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Forgive me for the newbie question. I've just begun learning about proper word order in Chinese sentences, and I was lead to believe that the "How" of the main verb in the sentence should always come before the verb itself.

I was looking at the translation of "The Beautiful Rabbit": http://chinesereadingpractice.com/2015/03/05/the-beautiful-rabbit/

It says the word order in chinese for the correct translation of "His eyes were red, like a pair of rubies." is "It's eyes were red, like a pair of rubies." (它的眼睛红红的,像一对红宝石)

Shouldn't the word order in Chinese be "His eyes, like a pair of rubies, were red."?

  • The word order, as provided in the example, is fine. – Drunken Master Sep 1 '15 at 5:34
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    As a native speaker of Chinese, I don't know why you were taught "the How of the main verb in the sentence should always come before the verb itself" – maybe some sentences structured like that sound more natural, but in your example, the issue is which information to be emphasized. Either "它的眼睛红红的, 像一对红宝石" or "它的眼睛像一对红宝石, 红红的" sounds fine. – Stan Sep 1 '15 at 7:25
  • standard ways to express comparison:"Its eyes were as red as a pair of rubies" 它的眼睛象一对红宝石那样(那么)红色。它的眼睛有一对红宝石那样红色。 – user6065 Sep 1 '15 at 13:24
  • SVO is the natural word order: S: (他的)眼睛(attr. 红红的); V: 像; O: (一对红色的)宝石. You can chose another word order, but it is more construed and literal. – user4452 Sep 1 '15 at 20:13
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... the "How" of the main verb in the sentence should always come before the verb itself.

This is correct if "how" is referring to the adverbs. In Chinese, adverbs are placed before verbs, unlike in English they can be either before or after.

It's eyes were red, like a pair of rubies." (它的眼睛红红的,像一对红宝石)

The thing with this sentence that makes it easily mistaken is there are two verb clauses:

  1. were red. (是)红红的
  2. like a pair of rubies. 像一对红宝石

The structure is quite obvious in its English version. But in the Chinese version, copula 是 is omitted before adjective 红红的, making it ambiguous to learners or even native speakers.

Hence, #2 is not "how" or adverbial for #1, but another verb clause. The order of the two verb clauses should be dictated by the semantics, not syntax or grammar. Since one clause is direct description and the other is analogy, there is no right or wrong on the order.

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In Chinese, "His eyes were red, like a pair of rubies", His maybe 他的 or 它的. From the native speakers' view, I think the word order is His eyes were red and like a pair of rubies.

  • The English translation His eyes were red and like a pair of rubies doesn't sound grammatical. – Stan Sep 1 '15 at 6:50
  • @Stan, yes, but the Chinese word is looks like this. – GoingMyWay Sep 1 '15 at 7:32
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Perhaps with reference to this thread

What is important to consider while building an adverbial phrase?

and this poem from 徐志摩: 再别康桥

http://www.zybang.com/question/e5aff358dc399f30ba35792594fb77e9.html

we might also use the following word order:

紅紅眼睛的它,眼睛像一对红宝石。

should one wish to wax poetic.

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You are correct that an adverbial precedes its verbal head, but here it is not a problem of word order, but one of sentence structure.

In a subject-predicate type Chinese sentence, there can be many predicates that come one by one, as long as they share the same subject.

An example:

雪花大如棉桃,小似柳絮,纷纷扬扬,铺天盖地。

Snowflakes, as big as cotton and as small as willow catbins, were falling down heavily, covering the world with a cloak of snow.

The subject here is 雪花(snowflakes) and it is followed by four phrases as predicates. In this kind of sentence, any (but not all) of the predicates can be absent without destroying the sentence structure, but once the subject is absent, the structure is destroyed (or the sentence sounds like a riddle).

The order of these predicates: we cannot tell which predicate must come first. This depends on the content of each of them (they may follow some spatial, logical, temporal or other orders). Length may also be a consideration: a longer, more structurally complicated phrase is usually put at the end.

In your question, the structure is:

S:它的眼睛 + P:(P1:红红的 + P2:像一对红宝石)

Predicate P2 is both longer and more complicated, and is less logically related to the subject itself: being red is an inherent attribute of the eyes themselves, but being like rubies is not the eyes' attribute but a description we made about them.

Finally, to help you identify structures (between a predicate or adverbial-head structure), remember that in the latter case the head must be present, while any of the predicate can be absent. Example:

It's eyes were red. 它的眼睛红红的。

It's eyes were like a pair of rubies. 它的眼睛像一对红宝石。

but in 他快樂地笑 (He laughed happily) :

*他快樂地。He happily.

他笑。He laughed.

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