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I recently started learning Chinese and was reading up on the structure of sentences here:

https://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/Chinese_word_order#Placement_of_place_words_in_a_sentence

Then I cam across this sentence, "她去了中国很多地方", but according to the above site, wouldn't this, "她在中国去了很多地方", sound better?

I asked my dad who's fluent in Mandarin, and he says both are fine, but the first sentence is more commonly used. Why is that?

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  1. In "她去了中国很多地方", 地方 (place) is the object, 中国(的) (China's) is an adjectival phrase, along with 很多 (many), modify the object 地方

The break down:

"她去了很多地方" - "She went to many places"

"她去了(中国的)很多地方" - "She went to many (China's) places"

the possessive 的 is omitted in your original quote

"她" is the subject "去了" is the verb; "中国的" and "很多 are the adjectival phrases; "地方" is the object

Since "中国(的)" and "很多" are both in adjectival roles, you can change their order and write "她去了很多中国(的)地方"

  1. In "她在中国去了很多地方" , "在中国" is the 'relative phrase' that provides additional information to the 'main clause'

The break down:

"她去了很多地方" - "She went to many places"

"她(在中国)去了很多地方" - "She went to many places (in China)"

"她去了很多地方" is the main clause; "在中国" is the relative phrase

Question in your post title:

Where to put location words in a sentence?

In English, location usually precede time, e.g "See me in Central Park tomorrow"

In Chinese, time usually precede location, e.g "明天在中央公園見我"

I asked my dad who's fluent in Mandarin, and he says both are find, but the first sentence is more commonly used. Why is that?

Neither one is more common than the other. The two sentences have different emphasis. "她去了中国很多地方" emphasizes on her 'achievement' of visited many places in China; "她在中国去了很多地方" emphasizes on her 'actions' in China, which included visiting many places.

  • My bad for not providing the translation I found for "她去了中国很多地方". It was "She has been to many places in China". So, would either of the two sentences be equally fine for the English translation I provided? Also, is the "的" just implied? – bitscuit Sep 13 '17 at 0:20
  • '中国' in '中国人' actually means '中国(的)人'. The 的 is omitted because 中国 as an adjectival noun doesn't require the possessive '的' to modify the noun '人'. However, in the case of some adjective, the possessive '的' cannot be omitted. For example 高大的人 cannot be reduced to '高大人' – Tang Ho Sep 13 '17 at 2:49
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Both are applicable, but with some nuance in meaning.

"她去了中国很多地方", in English, she has been to many places of China.

"她在中国去了很多地方", in English, she had been to many places when she stayed/lived in China.

As you can see, the former 'China' is used as a attributive noun indicating those places are China's, while the latter 在中国 is a prepositional phrase denoting she has been staying/living in China for some time or maybe she is still living/staying in China now(we can't determine this unless more contexts approve it).

In order to be more clear on the latter sentence, I will put it as "她在中国'这期间'去了很多地方", "她在中国'的时候'去了很多地方" or "她在中国'居住期间'去了很多地方".

Comparing the twos, the first one would be used more practically, as the omission in the second sentence creates a bit ambiguity(but it may not be an issue). So, I tend to agree with your dad on that aspect.

  • But "在中国" could simply mean in China and not necessarily stayed/lived couldn't it? – bitscuit Sep 13 '17 at 0:22
  • Well, in this context, it puts "她在中国... ..." meaning she has been/is in China. – dan Sep 13 '17 at 0:48

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