first sentence represents the active voice, which puts the emphasis on the doer of the action. It follows our Sentence Pattern IV:
Noun (subject) + Trasitive Verb + Noun (object)

The second sentence employs the passive voice, which focuses on the receiver of the action.
To give a transitive verb the passive voice, simply place the word (bèi) before it.

(bèi) + Transitive Verb

For example,

Tā bèi chǔfá.
He was punished.

Things get a little trickier when you also include the doer of the action in the sentence.
The general passive-voice sentence pattern is:

VII. Noun (subject) + (bèi) + Noun (object of the preposition) + Trasitive Verb

For example,

Tā bèi lǎoshī chǔfá.
He was punished by the teacher.

You see, instead of “He was punished by the teacher.”, the Chinese say, “He was by the teacher punished.” Similarly, as shown above, they would say, “One fish was by a cat eaten.” This rule is worth keeping in mind. What better way to get used to the inverted word order than doing a few exercises? Please change the voice for the following sentences from active to passive, i.e. translate the sentences in parentheses into Chinese.

Tā nònghuà le diànnǎo.
He damaged the computer.
(The computer was damaged by him.)

Nà gōngsī gùyòng le tā.
That company hired her.
(She was hired by that company.)

Tā xià le wǒ yī tiào.
He startled me.
(I was startled by him.)

(xià) is to scare or frighten. (tiào) means to jump, leap or skip.
吓了一跳 (xià le yī tiào) is an expression describing the state of being shocked or taken aback.

Please don’t go around making a lot of statements in the passive voice just because you know how to do so. You wouldn’t normally say, “A cup of coffee was drunk by me this morning.” Then don’t do that in Chinese either.

Furthermore, when the combination of the “be” verb and the past participle could be interpreted as a characterization of an item, then it is so expressed in Chinese. In this case, the character (bèi by) is dropped altogether.

Take, for example, the sentence: “The letter was written by him.” Here, we are not so much interested in what was done to the letter as in knowing who wrote the letter. The phrase “written by him” could be regarded as the descriptive complement linked to the subject by “was”. Therefore, in Chinese, it will go like this:

Zhè fēng xìn shì tā xiě de.
The letter was written by him.
(The letter was one that he wrote.)

Similarly, the following sentence de-emphasizes what was done to the cake but answers the question: “Who was the one that baked the cake?”

Zhè dàngāo shì Lùxī kǎo de.
The cake was baked by Luci.

The above sentences follow the Sentence Pattern III that we discussed before:
Noun + (shì) + Adjective ending in (de)

Měiguó guóqìng rì kuàilè!
Have a Happy July 4th!


Confucius Institute Online plagiarizing Learn Chinese Weekly content

[6/23/11 Edit: The offending blogger apologized. Please see the relevant comment. Apology accepted.] Last week I followed a Google link and landed on a few blog posts at Confucius Institute Online that look just like mine. It appears two bloggers there have been “borrowing” the articles from my blog site as well as other blog sites on a regular basis without giving credit to the original authors. They have even replaced the images in some of my articles with their own, as exemplified by these screenshots: Screen1, and Screen2. Please compare these with the contents of the “He Happy” article that I posted on this blog on 4/7/11. I sent an email to report this issue to Confucius Institute Online on 6/15/11, and again on 6/19/11. No response from them yet.
The character (xiě) means to write. (chāo) means to transcribe or to copy. 抄写 (chāoxiě) is to copy written words or documents by hand. On the other hand, 抄袭 (chāoxí) stands for plagiarism, which is dishonest, 不诚实 (bùchéngshí) and illegal, 不合法 (bùhéfǎ).

By now, you have seen the word (yǒu) on this blog quite a few times and know that it means “to have”. This word also stands for “there exists”. For example,

Yǒurén chāoxí wǒde zuòpǐn.
There’s someone plagiarizing my work.
(Someone is plagiarizing my work.)

Yǒu yīgè rén zài gōngyuán lǐ.
There is a person in the park.

I will use (yǒu) to start the following story, which is based on a well-known puzzle.

liǎng wèi fùqin hé liǎng wèi érzi diàoyú
There are two fathers and two sons fishing together.

Nà liǎng wèi fùqin bízi dà.
The two fathers have large noses.

Nà liǎng wèi érzi yǎnjīng xiǎo.
The two sons have small eyes.

Tāmen měirén diào dào yī tiáo yú.
They each caught one fish.

Suàn suàn zǒnggòng yǒu sān tiáo yú.
They count a total of three fishes.

