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I had a friend who said there is a slight difference in the two phrases. But I don't see any difference between the two expressions. Could anyone explain it?

Thanks, Rachel

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    最后吃的菜 = the dish eaten last/the last dish to be eaten or 吃最后的菜 = eat the last dish. First phrase places emphasis on last + eating, second on the last dish. – Vlo Jun 24 '15 at 21:33
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    最後的菜, if treated as a noun (i.e. 那一道吃到最後的菜), would be identical to 最後吃的菜. – leo4jc Jun 24 '15 at 21:43
  • confirming preceding comment, just as in English, adjective 后 with degree adverb 最 in 1st case functions as adverbial (状语),in 2nd as attributive (定语)。 – user6065 Jun 24 '15 at 21:56
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最后吃的菜 = 最后吃的(that you eat last) + 菜(dish/food);

so, 最后吃的菜 = "the dish that you eat last"

"最后吃的菜" is a noun phrase and it is "菜" essentially.

吃最后的菜 = 吃(eat) + 最后的菜(the last dish / the leftovers);

so, 吃最后的菜 = “eat the last dish / leftovers”

"吃最后的菜" can be regared as an imperative sentence and it means "eat something". If you put a subject at the beginning of it("我吃了最后的菜"/“我要吃最后的菜”,etc.), it would be easier to understand.

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Let's say you went to a nice restaurant for a nice meal.

Case 1: you had the meal, course by course. In this case 最后吃的菜=(吃)最后的菜=dessert

Case 2:you left in the meal for some reason. In this case 最后吃的菜=the dish you didn't finished. (吃)最后的菜=dessert.

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You need to put these statements in their context to be certain of their exact meaning. Without further context, I would say:

最后吃的菜 = the (very) last dish(es) I ate (of a meal)

吃最后的菜 = the last dish(es) (of a meal which) I am eating/I haven't eaten yet

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The last dish you eat (最后吃的菜) may not be the dish that is served last (最后的菜).

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