Start a Sentence Right


This is a follow up to my blog on “No Rule is the Rule”, whereby I said that there are no set rules as to how a sentence is to be formed. That said, as a good rule of thumb (but not a cardinal rule) a sentence should start with the topic, be it a subject, object, time adverb or mood adverb, and then followed by comments.

Below are quotes from Wikipedia on the subject:

Chinese is considered to be a topic-prominent language, where the topic of the sentence takes precedence in the sentence. For example, the following sentences do not seem to follow normal subject-first word order, but adhere perfectly to the topic-comment structure:

院(yuàn)子(zi)里(lǐ) 停(tíng) 着(zhe) 一(yí) 辆(liàng) 车(chē)。
In the courtyard is parked a car.

今(jīn) 天(tiān) 爬(pá) 山(shān), 明(míng) 天(tiān) 野(yě) 营(yíng)。
Today climb mountains, tomorrow camp outdoors.

游(yóu) 泳(yǒng) 我(wǒ) 最(zuì) 拿(ná) 手(shǒu)。
Swimming I am the best

I came across a question asked by my friend Hedvart at italki as follows 什么自中国的地区你來 (literally translated as “Which district of China you come from?”). The structure of the question in Chinese was awkward, but I bet no italki friends would say that the question was grammatically wrong. Hedvart’s question appears to be a word by word translation from English. If Hedvart did follow the good rule of thumb i.e. the topic-comment structure, he would have started the sentence with 你來自 (you come) then followed by comments. The proper structure of that question, in my opinion, should be 你來自中国的什么地区 (literally translated as “You come from which district of China?”. You may note that the characters for both questions are exactly the same. It is only that the sequences of the characters that have changed.So please remember to start a sentence right by starting it with the topic.

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