Wèishénme zhǐ yǒu sān tiáo yú?
Why are there only three fishes?

(yú) means fish, and (diào) is to hook up a fish. Replace the dot on the right hand side with a hook-like symbol, and you’ll get the word for “a hook”, (gōu).

(tiáo) is a unit of measure that is used for something that is longer than it is wide, such as a rope, an ox, a banana or a boat.

每人 (měirén), or 每个人 (měigerén), means each person.

(suàn) is to calculate or compute. (zǒng) and (gòng) both mean “in all”.

Would you like to solve the above puzzle and provide your answer in a comment? If you do that in Chinese, you might want to start the sentence with 因为 (Yīnwei Because), or 那是因为 (Nà shì yīnwei That’s because).

Zhang or Chang?

* To “Ketty” and “Vicky” at The Confucius Institute:
It is illegal to display my posts on your blogs as though they were authored by you. If you would like to have your readers read my posts, simply provide a link to this blog site. Thank you for your attention.

Besides 校长 (xiàozhǎng principal) and 教师 (jiàoshī teacher), there are many other professions that one could take up. The following examples follow the first two sentence patterns that we discussed before.

Sentence Pattern I – Noun + Adjective

Nà wèi hùshi hěn héqì.
That nurse is very amiable.

Nà wèi shàngwè hěn yǒnggǎn.
That captain is very courageous.

Sentence Pattern II – Noun + (shì) + Noun

Wŏ gēgē shì gōngchéngshī.
My brother is an engineer.

Tā shì yīshēng.
He is a physician.

Tā tàitai yĕ shì yīshēng.
His wife is also a physician.

Mǎkètǔwēn shì yǒumíng de zuòjiā.
Mark Twain is a famous writer.

Here, the optional adjective 有名的 (yǒumíng de famous) precedes the noun that it describes. (Anyone named Mark here? Now you know which Chinese characters you could use to represent your name.)

Wŏmen xuéxiào de yuándīng jiào lǎo Zhāng.
The gardener at our school is called Old Zhang.

(jiào) means to call or to shout. It can be used in a number of different ways. 大叫 (dà jiào) is to shout at the top of one’s lungs,叫菜 (jiào cài) means to order food at or from a restaurant. In the above sentence, functions as a linking verb like (shì to be), and translates to “is called” or “is named”.

(Zhāng) is a popular Chinese surname. You may have met people by this last name but their name cards show Chang instead of Zhang. This is because there were a couple other Romanization systems of Mandarin in popular use before the Hanyu Pinyin was officially adopted by the Chinese government in 1958. Chang is the transliteration of (Zhāng) that follows the Wade–Giles Romanization system of Mandarin. The Wade-Giles system was widely used in English-speaking countires for most of the 20th century.

(Zhāng) is made up of (gōng a bow, as in “bow and arrow”) and (cháng long). When you imagine a bow’s string being drawn, it’s not surprising that, as a verb, (Zhāng) means to open or to spread. 张开 (zhāngkāi) means to open wide. It can take as an object such words as 眼睛 (yǎnjīng eyes), 嘴巴 (zuǐba mouth), (shǒu hand) and 手臂 (shǒubì arms). Switch the two characters, and you’ll get 开张 (kāizhāng), which refers to the first opening of a business.

(zhāng) is also used as a counting unit for paper bills, sheets, letters, newspapers, documents, tickets, and even faces, mouths, beds and chairs.

When we mention a profession like physicians or engineers, we often conjure up an image of a man, whereas a nurse is usually associated with a woman. Nowadays women also engage in traditionally male occupations, and many modern fathers do childcare and household tasks that were once monopolyzed by mothers. In return, these fathers get to know their children better and are able to enjoy a more well-rounded life instead of just being a hard-working breadwinner. Father’s Day is coming up, and we wish all the fathers in the world an enjoyable Sunday!

Fùqin jié kuàilè!
Happy Father’s Day!

You know that Mother’s Day is 母亲节 (mǔqin jié). The Dragon Boat Festival that we celebrated last week is called 端午节 (duānwǔjié the 5th day of the 5th lunar month) In fact, the names of all the Chinese holidays either end in (jie festival, holiday, knot, node) or (rì day).

This year 父亲节 (fùqin jié Father’s Day) falls on June 19th, 2011. In Chinese, it is: 二零一一年六月十九日 (èr líng yīyī nián liùyuè shí jiǔ rì), which could also be written as: 二○一一年六月十九日 (èr líng yīyī nián liùyuè shí jiǔ rì).

