Darkgaia: English and Chinese Translation Rules (Advanced)

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By Darkgaia, GCI2015-2016, original material in Chinese, manually translated into English.

Hello there. You may have been linked here from my previous page: Translation Rules and Difficulties (English & Chinese), which documents the difficulties and common pitfalls translators experience when doing translations in the English-Chinese language pair. This page is an advanced guide to the contrasting grammar of English and Chinese, detailing salient linguistic differences between the two languages, focusing on syntax. The original material that this page is based on was from a close friend of mine, who specializes in the translation of the English-Chinese pair. However, the source material is in Chinese, thus I have taken the pains to translate them into English for readers of this page, and I have also left the original source Chinese text here for authenticity. If you are a prospective English-Chinese language pair developer and are extremely fluent with the linguistics of both languages, please do peruse the Chinese texts on this page -- I cannot fully guarantee the accuracy of my English translation as I am not an expert in the field, and may not be familiar with the technical jargon and details that were originally in Chinese.

English and Chinese Translation Rules

Sentence Structure 句型/句子结构

English (Verb oriented sentence structure) (动词行谓语)

  • SV (intransitive)
  • SVO (transitive + object)/(Prep + verb + object)
  • SVOO (direct + indirect object)
  • SVC (linking V / transitive V / verb to "be" + Complement)
  • SVOC
  • SVOA (Adverbial [壮语]) 壮中结构
  • SVA

Chinese (Subject + Predicate single sentences) (主谓单句)

  • 动词谓语句 (SV, similar to English)
  • 名词谓语句 (No verb, N + N)
  • 形容词谓语句 (主)(谓) (Subject and Adjective)
  • 主谓谓语句 [(主)( 谓 ) ]

Missing Subject Sentences (零主语句)

Chinese sentences need not necessarily have a subject (the subject can be omitted, or defined implicitly according the context). However, English sentences usually do. The translator must remember to replace the appropriate subject (also known as a "dummy subject") into the English sentence after translation. (译成英语时必须实当补充主语 形式主语)

Connecting Sentences (流水句)→(意合句)

These are Chinese sentences used to connect ideas in a Chinese paragraph. When translating into English, one must remember to observe the appropriate English sentence structure: The first clause followed by additional supplementary information. (译成英语时 → [主][谓]+名词短语/介词短语形式)

"Is" Sentences (“是”字句)→([主]“是”[???])

The Chinese equivalent of "Is" is the word “是”. A translator must take note of the words before and after 是 in order to produce the correct equivalent logical translation in English. (译成英语时:分折“是”连接的前后信息的逻辑关系)


English → Chinese

SVO[C] → [(话题),(说明)]

(eng) Subjects are usually noun-based. (英文的主语一般必须有具有名词性质)

  • Noun Phrases
  • Infinitive Verbs
  • "What"
  • "That"

They can also be descriptions about time or locations (Proper Nouns) (也可以以时间或处所名词做主语)

(eng) English contains the use of Marked Themes/Sentence structures to convey emphasis (英语也有“话题--说明”句子.)

(zho) The subjects of Chinese Sentences need not necessarily be a noun/noun phrase (中文句子的话题并不一定是名词/名词词组)

Tree Structures vs Branch Structures (树式结构 vs 竹式结构)

(eng) Simple sentence structure: Subject + Predicate (基本的主干 → 主语+谓语)

  • Any further sentences or supplements branch from this basic sentence structure. (“树枝” 从主干发展出来的)

(zho) Do not conform to to one specific sentence structure (不存在一个主干结构,没有主干与树枝之分)

  • Relies on meaning and conjunctions to continually add clauses. (靠意思和虚词等关联词)

Importance of Subjects

English Chinese
Subject prominent 注重主语 Marked sentence structure 话题-说明
Subject-Verb based 主谓结构 Two form based 双分结构
Must have a subject, and the main verb is the focus of the sentence, the object will be acted upon by the verb 主语不可少,谓语中的动词是句子中心,谓语中的宾语是目标/承受着 What would be in the subject is the marked theme, which will be understood by the reader through context 处在主语位置的词 → 话题,读者通过语境理解内容
3 main syntax SVO (Must have Subject-Verb agreement) “三分结构” 主谓(动)宾 (必须有主谓一致) Ever-changing sentence contruction 灵活的句子结构
  • 定语 → Attribute
  • Standard sentence structure: Normally does not accompany contextual information, is the basic sentence structure, with fixed grammar rules. (顺装语序:最一般,不附带语境意义,基本句型,语序固定 【顺装句】)
  • Marked sentence structure: To emphasise certain details or utilise literary devices. (倒装语序:为了强调某个细节或达到某种修辞效果 【倒装句】)
  • Object-fronted structure: Demonstrate special meanings or grab the reader's attention to key points by placing the object in front of the verb. (宾语前置:表达特定的意义或引起读者对相关重要信息的注意时让宾语出现在动词之前。)

