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Not long ago (a week at most), I bumped into this post by Qiong Woo on Quora. There, she says the two sentences 我昨天去图书馆的 and 我昨天去的图书馆 both mean "I went to the library yesterday", and, from the way she explains the difference, I gather the first one emphasizes the action, whereas the second one emphasizes the place.

My reaction: well, yeah, the first one is the 是…的 construction with 是 implied, so I know it means that… but the second one? «Doesn’t 我昨天去的图书馆 mean “the library I went to yesterday”, with “的” marking a relative clause?», I commented. «Not necessarily. If you mean to say “the library I went to yesterday”, it’s better to say “我昨天去的那个图书馆” when there are more than one library you are referring to, though it is still odd. But it’s clearer to take, say restaurant for instance, then “the restaurant I went to yesterday” becomes “我昨天去的那家餐厅”.», she replied.

First off, is it really necessary to add 那个 for this to be a relative clause, as her comment seems to suggest? Where does this way of making a past tense sentence come from? Is it really unambiguously "I went to the library yesterday", or can it mean that as well as "The library I went to yesterday"? If so, how do I distinguish? If not, which is the actual meaning?

  • 我昨天去的图书馆 means The library I went to yesterday at first, but now is meaning can also be I went to the library yesterday. The meaning is ambiguous. If you really means the former one, you'd better add 那个 or 那家 before 图书馆. – 賈可 Jacky Aug 15 '17 at 2:31
  • Q: 你什么时候去的图书馆?A: 我昨天去的图书馆 or 我昨天去的 (not ambiguous)。Q: 你准备去哪个图书馆?A: 我昨天去的图书馆。The stress points are different when answer different questions. – 賈可 Jacky Aug 15 '17 at 2:36
  • verb ... 的 means 'that / what / at which / where ... verb'. – Daniel Yeung Aug 17 '17 at 1:08
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我昨天去图书馆的 sounds unnatural. I'd say 我昨天去了图书馆 or 我昨天去图书馆了, which means I went to the library yesterday.

我昨天去的图书馆 means the library I went to yesterday. You might have gone to several libraries or just one, because the sentence doesn't imply how many libraries you went. As you said 的 marking that relative clause.

If you say 我昨天去的那个图书馆, that means you are emphasizing that particular library you went.

  • Just for completeness, would 我是昨天去图书馆的 sound fine? – MickG Aug 13 '17 at 13:18
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    @MickG oh yeah, that's good. it emphasizes on 昨天 yesterday. – dan Aug 13 '17 at 13:30
  • What about 我昨天失去图书馆的? – MickG Aug 13 '17 at 13:34
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    我昨天是去图书馆的,emphasizes on 图书馆 – dan Aug 13 '17 at 13:35
  • 我昨天去图书馆的 would sound fine to me, if it's the answer of asking "who went to library yesterday", or, "when did you go to the library", or "where did you go yesterday?" – Harry Summer Aug 14 '17 at 11:18
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It'd be easier to distinguish the subtlety by interpreting them as reply to two questions.

  1. 你是什么时候去图书馆的? When did you go to the library? 我昨天去图书馆的。I went to the library yesterday.

  2. 你昨天去的哪里? Where did you go yesterday? 我昨天去的图书馆。I went to the library yesterday.

The first sentence has emphasis on the time, while the second one has emphasis on the place.

Hope this helps.

  • That is what she did in her answer (though she wrote the two questions in English). So that interpretation of 我昨天去的图书馆 is possible? And is the interpretation as "The library I went to yesterday" also possible? – MickG Aug 13 '17 at 15:54

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