Please note that the date format used is yyyy/mm/dd.

The Butterfly Lovers


Maybe you don’t like to go to school, but there was once a young lady who was very unhappy because she was not allowed to go to school. At that time in China, young children were home-schooled by their parents or hired mentors. Then the young men went off to school while the young ladies stayed home and did their needlework. For their safety and good reputation, the unmarried daughters from a typical Chinese family were kept out of the public.

According to the famous Chinese legend, 粱山伯与祝英台 (Liáng Shānbó yǔ Zhù Yīngtái), which was first recorded during the Tang Dynasty, this young lady, named 祝英台 (Zhù Yīngtái), pestered her parents to let her travel to a distance city, to attend school. She managed to convince them that she could disguise as a young man and not be found out. On the way to school she befriended a young man named 粱山伯 (Liáng Shānbó). So began a cute tale with a tragic ending. This story was featured in many Chinese stage plays and movies, the most notable of which being the blockbuster, “Love Eterne”, starred by the beautiful 乐蒂 (Lèdì) and the very talented 凌波 (Língbō) a few decades ago. It was reported that quite a few people in Southeast Asia watched this entertaining musical more than one hundred times. (At that time, there were no DVD’s to rent. You had to go to a movie hall and stand in a long line to watch a popular movie.)

When viewing this musical movie, you will need to rely on the subtitles to understand the songs because the rhyming lyrics contain a mix of colloquial Chinese and Chinese idioms, as well as many allusions to Chinese classics that may be challenging even for an advanced student of Chinese. Do pay attention to the sparse conversations and see if you can catch a few familiar words or phrases. Also take notice of the actors’ costumes, which reflect the clothing style of that era.

When used as a conjunctive, the word (yǔ) has the same meaning as (hé), i.e. “and” or “together with”. (hé) is used in everyday speech, while (yǔ) is mostly found in written documents.

In a well-to-do Chinese family, there would typically be an old master, 老爷(lǎoyé), the lady of the house, 夫人 (fūrén), one or more young masters, 少爷(shàoyé), one or more young misses 小姐( xiǎojie), the servants, 仆人 (Púrén), nowadays called 男佣(nánōng), and the maids, 婢女(bìnǚ), nowadays called 女佣(nǚyōng). 佣人(yōngrén) is a general term for servants.

In Chinese movies, the master of the house is often depicted as an authoritative figure whom everyone must obey and please. Therefore, a standard line for the 夫人 (fūrén) is:

Bùyào rě lǎoyé shēngqì.
Don’t make the old master angry.

生气 (shēngqì) means to get angry.

Alas, after spending 3 years at school with 山伯 (Shānbó), young 英台 (Yīngtái), fell in love. When her parents sent for 英台 (Yīngtái), under the pretense that her mother got ill, 山伯 (Shānbó) saw her off part of the way. Unaware that her parents had promised her to a local rich dude, 英台 (Yīngtái) dropped hint after hint that 山伯 (Shānbó) should come to her house and woo her twin sister, who “looks exactly like me”. Except for actually revealing her true identity, what did she not try to entice him to come to visit her family? At one point, she sang:

Mǔdan huā, nǐ ài tā.
Peonies, you love them.

Wǒ jiā yuán li mǔdan hǎo.
The peonies in my garden are gorgeous.

Yào zhāi mǔdan shàng wǒ jiā.
To pick nice peonies, you must come to my house.

Notice that is the non-human third person pronoun that means “it” or “they”.

When 山伯 (Shānbó) laughed off the silly notion of visiting the (Zhù) family merely for the sake of a few flowers, 英台 (Yīngtái) cited a variation of the following well-kown Chinese adage:

Yǒu huā kān zhé, zhí xū zhé.
When there are flowers to pick, go ahead and pluck them.

Mò dài wú huā kōng zhé zhī.
Don’t wait until the flowers are gone, and you’r left with only branches to pick.

From the above English translation, you have probably figured out that (zhāi) and (zhé) both mean to pick, to pluck, or to snag.
(mò) is a classical Chinese word that means the same as 不要 (bùyào), or “don’t”.
(kān may, can) is also a classical Chinese word that mostly appears in set phrases. Its modern equivalent is the auxiliary verb (néng may, can).
(dài) is an abbreviation of 等待 (děngdài), which means “to wait”. In everyday speech, people usually just say (děng) instead of 等待 (děngdài).

If you have not yet found out from the lyrics of “Lover’s Tears” the Chinese terms for separating or parting, here are a few commonly used ones:

分别 (fēnbié) means to leave each other, or to differentiate.
分离 (fēnlí) means to separate.
分手 (fēnshǒu) means to part company with someone.

