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I’m reading a text in which 的 and 之 are sometimes used in the same sentence, in seemingly equivalent or exchangeable function and position. But I’m sure the author had good reasons to choose the respective characters.

The Text is by 黃冠閔 Huang Kuan-min, the quotes within the text are by 牟宗三 Mou Zongsan. This is an example:

在春光中的混沌情感,是「傷春」的來源(但非「悲秋」),牟宗三在自述中回顧地指出「對於混沌而迷離昏沉事後說明」,他分析傷春的情感如何對應於混沌的生命狀態:「滿盈無著是春情,虛無怖慄是『覺情』(覺悟向道之情)」。

Strictly speaking, this sentence contains text from two different authors, but I’m specifically curious about the part in quotes, where I emphasized all occurrences of 的 and 之.

Why is this particular sequence (的…之…之…的) chosen? Could the order be turned around (之…的…的…之) or randomised (之…之…之…之 / 的…的…之…的 etc.)?

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之 is the classical Chinese counterpart of 的 in modern Chinese

In classical Chinese, writers rarely use compound words if single character words with the same meaning is available.

的(昏沉)

之(感)

之(事)

的(說明)

Notice 的 apply to two characters compound words and 之 apply to single character words.

If you switch the single character words 感 and 事 into compound words 感覺 and 事情, you should also change the classical 之 to the contemporary 的

的(感覺)

的(事情)

Using 之 with compound words like "之感覺" or "之事情" is not considered grammatically wrong, just sound awkward. It is all about style

Changing '之事' to '的事' is fine, because '事' can replace '事情' in modern Chinese. e.g. "今天的(事情)" can be reduced to "今天的(事)"

However, changing '之感' to '的感' is considered a grammar mistake because we don't use '感' to replace '感覺' in modern Chinese. e.g. "痛苦的(感覺)" cannot be changed to "痛苦的(感)"

「對於混沌而迷離(1. 的昏沉)(2. 之感)(3. 之事)後(4. 的說明)」

#1 and 4 are common modern Chinese; #2 and 3 are classical style Chinese.

Yes, we do routinely mix classical style into modern Chinese in our writing and daily conversation. It is all about style, four 的 in a row "...的昏沉的感覺的事情後的說明" make the sentence sounds confusing - a bad run on sentence

"...的昏沉之感之事後的說明" is also a run on sentence , but at least it is not that bad with different styles mixing in.

Even "...的昏沉之感覺之事情後的說明" is better than "...的昏沉的感覺的事情後的說明"

  • Very interesting! I hadn't thought of it as a matter of how many syllables follow the particle. Do you perchance have a linguistic source (can be in Chinese) on that topic which would back what you wrote? I don't mean a text on how 之 is used in classical Chinese, but maybe a study on the use of classical structures in modern Chinese. – Philipp Nov 26 '18 at 20:21
  • 之 as 的 in modern Chinese mostly in writing only. As for classical style speeches mixing in modern Chinese grammar, they are mostly within common phrase like '明升暗降' or idioms like '驚弓之鳥‘ – Tang Ho Nov 26 '18 at 20:36
  • Modern Chinese speech is the combination of colloquial speech, slang, literary speech and idiom. It is a common knowledge among Chinese speakers – Tang Ho Nov 26 '18 at 20:45

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