The phrase:


is from a text widely praised by my Chinese friends and you can find it here. I don't think they share a dialect, except mandarin, so I assume it is not a dialect. According to my understanding, the text means "it's been more than two years, since father and I last saw each other." The author lived till 1948, so I assume this is not a form of very antiquated Chinese, but it puzzles me for two reasons:

  1. Use of 二年 and not 兩年,I have also seen 二位姑娘,but only in period dramata, so I assumed it was antiquated.

Edit: it seems use of 二年 was not so unusual in the past. Compare also the Qing Dynasty work 清宮禁二年記

  1. Use of 不見,not 沒見。Is this the difference between "it's been two years since I saw him" and "haven't seen him in two years"?
  • 1
    re 1: see sample sentences for 二年 at jukuu, e.g. 6. I have not seen him for at least two years. 至少二年没有见到他了。 re 2: last 4 of top comments of chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/17252/… esp. start of 3rd comment:2。在明确强调主观愿望的句子中,"不"也可以用于过去;
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 22:17
  • 2
    It is just a common style in the early 20th century. A transition period of the classical Chinese to modern Chinese. It is not appropriate to use modern grammar to analyze that, otherswise, writings by 鲁迅 would have a lot of grammar mistakes.
    – sfy
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 0:34
  • 1
    1st comment refers to earlier question quoting reference book "实用汉语近义虚词词典"(find 4 examples there), here is quote from "实用现代汉语语法"(with 1 example):常用副词的用法, 十五、不、没(有) 。。。(一)"不"表示对主观愿望和性质状态的否定,多用于现在、将来, 也可用于过去 (7)来中国以前,我一个汉字也 认识。
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 1:32
  • 1
    some users feel that 二年余 sounds somewhat unfamiliar,jukuu e.g. returns only 2 samples, 我与父亲不相见已二年余了,我最不能忘记的是他的背 (as above) and ...由于他所受中国过去二年余的英勇抗战的打击,....
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 3:00
  • excerpts from CCG:7。7。1|negative expository sentences|不 negating habitual actions (past,present or future) 他以前常常不上班,7。7。2|Negative narrative sentences|If a past action did not take place as a result of deliberate non-action on the part of the subject, the negator 不 is used. 他昨天(故意)不来。那年我们不(打算)在哪儿住两个月。那天他(决定)不吃三次药。
    – user6065
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 11:19

3 Answers 3


(Let me know if you read traditional characters better! I'll switch upon request.)

  1. Use of 二年 and not 兩年,I have also seen 二位姑娘,but only in period dramata, so I assumed it was antiquated.

二年馀 is a Classical construction, and sounds formal / literary / etc. in colloquial Mandarin, which would normally say 两年多. But since this is a written text, the author went through solid classical education, and the author was generally not writing in the most vernacular way possible but communicating with some degree of Classical (i.e. written Chinese) tinges, yes there are some Classical constructions that do not appear in modern colloquial Mandarin.

A related phenomenon is that, sometimes people write generally in colloquial Mandarin, but write the characters used in Classical Chinese or formal Mandarin according to the actual meaning, instead of the sound. So you see people write


but hear them say


The same thing happens with pairs like 角 and 毛, 元 and 块, 已 and 已经, etc.

As for 二位姑娘, that is a script that actually faithfully transcribes the spoken language, so the issue there is that the use of 二位 instead of 两位 dates to an older era -- which is why you see that in period dramata.

  1. Use of 不見,not 沒見。Is this the difference between "it's been two years since I saw him" and "haven't seen him in two years"?

I suppose this is readily understood in English actually.


Me and my father not seeing each other...

There, you just can't mark the aspect of have, or, in Mandarin, 没.

This syntactic choice (the construction of the whole sentence) is not frequently used, so that is probably why you think 没 should be used there. Indeed people normally say this using this construction:


There is also an issue of Classical constructions: 相 + [verb] meaning "to [verb] each other" is normal in Classical Chinese, but no longer active or productive in colloquial Mandarin. People speak colloquial Mandarin, so of course they don't say


because you need to do a Classical construction there, and that does not exist in colloquial Mandarin.


It's clearly a sentence of vernacular Chinese but it can see the shadow of classical chinese. And I think it's understandable since Chinese start using vernacular Chinese nationally after the 1900s and it took time to transform from classical Chinese to what we see today.


I haven't seen my father more than 2 year.


Maybe because I was reading it rather than having it spoken to me my question was immediately "Why is it not correct?" The more you read of the literary language the broader your idea of what is correct will be. I know five words for "I" and have seen two different words for "year" on the same page. That said I find this passage barely "literary" at all with the exception of "餘", maybe.

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