So, the friends parted. When 山伯 (Shānbó) found out that his pal was actually a co-ed, it was too late. 英台 (Yīngtái) was getting ready to marry the other dude against her own wish. 山伯 (Shānbó) soon died from depression and illness. The sorrowful 英台 (Yīngtái) defied her father and visted her beloved’s grave. Her pitiful wailing moved the heavens, and the tomb suddenly split open. 英台 (Yīngtái) jumped in. When the dust settled, two butterflies were seen soaring together out of the gave. Hence the English translation of the title of this story, “The Butterfly Lovers”.

Next time you see a 蝴蝶 (húdié, butterfly), remember what happens when you let a girl go to school.

No time to learn Chinese?

For many students, school is almost over, and you are looking forward to a fun and relaxing summer. Not so fast. No regular schoolwork means you will have more time to spend on learning Chinese.

(xué) means to learn.
学校 (xuéxiào) is a school.
校长 (xiàozhǎng) is the principal. (zhǎng) means chief, senior, or to grow. The same character pronounced as (cháng) means long, steadily or length. This is just one of many such dual-purpose words in Chinese.
学期 (xuéqī) is a semester.
(jiāo) means to teach.
(shū) are books. It is also used formally as a verb that means “to write”.
教书 (jiāoshū) means to teach school.
读书 (dúshū) means to read a book, to study, or generally to attend school.
老师 (lǎoshī), or 教师 (jiàoshī) are the teachers, and 学生 (xuésheng) are the students.
讲师 (jiǎngshī) is a lecturer or a college instructor.
教授 (jiàoshòu) is a professor. 副教授 (fùjiàoshòu) is an associate professor.
(shì) is a room or chamber. So, 教室 (jiàoshì) is the classroom.
上課 (shàngkè) is to go to class. What does the following sentence mean?

Wǒ yào qù shàngkè le.

If a student says this, it means he is going to attend a class. On the other hand, if a teacher says this, it means he is going go to the class to give a lecture.

功课 (gōngkè) is schoolwork or homework.
中文 (Zhōngwén) is the Chinese language.
英文 (Yīngwén) is the English language.
成績 (chéngjī) means achievement or results. For the students, it means their grades. What’s your answer to the following questions?

Nĭ de chéngjī hǎo bùhǎo?
How are you doing at school? (Are you earning good grades?)

Nĭ zhè xuéqī chéngjī zěnmeyàng?
How are your grades this semester?

优等 (yōuděng) or 非常好 (fēicháng hǎo), means outstanding or excellent.
还可以 (hái kěyǐ), 差不多 (chàbuduō), and 中等 (zhōngděng) mean okay, so-so, passable, or average.
及格 (bùjígé) means to passed an exam.
不及格 (bùjígé) means to flunk an exam.

The people in the Anshun City of the Guizhou Province in China are known for their quick wit and clever tongue. Here is a slap-stick rhyme they made up in early 20th Century to mock those who studied English. A boarding school student writes to his parents:

“发惹, 妈惹”, 敬禀者:
Fā rě mā rě, jìng bǐng zhě:
Father, Mother, Respected Addressees,

Ér zài xuéxiào dú bùkě.
Me, your son, studies books at school.

Yàngyàng gōngkè dōu gù dé;
On each subject I’m doing good;

Zhǐyǒu yīngwén bùjígé.
Only the English class I goofed.

发惹, 妈惹 is a transliteration of the English words “father” and “mother”.
The student uses 不可 to simulate the sound of “book”, and 顾得 to simulate the sound of “good”. These are just for fun and are not standard translations of the corresponding English words. The word, (rě), means to provoke or to bother someone. The composer of this rhyme used this word in an attempt to approximate the sond of “the”, which has no Chinese equivalent.

敬禀者 is a very formal way of addressing the recipient of a letter or report.

可以 (kěyǐ) is an auxiliary verb that corresponds to “may” or “can”. As an adjective, it means passable or acceptable. The opposite term is 不可以 (bù kěyǐ), or 不可 (bùkě), which means “should not” or “not permitted to”.
顾得 happens to mean “being able to take care of”.

Click on School Report to access an audio recording of a variation of this amusing rhyme, which starts with:

父亲大人 (fùqin dàrén Honorable Father).

You already know that 大人 (dàrén) refers to a grown-up person. In the old times it was also used to address an important official as “Your Excellency” or “Your Honor”.

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