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When should 之 be used as a particle? There doesn't seem to be a straightforward answer on Nciku. On Wiktionary, the entry states:

Indicates that the previous word has possession of the next one. In English it functions like 's or like the word "of" but with the position of possessor and possessee switched. 的 (de) is more common but 之 is used in many set expressions.

However, in the contexts I've seen so far, the 之 particle is used more like 的 in some sense (rather like the Japanese の perhaps) - for isntance, 银之匙 as a translation of a manga title - so the usage seems to be more of a "link" between two different words as some sort of descriptor or identifier (in terms of a quality of the second word, in a sense).

That said, the purpose of the 之 in 之前 or 之後 seems to be slightly different than in the other example I gave. Taking all this into account, when should I should 之, outside of expressions that have it already (such as 之前), and what makes in different from 的 in phrases such as "银之匙"?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

之 is the wenyan equivalent of Mandarin 的. Here are some examples from a Classical Chinese textbook:

鄰人之父 > 鄰居的老人 ‘an old man who lived next door’

衛國之法 > 衛國的法律 ‘the laws of Wei’

仁義 之 道 > 仁義的 道理 ‘the doctrine of benevolence and righteousness’

Because parts of speech in wenyan are quite flexible, using 之 to link two terms can have the effect of nominalizing the second one, like this:

王來 ‘the king comes’ >> 王之來 ‘the king’s coming/the arrival of the king’

之 has other meanings in wenyan, too. The most important of these is probably its use as a third person pronoun he/she/it.

In formal written Mandarin, 之 can appear in either of these functions. It would be interesting to hear from a native speaker about usage here. I consulted a book called ‘A Learners’ Handbook of Modern Chinese Written Expressions’ by Yu Feng (Chinese U. of Hong Kong Press). He suggests a couple of uses:

  • In idioms like 之後, 之中 etc. For example:

美國總統的中東之行 ‘the US President’s Middle East visit’

Notice both ‘de’ and ‘zhi’ occur in this phrase – clearly you can’t simply replace the one with the other to achieve a formal style.

  • In a pattern ‘2-character noun + 之 + 1-character adjective’. This also creates a noun phrase, i.e. nominalizes like in the ‘king’s coming’ example.

品種之多 ‘a large quantity' [of goods at an exhibition]

There are also some set expressions with this pattern that you might use in writing, like 十天之內 ‘within ten days’.

  • As a third person pronoun, according to Yu Feng mainly in idioms:

等閑視之 ‘regard it as unimportant’

受之有愧 ‘to feel shame in accepting it’

So, if you encounter 之 in titles like in the example you gave, I would read it as meaning 的 but also as indicating some sort of formal/classical/literary/archaic quality. Personally I would avoid using it except in set phrases. Unless you do a lot of formal writing at an advanced level, in which case it wouldn’t hurt to go to the source and learn a bit of wenyan!

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Here "之" has no real meaning but it's just a 助词 to modify the noun (匙) to make it a part of the fixed phrase (usually used in WenYan sentence). In fact this "之" is usually ignored by shorting it as "银匙"。

Sometimes, "之" can be also used to link a subject with predicate verb to be a part of sentence.


For more about the usage of “之”, you can look up here:

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