Yesterday I met a person that can speak Mandarin. We had a nice chat and I was going over it in my head today. I want to tell another friend that I met someone that can speak mandarin, but I'm having trouble with the grammar. My first thought is

昨天我认识一个人可以说普通话。(Zuótiān wǒ rèn shí yīgè rén kěyǐ shuō pǔtōnghuà.)

But then I thought that the part about being able to speak Mandarin was something describing the person and so maybe it should come before 人 and I should use 的 (de) to tie them together. So it would be something like

昨天我认识一个会说普通话的人。(Zuótiān wǒ rèn shí yīgè huì shuō pǔtōnghuà de rén.)

What do you think?

  • 3
    Your second sentence is perfect in grammar. And, though the first sentence is ill-formed (because in Mandarin Chinese the relative clause should precede the noun that it modifies), it's acceptable in spoken language -- and it would sound like you're emphasizing the fact "可以说普通话". If you care about the grammar much, just choose the second one. – Stan Sep 11 '13 at 15:43
  • Stan: put that into the answer field and I'll accept it so you can get the reputation points. – Kevin Thompson Sep 11 '13 at 21:02
  • 1
    @Stan although the first sentence doesn't sound 'wrong', it still sounds unnatural and unclear as an independent sentence. It should be validated in context and 'acceptable' seems an overly simplified characterization. A similar example in English is a sentence fragment could be an Independent Genitive, hence it may be used as the whole line in spoken language. However if the full context is not given, we couldn't validate the usage and should not call it correct. – NS.X. Sep 11 '13 at 22:16
  • Kevin, I didn't put that as an answer because (as said in @NS.X.'s comment) there's something unclear and it needs discussion. In spoken language, to compile your first sentence in my mind to make it grammatically right, I would consider it as "昨天我认识(的)一个人可以说普通话。" or "昨天我认识一个人,(他)可以说普通话。". These two sentence are subtly different from your second sentence. So, the context is important and xiaohouzi79♦'s answer gave a good point. – Stan Sep 12 '13 at 5:55

I just want to expand on what is being said in the comments about context. One of the problems of speaking a language other than your first language is getting across the point of what you are trying to say, not just saying your main point but making yourself fully understood.

Think about this in the context of English. If you were going to say "Yesterday I met someone who could speak English". If you were saying the sentence in English to someone else who understood English, in most cases it would have the listener wondering what your point was. Especially in this case as you are the foreigner, in terms of speaking Chinese, you are the special case.

So maybe you want to say "I met another foreigner who can speak Chinese" or "I met a Chinese person and I was able to practice my Chinese speaking with them".

I understand this doesn't answer directly what you are asking, but getting your real point across is an important step in going from learner to expert.

When I just started out learning my wife used to say to me, stop for a second, tell me in English what you really want to say and then start your sentence again.

  • +1. Very good point. – NS.X. Sep 12 '13 at 2:10
  • Where I live it is unusual for me to encounter a person that speaks Chinese. A lot of times I go through events of my day and try to think about how that would be said in Chinese. So the meaning I was looking for really is "yesterday I met a man that is able to speak Chinese." I know it might not seem very relevant, and you might say "so what" but it's relevant to me. It sounds like the second version of my sentence is the better of the two. Is that correct? – Kevin Thompson Sep 13 '13 at 13:18
  • @KevinThompson - No, it is definitely relevant because it's your question. Can I confirm who you would be saying this to, I am trying to understand if this case is rare are you talking to your friends online about running in to someone locally or something else is going on? – going Sep 18 '13 at 5:42
  • I have a friend from Taiwan that I speak to online occasionally. So I thought it would be newsworthy to tell him that I met a person that can speak Chinese. – Kevin Thompson Sep 19 '13 at 13:37

Yes, you're right. Your second sentence is definitely better: 昨天我认识一个会说普通话的人。Grammar or not, the first one would surely jar the ear of a native speaker.

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