I'm a linguist with an extremely superficial knowledge of Chinese, so I'd like to query some native speakers about a grammatical phenomenon I've been thinking about for some time.

In Indoeuropean languages (at the very least) there are sentences that speakers claim are both grammatical and meaningful, but, when pressed to explain what they mean, they suddenly realize such sentences make no sense whatsoever. They are sometimes called Escher sentences.

(1) More people have been to Russia than I have

(1), for example, sounds grammatical to native English speakers; however, it doesn't appear to have any precise, truth-conditional meaning (in particular, it is not clear what types of things are being compared cardinality-wise).

Does Chinese have anything remotely similar to (1)? Google Translate offers the following translations:

(2) 去俄罗斯的人数比我多

(3) 去俄罗斯的人比我要多。

(4) 去俄罗斯的人比我更多。

Are (2)-(4) grammatical and/or meaningful? Is this phenomenon ever attested in Chinese?

Thanks in advance for your help!

  • 4
    I think in Chinese there is a concept called "病句(ill sentences)", sentences that look good but grammatically wrong. It seems that the collection of Escher sentences is a subset of 病句.
    – 魏小淇
    Nov 12, 2019 at 3:32

1 Answer 1


"More people have been to Russia than I have" doesn't make sense in English, therefore, it wouldn't make sense in Chinese neither.

(2)-(4) would not be considered grammatical by native Chinese speakers at all.

"Many people have been to Russia more than I have" (有很多去俄羅斯比我去得多的人 ) does make sense.

As for 病句 (ill sentences), some people do say things ungrammatically, mainly due to mistaken word type (e.g. mistaken adjective as adverb) or wrongly omit things that shouldn't be omitted


他很有勇氣 (he has courage) --> 他很有勇敢 (he has brave)

勇敢 is mainly an adjective or adverb, using it as a noun require a classifier, e.g. 這份勇敢 (this bravery)


無法無天的行動 (lawless act) --> 無法行動 (can't take action)

reduce 無法無天 (lawless) to 無法 (cannot) and omit the adjective marker "的" change the meaning completely

However 驚天動地的行動 (earth-shattering action) can be reduced to 驚天行動 and the meaning of the sentence would not be changed because 驚天 is clearly referring to 驚天動地

  • What is the syntactic structure of 有很多比我去俄羅斯去得多的人? What is being compared?
    – user242292
    Nov 12, 2019 at 5:00
  • Sorry, it should be 有很多去俄羅斯比我去得多的人-- Compare the number of my visits to Russia, to the number of many people's visits to Russia. e.g. I only visited Russia five times, many people have visited Russia hundreds of times
    – Tang Ho
    Nov 12, 2019 at 5:06
  • 很多人去俄罗斯的次数都比我多 might sound better.
    – dan
    Nov 12, 2019 at 5:12

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