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I am a Caucasian American with English as my native language. I want to improve my knowledge of the Mandarin Chinese language. I found the following question in Modern Chinese Beginner's Course 3, Second Edition (初级汉语课本, 第三版)by 原北京语言学院来华留学生三系:


I suppose that the more complete question might read as


, with the 是....的 meant to emphasize what would be between 是 and 的 and 从 meaning “from.” For me now I think the most challenging part of the question is translating 来 into something in the English language and finding that translation of 来 in a simplified-Chinese-character-to-English-language dictionary. For example my Chinese friend translated the above question as “Where” or “How did you get so many book?” which I changed to “Where” or “How did you get so many books?” So that Chinese friend's translation of 来 in this question is “get.” Similarly on the Web page http://dict.cn/Wherever%20did%20you%20get%20that%20idea%203F I found the translation “Wherever did you get that idea?” for “你哪儿来的那个主意?” showing that someone else translated 来 as “get” in a question including the same structure of 哪儿来的. But my Chinese dictionary does not include the meaning of “get” for 来. The only possible definition there which might fit this situation is as a substitute for another verb. For example, I have heard something like 我来, which according to the situation in which that pair of words is used seems to be intended to mean something like “I'll do it” or “Let me do it.” So how do I reconcile dictionary definitions with 来 in the above question?

Have some more words or characters been omitted in the original sentence? For example should the more complete question read as



On the Web page http://www.rrting.net/english/meiju_mp3/228143/Index-4.html I found “Where do you come up with that stuff, Ma?” for “你哪儿来的这种想法, 妈?” If I follow that example to translate 你是从哪儿来的这么多书?I arrive at “From where did you come up with so many books?” But “come up with” seems vastly different than “come” with respect to both meaning and use. Checking an English-to-Chinese dictionary I found 产生 and 找到 as translations for “come up with.” Note that neither of these Chinese translations includes 来 within it. So to translate 来 in 你哪儿来的....?as “come up with” looks like quite a “stretch” to me, but may indicate how hard someone may have been trying to find something in the English language that includes the word “come” as a translation for 来 in 你哪儿来的...?. Perhaps trying to translate 来 in 你哪儿来的....? might have been hard for someone else besides myself!

From a zhidao.baidu.com Web page (Sorry, I am limited to posting two hyperlinks to Web pages now in this my first posting on this Web site.) I found “你哪儿来这么大火?”there translated as “Where did your anger come from?” This translation uses the standard translation of “come” for 来. Following this example for 你是从哪儿来的这么多书? I come up with “From where did your so many books come?, which is certainly not a very comfortable way we Americans would phrase such a question.

I also found 来源 meaning “source.” But I have a hard time making any sense with 来源 in 你是从哪儿来源的这么多书?. I can make sense of 你是从哪个来源的带来了这么多书?as meaning “From what source did you bring so many books?”. But to make that sense I had to add the verb 带来了 and some other things to the original question.

I think my basic question concerning 你哪儿来的这么多书? is: How may I reconcile 来 in 你哪儿来的这么多书? with some definition in a Chinese-to-English dictionary? For example, should I take the meaning of a substitute for another verb and have 来 mean “get” in 你哪儿来的这么多书? ? Or is that dictionary definition and use of 来 as a substitute for another verb only intended for things like 我来 in which 来 means “do” in some form?---And if so, do I conclude that some dictionaries just don't include an appropriate meaning like "get" in the English language for 来 in “你哪儿来的这么多书? “?

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On a completely unrelated note, the ID of this question is 8888. Welcome to the site and may good fortune be with you:) –  NS.X. Aug 1 at 6:36

6 Answers 6

This problem seem to stem from attempting to map a Chinese character directly to a single English word. Don't do that. Like many other characters, carries multiple meanings, and not all of those meanings have a direct English equivalent. The differences between dictionary meanings and a particular translation don't need to be "reconciled". Instead, recognise that English may express a specific Chinese idea in multiple ways.

