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I come across this kind of construct frequently in literature but never really understood the workings of 道.

Like: 想道 说道 写道

What exactly does 道 mean here? What exactly does 道 do here? How is it different from 到?

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It's difficult to find out an exact meaning of it. In this usage 道 is used to make the sentence smooth. refer to:pep.com.cn/xiaoyu/jiaoshi/study/jszy/yy/bzxc/201012/… –  songyuanyao Apr 30 at 6:18
    
@songyuanyao excellent article/explanation. –  user3306356 May 1 at 10:09

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

道 in 说道、想道、写道

Although I am a native speaker, I had to look it up in a dictionary to try to explain it, so here it goes:

According my dictionary, 道 can be a noun, a verb and a measure word. Obviously, it isn't either a noun or measure word in our scenario. So it must be a verb.

At the beginning, I thought the structure of phrases like 说道 is verb followed by complementary part. But since 道 is verb here, it would make more sense if 说 serves as adverbial part here as 道 here means "to speak, to express, to think, to understand or assume".

Therefore, literally, 说道 means to convey by speaking, 写道 means to convey by writing and 想道 means to understand by thinking.

One may wonder if so, what's the difference between 说道 and 说. In my opinion, there isn't any in meaning but rather a style choice which is often preferred (but not mandatory) in written, especially in narrative context, for example a novel, rarely used in everyday conversation, in which case people would just use 说、写、想.

When it is used

Now I'll try to explain the tone of this usage, THIS IS BASED ON PERSONAL FEELINGS, IT MAY VARY FROM PERSON TO PERSON.

As I said 说道、想道 and alike are often used in narrative context, but still some may prefer this way some may not. It's very hard to explain, but if I had too, I would say if the author want to give a very strong feeling of "story telling", he or she probably would employ this kind of phrases. And it's not as modern as just using the verbs 说、写、想.

So if tlor was written in Chinese, 说道、想道、写道 would be all over it. But if its Halo the novel, simple 说、写、想 probably would sever better.

说道 v.s 说到

They are totally different in meanings. 到 in 说到 means arriving certain point.

For example

说到他,我觉得他是个员工

Speaking of him, I think he is a good employee

Another on

我们说到哪儿了?

Where were we? (in terms of conversation)

So 说到 is kind of a figurative speaking as if there is roadmap of conversation, and 到 is a preposition here, combined with what follows it, normally pronouns such as 'here/this这' and 'there/that那' and topics, they form the complementary part of 说.

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any reason I might think 说道 and 说到 are interchangeable?! (from a foreigners viewpoint) –  user3306356 Apr 30 at 16:39

Literally it means as follows. You have to put something related to that verb after it. For example:

他说道:“我们还是不要去了吧”。 - He said (as follows), "We'd better not go".

Except having the same pronunciation, there is nothing common between and , they are totally different. mostly means go somewhere.

Update:

1) Inversion usage

Sometimes you can put the "content" before XXX说道 to form a inversion sentence. But it only applies to formal cases especially writings. For example,

“敌人应该全军覆没了”,他说道。

2) 说到

Sometimes you might notice there're 说到 or 想到. In those cases, is a 补充式合成词. After it normally goes names or things. For example:

他说到你的时候,忍不住的掉眼泪 - He can't help crying when talking about you.

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How about “某某某”他想道...when it appears afterwards is it the same? –  user3306356 Apr 30 at 6:33
    
@user3306356 I updated the answer. Please take a look. –  Aw Qirui Guo Apr 30 at 7:06

道 has several meanings but here as a verb it means "speak, say".

The earliest usage of v+道 was more than 1600 years ago, e.g.:

《后汉书·皇后纪上·明德马皇后》:常与帝旦夕言道政事。

translation: (She) always talks about political affairs with the emperor, day and night.

言 also means "speak, say", so here 言道 is used as rhetorical reiteration. Note that back in early literatures the verb in v+道 has to be "speak/say". e.g.:

唐 白居易 《登郢州白雪楼》:朝来渡口逢京师,说道烟尘近洛阳。

Reiteration/repitation is common in ancient Chinese literatures because there is a principle:

奇字难适,偶语易安

which roughly means: odd number of characters hardly make readers feel good, even number of characters easily make readers feel good. So when a verb is only one syllable, people tend to add a synonym to make it two syllables.

说+道 is used in a lot of idioms as rhetorical repitation:

说三道四

说长道短

说东道西

Later on, this v+道 form was somehow extended to other verbs like 想 and 写, which does not involve making sound. But still, these verbs are related to "carrying or expressing thought". This v+道 form is used before or after quotes.

他想道:“很好。” (He think, very good.)

“很好。”他想道。 (Very good, he thinks.)

As to the last part of your question, 说到 shouldn't be used to lead a quote. It's just a wrong usage. People tend to make this mistake because 道 and 到 has same pronounciation. 到 means "arrive, reach". So the only valid usage of 说到 is in:

说到做到

literally translated to: (whatever) saying reaches, doing reaches. which means: to be as good as one's word/keep one's promise.

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