Contrasting Grammar Rules (语序的对比)

Linguistic Features English Chinese
Marked Structures (倒装) Effectively demonstrates linguistic features and affects nuances, while being flexible in sentence structures. 有效丰富的形态变化和语法手段,语序也比较灵活 Lacks the changes in nuance, and the sentence structure is fixed. Only passive sentence structures can be marked 缺乏形态变化,语序相对固定 只有"存现句"句法倒装句
Object-fronting (宾语前置) Usually only distanced from front (Object in front of subject) 一般只能远距离前置 (宾语在主语之前) Can be distanced or close to front (Object in front of verb) 可远/近距离前置(宾语在动词之前)
Complement/Adverbial (定语/状语) Can add to the front or back (Complement can be very long) 可前置/后置(定语很长) Usually fronted 一律/通常前置
Time (时间) Not strict about chronological order of sentence structure 不需严格按时间颇序安排句子 Based on chronological order to structure sentences 根据时间顺序安排句子
Order of descriptions (时空范固) The opposite of Chinese, but also not as rigid about this rule. 与汉相反,但没汉那么有规律 Big→Small, Top→Bottom, Far→Near, Whole→Parts, Background→Foreground 大→小,上→下, 远→近,整体→局部,背景→前景
Causality (因果) Flexible with causality, usually the effect is fronted 灵活一些,经常把结果前置 Cause→Effect 因→果
Emphasis (重点) Emphasis is fronted 重点前置 Emphasis is shifted to the back 重点后置

Object Reference vs People Reference (物称 vs 人称)

(eng) Usually uses object reference → Uses objects, events, or abstract nouns as the subject (polite, professional) 常用“物称” → 用物体,事务或抽象的名词作为主语 【客气,专业】

(zho) usually uses people reference → Uses people or nouns of living objects as the subject (interpersonal) 常用“人称” → 用人或有生命的名词作为主语 【亲切】

(eng) Lifeless object or event reference + a person's actions being the verb (无生命的物体/事务名称【主】+人类行为的谓语动词【谓】)

(zho) When expressing an action, must explicitly define who did it. (表达动作时要说出-执行人 )

(eng) Uses "zero subject" or "structured subject" (使用“零主语/形式主语”)

(zho) When there is no person referenced, a dummy subject will replace the subject ("someone", "they", etc) (实在没有人称时,采用泛称【“有人”,“人们”,etc】)

  • eng→zho translations must add an explicit person reference as the subject. (添加表示“人称”的主语)

(eng) Avoids using a person reference/Avoids directly addressing the reader (避免人称的出现/避免称呼读者)

Hypotactic vs Paratactic (形合 vs 意合)

(eng) Hypotactic: Relies on semantics and syntax to link the changes and join related phrases and sentences (形合:靠语言本身的语法形式搭建一借助形态变化和连接成分连接词语和句子。)

(zho) Paratactic: Relies on denotations and logic to structure sentences and join phrases. Usually involves related vocabulary to implicitly mark time. (意合:靠词语与句子本身意义上的连贯和逻辑顺序进行连接。一通过相关词汇标记时态。)

Stative vs Dynamic (静态 vs 动态)

(eng) Stative (静态):

  • Noun/Noun phrases are key (名词/名词性短语占优势)
  • Action verbs, adjectives and adverbs are usually softened (表示动态意义的动词,形容词和副词常常被弱化)

(zho) Paratactic (动态):

  • Verb/Verb phrases are key (动词/动词性词语占优势)
  • Commonly joins, overlaps, or repeats verbs (常出现动词连用,重叠或重复)

Active Voice vs Passive Voice (主动语态 vs 被动语态)

Active (主动): Refers to sentences where the person performing an action is the subject (指行为的施事者在句子里是主语)

Passive (被动): Sentences where the subject has been acted upon (充当句子主语是某一行为作用的受事者)

The purposes of passivised speech in English (英语“被动语态”目的):

  • Cannot/It is not necessary to/It is sensitive to mention the person carrying out the action (No need to mention the person carrying out the action in passivised text) (无法/认为不需要提及/不愿说出动作的施事者 【不比说出动作的施事者】)
  • Emphasise the person carrying out the action as a key message (强调施事者作为信息焦点)
  • Make the object being acted upon to be the main subject (把受事者作为陈述的对象【主语】)

Chinese passivised speech structure (汉语被动句式):

  • Brings passivised verb discourse markers in passivised sentences (带有被动标记词的被动句)
  • Does not bring passivised verb discourse markers (不带被动标记词)
  • The passivised form brings vibrancy and emotion (“被”带有感情色彩)


  • Use passivised verb discourse markers (使用被动标记词)
  • Translate into subject-verb sentences (译成主动句)
  • Translate into sentences without subjects (译成无主句(没有主语))