Specifically, for this question, some of the major meanings of are:

  1. verb "to come, to come from"
  2. "since (a point in time)"
  3. verb "to happen, to be imminent"
  4. adjective "next"
  5. adjective "approximately, thereabouts"
  6. adverb (preceding the verb) "let do (action described by verb)"

In most of the question's sentences, the character is usage (1), meaning "to come from". Therefore, you can translate them literally as:

  • 你哪儿来这么大火 - "where did that temper (of yours) come from"
  • 你哪儿来的这么多书 - "where did so many books (that you have) come from"
  • 你哪儿来的那个主意 - "where did that idea (of yours) come from"

However, obviously the latter two can be alternatively translated as:

  • "where did you get so many books from"
  • "where did you get that idea from"

This isn't because could also mean "to get". It is simply another way of expressing the same idea, namely "where did those books of yours come from".

Lastly, in 我来, the here is usage (6), meaning "let me do".

Your sentence of 你是从哪个来源的带来了这么多书 is very much an apparent case of translating an English sentence into Chinese word for word. I would argue that in general direct word for word dictionary translations are horrible. When translating across such wildly disparate languages, you are much better off first grasping the meaning of the Chinese sentence, and then formulating an English sentence from scratch with the same meaning. And vice versa.

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I'm a native mandarine speaker and I never though 来 was such a complex word before you raised the question.

But if you really what a explanation compatible with a dictionary, I guess you can understand 来 as its basic meaning "come".

However, the thing about dictionary explanation is that it means "come", but it doesn't necessarily be translated as "come".

For example, some Chinese dictionary would explain this meaning as:


From other places to the places where the speaker is.

Actually, the better explanation would be from other state to the state of reference.

In this sense, a state could be time, location or other concepts such as possession. The state of reference means the state implicated in the context. For example: now, here, current state, expected state etc.

In this sense the question is about how so many books come into your possession (or come here if the speaker is at the place where the books are). The tricky part is that in some cases in Chinese 来 can also be used in a fashion similar to have something come or cause something come. So you can see "cause the books come into your possession" is actually a wordy way to say "get the books".

Similar cases are:

来客人了 == 客人来了

here comes the guest == the guest comes here

Anyway, because English and Chinese are fundamentally different, it is impossible to translate between the two word-by-word.

Moreover, 你是哪来的这么多书?is very colloquial, the proper way to say it is 你(的)这么多书是哪儿来的。

Other trick use of 来

给我来个热狗。Give me a hotdog (often used when ordering something.)

她来了主意。She got an idea.

你哪儿来那么多问题?Why did you have so many questions?

他又跟我来气。He gets angry with me again.

一看见他我就来气。I get angry every time I see him.

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@songyuanyao Thanks, already corrected. –  user1228520 Aug 1 at 7:20

I think "你哪兒來的這麼多書?" is a common (well, to native Chinese speakers) pattern to rephrase the question "你這麼多書, 哪兒來的?"

In Cantonese, we also have similar pattern such as "你邊處嚟咁多錢?"

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Zhongwen.com offers a good example of how Chinese dictionaries are organized. As mentioned in other answers, the important thing to remember is that Chinese characters have multiple meanings (and some of these are implicit rather than explicit). Several meanings for the character 来 are offered below. Significantly there are many inferred meanings based on the context in which a word is used. I would point out that very often Chinese words that convey a related idea behave in very similar ways to English words when used in differing contexts, for example you mentioned where did something come up with versus the standard meaning of the word come. Well this kind of thing also applies to words in Chinese. The Zhongwen website, as mentioned above (see sample image) produces many words including lai whose change in context or coupled with another word create a different (but valid) related usage of the base word.


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I'm not a native Chinese speaker, but I learned that 来 means "come". So I would translate it to something like "Where did you come by those books?" I suppose you could also read it as "Where did those books come from?"

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The character 来 is normally translated to "come". It can still be translated that way here. Just as it's a colloquial usage of "来" that was used in the Chinese sentence, we'll be employing a colloquial usage of "come".

The near literal translation of your sentence is:

How come you got this many books?

The tone and connotation of the two sentences are also roughly the same.

The definition of "come" in the above sentence would be roughly equivalent to the definition of "来" in the original sentence. They are both being used as a part of a larger phrase.

"你是从哪儿来的这么多书?" is almost a completely different sentence, and not really correct. By adding "是从", the structure becomes "你是从哪儿 ...". In this case, you are more seriously asking for the location where the books comes from. Correspondingly, you need to change more to the sentence to make it sound natural. An example would be:


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