So, I realise that you probably shouldn't think of Chinese sentences in terms of Latin grammar, right? That is probably doomed to failure. But on the other hand, I have noticed that often, Chinese sentences push the nominative object/the subject of the sentence after the verb that it is supposedly doing, and I'm not too sure why this structure is sometimes preferred to a standard S V O approach. I should point out here that I'm not referring to a O V structure such as 我的车该擦了which implies the passive.

This is probably best explained using some examples. So, here goes...

  1. 朋友要的词典玛丽买到了 - here, I could understand both 玛丽把朋友要的词典买到了 and 玛丽买到了朋友要的词典 but the structure above seems a bit... random

  2. 前面开一辆车 - why not 一辆车在前面开?

Any thoughts or links very welcome - not sure what to search for!

Thanks, Hashamyim

1 Answer 1


This is all subsumed under "topicalisation". Chinese does it, but so do others (even Latin!). Indeed, most languages have a way of focusing on something, and Chinese allows certain word orders.

The first example is "object NP fronting" or "object preposing".

朋友要的词典 玛丽 买到了

comes from...

玛丽 买到了 朋友要的词典

This is particularly favoured when the wording of the object is long, and especially when it is much longer than the subject.

The second example is locative inversion.

前面 开着 一辆车

(In general the sentence would require a 着 here.)

The more canonical sentence

一辆车 (在)前面 开着

... doesn't sound as good for this sentence.

Only specific types of verbs are permitted to undergo locative inversion, specifically unaccusative and passivised verbs. There are very few transitive verbs that can do so, most notably 放 fàng.

These non-SVO orders have several different functions. This locative inversion has two main ones: describing the landscape, and presentation focus. These two are relatively similar to English, although the specific number of verbs allowed by English in this construction is lower.

  • Wow. That is insanely helpful. Am looking up topicalisation now :-) Do you fancy being my Chinese tutor? Lol
    – Hashamyim
    Jul 2, 2019 at 11:28
  • +1 for increasing my knowledge. I'd also say that topicalisation in Chinese may be also used to make an object plural (when the subject is singular) with 都, as in 朋友要的词典玛丽都卖到了。 Jul 23, 2019 at 22:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.