Chinese is supposed to be (Subject-Verb-Object) SVO right? (as I learnt, of course) then why in this sentence


does 约会 mean "to date"? It's a verb I presume, why is it (Subject-Object-Verb) SOV here?

I have a hunch though that it's not even a verb, if so, It would be mean "I can go with her on a date?"

If so, shouldn't there be a classifier? “一个约会”

  • 3
    O in SVO means direct object (of a transitive verb) 跟 is a preposition, 跟她 is a PP (prepositional phrase) which are usually placed before the verb (or adjective used as predicate), in special cases the PP can be placed after the verb (e.g. 放在桌子上) see any grammar on prepositions, prepositional phrases)
    – user6065
    Jul 23 '18 at 19:49
  • 约会 is a verb in Chinese, but unlike in English, it cannot take a direct object.
    – fefe
    Jul 24 '18 at 6:36
  • @fefe 约会 is intransitive because it means "to go on a date" rather than "to date."
    – Nimrod
    Jul 25 '18 at 16:17

Chinese is supposed to be SVO

Correct. More specifically, Chinese can be SVO or SV, plus additional components. Sometimes we omit the subject if it's obvious what the subject refers to.

"约会" means to date, so It's a verb I presume

"约会" can be a verb (go on a date/hang out) or a noun (a date). When using it as a noun, we need to use a classifier before it. "我/有/一个/约会"="I / have / a / date"

When using as a verb, the simplest way is "我/约会" SV, but it doesn't make sense at all because you can't go on a date alone. So the common usage is


I / hang out / with / her

The only difference with the english version is Chinese tend to put 和她 (adverbial modifier, which only gives more details and is omittable in a sentence) before the verb. So it's still an SV structure.

  • Little-known fact: Chinese can also be VS! See the comment made by user6065 in chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/30220/… Jul 26 '18 at 9:10
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    @goPlayerJuggler oh absolutely yes, actually quite widely used without realising it. But I believe that’s more of an inversion of an originally SV sentence, similar to “Away went the runners.” in English. I can vaguely remember learning that English grammar rule about sentence beginning with in/out/away a while ago, but can’t think of a better example. Anyway, we shall not confuse beginners with that. Actually inversion is very widely used in northern part spoken languages and there has been some jokes on social media recently around how Chinese people suddenly realised that usage. Jul 26 '18 at 10:26
  • Interesting. How could I find some of those jokes? BTW I found the article mentioned by user605 (aclweb.org/anthology/Y05-1033) a bit too technical but still pretty enlightening. The idea in the article is that the VS version has a slight/subtle difference in meaning from the SV (related to the S being undetermined/unknown vs being determined/known), Jul 26 '18 at 10:36
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    @goPlayerJuggler, it's on Weibo Not sure if you are familiar with weibo. There are some in the screenshots in the post, and more in the comments. Jul 26 '18 at 10:43
  • @goPlayerJuggler4 I don't think so. The apparent VS is actually a form of (S)V+modifiers. Rather subtle, but 出去了几个人 = (There) goes away a few people. That the V is always intransitive and has to be able to take an inanimate subject is a clue. For example you cannot say 吃饭了几个人.
    – Nimrod
    Jul 26 '18 at 17:34

约会 can be a verb in Chinese.

我 / 可以 / 跟她 / 约会 I / can / with her / date

S / prep O / V is a common usage like:

我可以跟她吃晚餐 (I can with her eat dinner) 我可以跟她结婚 (I can with her marry)


Welcome to the confusion one always encounters when trying to apply Indo-European linguistic categories to a non-IE languages.

I'd say that 可(以)is a "verb" (the description an action) here and 跟她约会 is an "object" (what is acted upon).

If you insist on assigning fixed "verb"/"object" etc labels (in IE sense) to Chinese "words" (character combos, really) and using these "words" only in those artificially fixed syntactic positions, you will encounter similar strangeness all the time. At least beyond the beginner level.

Chinese "words" are fluid with syntactic positions they can be used in, as verbs, objects and what not. In modern Chinese (白话)these "parts of speech" have become more rigid than in 文言文,but still far away from the rigidity on IE languages where they are fixed by morphology (as they are even in English).

Or perhaps your confusion is caused by misunderstanding of the whole SVO / typology thing. It is about overall sentence structure, not about phrase (shorter part) structure.

For me, 我 / 可以 / 跟她约会 is S / V / O, hopefully it is for everyone else too. Going into details, though:

我/PN 可以/VV 跟/P 她/PN 约会/VV


    (NP (PN 我))
    (VP (VV 可以)
        (PP (P 跟)
          (NP (PN 她)))
        (VP (VV 约会))))))

可以跟他约会 is a completely regular verb phrase, and "verb phrases" are VO in Chinese. Yet 跟他约会 is another smaller "verb phrase" according to this parser (https://nlp.stanford.edu/software/lex-parser.shtml). Its rules fail here for all the reasons described in other responses - it's rather a "noun" phrase here.

Finally, for a bit of giggles on Chinese "words" and syntactic parsing, check this wonderful list. I lifted it from some book long ago, forgot which. I asked a few natives and they said only 3-4 sentences in this list read a bit stiff, but all are correct.

6 Chinese characters reshuffled to make 17 different sentences


Old Chinese was SOV, but we're talking about Modern Chinese, which is SVO. Here 约会 means "to go on a date," and the whole sentence is "I can with her go on a date." The main verb is actually "can," and "with her go on a date" is the noun phrase acting as the object. "With her" is a prepositional phrase and in Chinese it precedes a verb phrase.

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