My question is as the title. The sentence "school bus is coming" is translated as "校车来了". I understand this translation because "了" here indicates a new situation. But why are "校车来着" or "校车正来" WRONG?

  • 来着 is not correct in this situation, because once the school bus has arrived or is in sight, it's there, it's not a continuous action. I am not sure what 正来 is supposed to express. – Drunken Master Dec 31 '15 at 17:44
  • 3
    Maybe it's because Chinese people have different sense of the action "come" – when you have seen the bus but it hasn't stopped beside you, in English you can say "the bus is coming" (the same as the case that the bus is just on its way), but in Chinese, we think the bus "has come" so we say 来了. Besides the time issue, as others have pointed out, the wording of 校车来着 and 校车正来 is weird. – Stan Dec 31 '15 at 17:51
  • @Drunken Master The sentence should be said when someone observed a bus was coming. "正" is used to indicate an action is progressing. For example, 他正吃饭。Does 正来 mean "is coming"? – cnwang09 Jan 1 '16 at 3:40
  • @Stan Thank you for your comment. I always feel puzzled though when a sentence simply doesn't sound right, because I don't know why it sounds weird. I believe I have applied the grammar rules I have learned. – cnwang09 Jan 1 '16 at 3:50
  • @cnwang09 They might be right grammarically, so we can understand their meaning. I think it's just a "language sense" issue, it might need much more time to hear/speak/write, and so on. As a native Chinese, I'm not similar about the "grammar", I just feel it's weird or not, based on the large amount of the pratical experience, but not the "grammar rule". – songyuanyao Jan 5 '16 at 9:53
up vote 3 down vote accepted

[Edited to discuss 正, 在, and 著] There is a discussion of 在 and 著 in Li and Thompson's 1981 book Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar. They don't have much to say about 正. My own feeling is that this is usually used with either 在 and 著; it seldom, if ever, appears by itself. Sentences such as 他正吃飯 are simply odd. I am not a native speaker, so I'm ready to be corrected on this.

Both 在 and 著 are durative markers, but they still differ in meaning. L&T's examples of the difference include:
他在穿皮鞋: He is putting on leather shoes
他穿著皮鞋: He is wearing leather shoes

Their explanation for the difference here is that 在 is used with persistent actions (actions that have some duration), while 著 is used with actions that result in a persistent state. 穿 can have either of these interpretations, so both sentences are good, but each has a different meaning. Again, I think 他正穿皮鞋 is just odd here, better to say 他正在穿皮鞋, or 他正穿著皮鞋. In neither case does this actually change the meaning, it simply emphasizes the durative nature of the action or result.

In the case of 來, I think the Chinese logic is that "come" is not a persistent action. Instead, it is what Quirk et al (1981) call a transitional action. Other examples they give are:
The train is arriving at the station
It looks like he is scoring a goal

According to Quirk, transitional actions do not have a durative meaning, and so for these cases English progressive has an anticipatory meaning, i.e. a period leading up to the transition. For these cases, Chinese doesn't use either 著 or 在 (since there is no persistent action or state). Instead it uses forms such as 快...了:
She is dying 她快死了.
She is coming 她快來了.

Since these are not durative sentences, many languages do not use progressive forms here. In this case it is English that is exceptional, rather than Chinese.

  • So do you mean "校车正来" is not wrong? – cnwang09 Jan 2 '16 at 23:15
  • No, I think that's bad too. Sorry I didn't give a complete answer. I'll revise when I have some spare time. – wpt Jan 3 '16 at 1:22
  • The explanation is very clear! Thanks! – cnwang09 Jan 4 '16 at 18:09
  • Being a native speaker, I'm pretty sure 他正吃饭 is a correct usage, especially if you add an exclamation like 呢 to the end. – Fang Jing Jan 10 '16 at 15:10
  • I agree that the 呢 makes 他正吃饭呢 sound better. I should have mentioned 呢 in the answer, since it is also used with duratives. But I don't think 呢 helps in the OP's example. – wpt Jan 10 '16 at 15:59
  1. They're just weird. You could say 校车正来着 or 校车正在来(的路上).

  2. Note that they mean on the way more than has arrived.

As @Stan said in the comment, the issue is with the notion of "arrive". If the bus is in sight and will stop in short time, then in Chinese "it has arrived".

车来了 meaning either bus is going to arrive in short time, or it has arrived

车已经来了 (more often 车已经到了) meaning bus has arrived

车正在来 meaning bus is on its way -- will take a while

校车来了 could mean "the school bus" is coming, but notice that it can also mean "the school bus has come"; 来着 is usually used with "what" and is usually used in northern Chinese Mandarin dialect. In this context, it is wrong; 正来 is correct, or rather, not wrong. The problem is, it does not sound like a very common oral expression.

校车来了 表示 校车将要在非常短的时间内到达,通常指人的视线范围内看到校车。而来和着两个字在汉语里是没有组合的。校车正在来(的路上)不能确定校车什么时间会到达

来 is frequently used to cooccur with the bound reading in the immediate situation. For example, we can say 来了. By contrast, 着 cannot do the same but indicates duration, for instance, *来着 sounds bad. Crucially, the action implied by 来 need to refer to the speaker, but 着 does not seem to do that, for example, 说着他走了.

  • First of all:

    • "校车来了" means "the school bus has arrived"
    • while "校车来着" and "校车正来" mean "the school bus is arriving"
  • Secondly:

    • The more grammatically correct way of saying "校车来着" and "校车正来" would be "校车在来着" and "校车正在来", the "在" acts as an equivalence of "be" in English.
    • Not using "在" would be like saying "the school bus coming"
  • I think 校车来了 could also mean "the school bus is arriving", for example, as in, 孩子,别乱跑了,校车来了. – Fang Jing Jan 10 '16 at 15:15

In this example, I translate 了 as "already". So using 了, this is good news when the bus has already left its origin(last station) and is coming ( even if I don't see it yet).

校车来了 means

the school bus is arrived and stayed here, you can take in this bus.

校车来着 and 校车正来 means

the school bus is coming soon, but you must wait a minute ,until the bus come to your location.

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