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What is the part of speech of 微 in the following? A dictionary says it's a verb while others say it's an adverb. Do these claims hold water?

管仲,吾其被髮左衽矣。

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    各個語言語法均有不同,何必老是要用詞性去套呢?我覺得這對學古漢語沒有好處。“微斯人,吾誰與歸?”“微夫人之力不至於此”中,微同此處用法,即表示“若不是,要是沒有”。你可以按照現在的語法當作副詞記憶,但這並非重點所在。比如說,你寫“微天青氣朗,吾其還也”就不對了,為何?微作此用法,其後應該接名詞性的成分,是因為微其實表“要是xx不存在”,而天總歸存在的,只不過是“若非天青氣朗,我就回去了”。這樣看,微似乎又不是副詞(因為接名詞性成分),所以不可完全套用今日之語法成分剖析。應該尊重古漢語之規律,習得其本身用法。 – Toosky Hierot Mar 18 at 17:18
  • If 微 can only be followed by a nominal element, then it should be a preposition. – Apollyon Mar 19 at 0:03
  • @toosky hierot, good points :) further, "管仲" should be read as "mr 管's governance when he's the prime minister of the nation 齊"; in which excluding his youth, or as civilian. – 水巷孑蠻 Mar 19 at 2:03
  • @Apollyon HH,who konws. Functionally it is like an adverb (because if you take the following chunk as a clause, it modifies the clause and indicates condition) – Toosky Hierot Mar 19 at 3:05
  • The whole chunk, i.e. 微 and the following nominal, functions as an adverb, but 微 itself does not. – Apollyon Mar 19 at 3:24
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should be an adverb here. The sentence means "如果没有管仲的话, ..." (if there was no 管仲, then ...), and is not an action here.

微 wēi

〈副>

要没有,要不是 [but for;if it were not for]

微斯人,吾谁与归。——宋· 范仲淹《岳阳楼记》

  • It is actually more like a preposition, as your English translations indicate. – Apollyon Mar 18 at 11:29
  • @Apollyon You meant 介词? To be honest I'm not sure. Anyway in this post 微 is classified as 副词 too. – songyuanyao Mar 18 at 11:44
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    "but for" is a phrasal preposition. An adverb would not take the noun 管仲 as an object. – Apollyon Mar 18 at 11:45
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"微" means "no", or "without" (無, 沒), as indicated in 國語辭典:

http://dict.revised.moe.edu.tw/cgi-bin/cbdic/gsweb.cgi?o=dcbdic&searchid=W00000011415

微管仲

if it's not / without (微) mr 管 (管仲), . . .

in 論語注疏 卷十四 by 何晏 (魏)

it was marked:

注馬曰.微.無也

enter image description here

  • But I'm asking about its part of speech. – Apollyon Mar 18 at 13:10
  • @apollyon, grammar is important in english, and other languages. however, the classical chinese is very fuzzy, i would say, it's another paradigm. about its part of speech, i would treat it as a "conditional clause", aka protasis ;) – 水巷孑蠻 Mar 18 at 13:49
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There is an important characteristic in Chinese language: it often omits grammatical functors and particles. This phenomenon is extremely frequently seen in Classical Chinese, and still sometimes seen in Modern Vernacular Chinese.

Some examples in Modern Vernacular Chinese

Examples 1

没笔就没法写字。

Full sentence:

如果没有笔,那么就没法写字。

Example 2

有火就有烟。

Full sentence:

如果有火,那么就有烟。


OK, now let me answer the question.

管仲,吾其被髮左衽矣。

Modern Vernacular Chinese:

没有管仲,我披髮左衽了。

Full sentence:

如果没有管仲,那麼我就披髮左衽了。

English translation:

If there were not Guanzhong, I would dishevel the hair and wear the clothes to the left.

Consequently, 微 is the adverb “not”.

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微 is here analogous to 無 or 沒, and thus can be considered a verb. Using 没有A,就B to mean "if we did not have A, then B would happen" is still a common phrase in modern Chinese.

微 can also be an adverb, but it has a different meaning ("a little" rather than "not", as in 微笑).The sentence structure in your question also appears with other verbs, so it does not depend on 微's function as an adverb:

曹操,曹操就到 (if you speak of Cao Cao, he will appear)

The main reason the sentence in your question is translated differently from other examples is because there is no good way to translate 無 or 微 into English as a verb.

  • If "微" is a verb, could it be used in non-conditional contexts? – Apollyon Mar 19 at 8:45
  • @Apollyon That's an interesting question, and I'll try to look it up later. Can't think of any examples at the moment. – KWeiss Mar 19 at 8:55

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