How do you identify phrases using 使動用法 in Classical Chinese?
Take this excerpt for example (Baidu article here):


My initial interpretation of 誇諸人 was 誇贊衆人 (praise everyone/the audience).
However, I was later taught that the correct interpretation should be 使衆人誇贊[游者] (cause everyone to praise [the traveller]).

Is there a way or rule of thumb to identify where 使動用法 is present to avoid misinterpretations, or is it more down to yourself to guess which is more plausible? The example I used isn't the best, there surely are cases where both interpretations make sense in context.

2 Answers 2


the correct interpretation should be 使衆人誇贊[游者] (cause everyone to praise [the traveller]).

imo, such interpretation is incorrect.


the text, in brief, should be interpreted as:

a wanderer (游者) brought [a broken carriage] by boat, back to his village (舟載以歸); and (而) exaggerate (誇) [the goodness of the carriage] to his villagers (諸人). onlookers (觀者) heard (聞) his exaggeration (其誇) and (而) believed it (信之)

classical / literary chinese is another paradigm. using grammar to analyse is, imo, unachievable. it’s like using newton physic to solve the “schrödinger's cat” case.

have fun :)


@水巷孑蠻 There's one point you didn't make clear.




Dump them at the edge of Bo Sea.

So here it should be explained as:


Transport it back home by boat and boast it before others.



Your link to baidu translates the sentence as “在眾人面前誇口”. How come you think it is 使動用法?

使動/意動/為動 are three common patterns of verb usages.

Now we talk about 使動. 使動 basically means 使(賓語)...(make the object do sth). So the subject makes it happen, and the object actually fulfill the verb (in fact, often it isn't a true verb. It is 使動 that makes it a verb, so this is also a case of 活用作動詞)


fight the vassals incorrect

make the vassals fight (each other)

How can you tell between fight and make fight? Emmm, you cannot, I mean, barely from this sole sentence. The context makes it clear. Oh if you know what is 連橫, you can also deduce the correct meaning. So cultural knowledge is important.


make the dead alive again/ make flesh back to the bones

This one is relatively easy to recognize. Note that 肉 is a noun.


make the cook stay afar

The adjective 使動 has more influence till today that it almost can be treated as a verb itself instead of 使動 or 活用作動詞.

In this case, we can also regard it as "keep afar".

The other two usages 意動/為動 are also interesting and frequent in Classical Chinese.


A famous example is:






  • 諸 = 之於, well, not always. sometime it’s used as “all, every, various “ eg “夷狄之有君,不如諸 (various) 夏之亡也“. actually, i agreed with you that the 諸 in the quoted text could be treated as 之於. Mar 18, 2020 at 14:52
  • @水巷孑蠻 I didn't say it is the only case. But here it is the case. (●°u°●)​ 」 Mar 18, 2020 at 15:02
  • be calm :) classical texts are fuzzy, it’s always possible to interpret in slightly different ways, and, such interpretations are valid. Mar 18, 2020 at 15:05
  • @水巷孑蠻 這種情況省略賓語未嘗有也。。。所以╮( ̄▽ ̄)╭應當確定是兼詞。 Mar 18, 2020 at 15:37

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.