The passage in the analects, whence it came, reads:

子曰:「弟子,入則孝,出則弟,謹而信, 凡愛眾,而親仁。行有餘力,則以學文。」

Very broadly I understand it:

Students and sons at home should be filial, leaving home they should be respectful towards elders, trusting and sincere, all encompassingly loving the people and inclined toward kindness. If they have strength left, then for refined studies.

But there are points I don't understand. One of them is 行。it appears to be used like 若,but my dictionary, which contains many classical examples, says nothing of such a usage! What does it mean? Can you give some more examples for this usage of 行?

  • 1
    若 is due to the context, and be nothing to 行 itself.
    – young99
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 1:54

2 Answers 2


行 here means "to do" or "to perform".

行:實行;實踐 to do; to perform; to practice
有:還有 still have
餘:多餘的 superfluous; surplus; excess
力:能力 ability; capability

After doing these and still having surplus capability,

After one can perform the above things, and has enough time and ability, one should study and learn some knowledge.

"The above things" mean 入則孝,出則弟,謹而信,汎愛眾,而親仁.


Think before you act.
Look before you leap.

Do it with no remission.

Do it in an opposite way.

Has been performed for years.

Unity of knowledge and practice.

To do is better than to say.

Do it after saying it.
No sooner said than done.

Must do it under such a circumstance.

親近君子 Close to the gentleman
親近有仁德的人 Close to benevolent people
「仁」指「仁者」kind, merciful, benevolent, kindly, charitable people

  • 这个‘行’就是现代的’进行‘吗?
    – Pedroski
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 22:57
  • 通常用“实行”。 “实行”和“进行”有些类似,但不完全相同。 “进行”常强调“正在做 (doing)”,但“实行”可以是“已做完 (done)、正在做 (doing)、将要做 (will do)”。
    – user3a
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 7:36


let's consider a conditional sentence:

if / when ( condition a = true) & ( condition b = true ), then c

which might be simplified to:

if / when (a & b), then c


a & b, then c

now, replace these symbols with the sentence of analects:

if / when ( 入則孝﹒出則弟﹒謹而信﹒ 汎愛眾﹒而親仁 = true) & ( 有餘力 = true ), then ( 則 )以學文

simplify it:

if / when ( 入則孝﹒出則弟﹒謹而信﹒ 汎愛眾﹒而親仁 ) & ( 有餘力 ), then ( 則 )以學文

since (condition a = true) implied that those actions are already performed, the original place is replaced by the character "行"; list these actions in front, so the sentence changed to:

( 入則孝﹒出則弟﹒謹而信﹒ 汎愛眾﹒而親仁 )﹒if / when ( 行 ) & ( 有餘力 ), then ( 則 )以學文

further, omit the "if / when", "&", "then" :

( 入則孝﹒出則弟﹒謹而信﹒ 汎愛眾﹒而親仁 )﹒( 行有餘力 ), 則以學文

last, adding back the "子曰﹒弟子", we'd have:

弟子入則孝﹒出則弟﹒謹而信﹒ 汎愛眾﹒而親仁﹒行有餘力﹒則以學文

based on james legge's translation:



when he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these things, he should employ them in polite studies

行, in this context, it means "after the performance of" "入則孝﹒出則弟﹒謹而信﹒汎愛眾﹒而親仁"

about the rationale of such arrangement, i would say:

1 it's classical chinese, complied in a few thousand years ago.

2 it started with "子曰", which implied it's authoritative, in an assertive manner, so the "if / when" is omitted.

have fun :)

  • For 古文 I consult this one: wyw.hwxnet.com/view/hwxE8hwxA1hwx8C.html but first I always consult Pleco for an overview. I even consulted the translation by Legge, but I was already so convinced it started an if clause, that the correct interpretation completely escaped me!
    – Ludi
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 17:07
  • 1
    i see. btw, even only in 論語, "行" has numerous meanings, that i think we must consider the context, before one could get a correct translation. have fun. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 20:24
  • That is certainly true, if we think of this and 三人行必有我師焉,but it needs practice and my level is very low. The context let me believe 行 initiated an if clause... In spite of my many mistakes, right now 論語 is the most exciting part of my studies :)
    – Ludi
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 15:01
  • 1
    ludi, i rewrite the answer, to show the rationale & logic of this sentence; please comment :) btw, do you have this book? archive.org/details/fourbooksgreatle00confuoft last, i'm curious, well, may i ask why you need / want to learn literary chinese, for what purpose? Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 1:51
  • 1
    interesting :) my "superstitious" guess is that u'd learnt it in ur previous life(s)  😼. my suggestions: don't try to mix literary chinese with the modern one; forget it, these two are different beasts. last, if you use cantonese to read texts of yore, the rhythm is more significant, occasionally. Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 0:49

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