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In a YouTube video a native Chinese speaker answers questions on the HSK-6 test. He gets one wrong: to identify which "has grammatical errors or uses wrong words" below:

A. 每个人都可以有所作为,但前提条件是认定了就要去做,而不是半途而废。

B. 经过艰苦的跋涉,终于到达南天门,然后我又一鼓作气,登上了玉皇顶。

C. 社会稳定,人民生活水平显著提高,这一切都给人留下了深刻的印象。

D. 他坚信母亲的教诲,相信自己一定是一朵花,只是还没等到开花的时节。

He thought they were all correct, so he chose D, but the correct answer is C.

Question: What is wrong with C?

I'm going to guess that 人民 ("the people") should be either 民众 ("the populace") or 老百姓 ("ordinary people"). I also feel it omits grammatical particles (的 地 得), but maybe that's okay. I don't really know.

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    I consulted two Chinese language professionals and neither could find serious flaws in option C. I think it indicates this isn't a good question to some degree. – user3528438 May 4 at 3:11
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This material offers some insight (translation mine): enter image description here

一切-所有-全部 All are used to express "whole", "no exceptions". Can be used as attributive adjunct, sometimes interchangeable.

When used as attributive adjunct, 全部 emphasizes on "collective" and "whole", and usually not on people. The subject of 全部 must have a specific scope. 一切 and 所有 may not have a scope.

所有 can only be used as attributive adjunct, emphasizing on "every single individual" within the scope. It can be used on people or objects.

一切 emphasizes all the categories that are included within a subject (my understanding is "一切 emphasizes on all the subject covered by a certain scope"). It is usually used on abstract subject and not concrete ones. It could be used to describe people in the general term, but must have attributive adjunct before it. It is often interchangeable with 所有.

In this way, 一切 is similar to a universal quantification in math:

  1. It is abstract, so you can not name its individual entries or describe its scope by enumerating all of it entries.

  2. The specific meaning is expressed by describing the scope it covers as a concept.

In summary, 一切 is an abstract term but this usage is too concrete.

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社会稳定,人民生活水平显著提高,这[一切]都给人留下了深刻的印象

社会稳定,人民生活水平显著提高,这[两点]都给人留下了深刻的印象

Technically, there's no grammar or spelling mistake, But when the sentence only listed two points, using 'both' is better than 'all'.

A simpler example:

邮局和银行,[两项]都是必需服务 O

邮局和银行,[全部]都是必需服务 X

Another way to make this sentence better is add one more point

社会稳定,人民生活水平显著提高,与及教育程度上升,这一切都给人留下了深刻的印象

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  • Well this is kind of strange. Using "all" strictly for three and above seem to be a western thing? When I was in school this is what I was taught for English but not for Chinese. Or is this a new development of the recent decade? – user3528438 May 3 at 16:40
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    @user3528438 It is for modern Chinese as well. If there's only two items, we use 'both' instead of 'all'. It is similar to another rule of restricting the use of 几 (few) to three or above items. e.g. You cannot describe 'two brothers' as "few brothers" – Tang Ho May 3 at 16:53
  • but 都 is not restricted, you can say 邮局和银行,[都]是必需服务 but not 邮局和银行,[全部]都是必需服务 – Tang Ho May 3 at 16:59
  • This is pretty ugly.....When there's expression for "both" it's really inconvenient to restrict "all" to three and above... – user3528438 May 3 at 17:03
  • If it is acceptable for English grammar to be set this way, I don't see how it is unacceptable for Chinese grammar to be set this way as well. – Tang Ho May 3 at 17:09
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In all seriousness, as a college student majoring in Chinese linguistics & a native speaker, all of the above explanations don't make sense to me. I think there’s nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence, which means it is simply a bad question.

I'm going to guess that 人民 ("the people") should be either 民众 ("the populace") or 老百姓 ("ordinary people"). I also feel it omits grammatical particles (的 地 得), but maybe that's okay. I don't really know.

人民生活水平 is a common expression in Chinese, and the usage of 人民 here is correct. This sentence, however, does not omit any grammatical particles (的) either, since it's feasible to use a sentence to serve as a subject. "國語的推行需要大家的努力"(literally The implementation of the Mandarin language requires the efforts of all) and "在全社會推行國語需要大家的努力" are both grammatically correct.

In summary, 一切 is an abstract term but this usage is too concrete.

Please pay attention to this: "一切 and 所有 may not have a scope." This means that it's fine even if it has a scope. E.g. When preparing for a dinner, people often say "可口的蛋糕、浪漫的蠟燭,一切都已準備好了。" Nevertheless, to some extent it's also an abstract usage since the things prepared includes but not limited to the two preparations (cakes and candles) previously mentioned.

Technically, there's no grammar or spelling mistake, But when the sentence only listed two points, using 'both' is better than 'all'.

This is exactly the point. There's no strict regulations on the usage of "both"/"all" in Chinese. Some might say one way is better than the other, but basically it's due to the impact of English grammar. It is grammatically correct to use "一切" to address two things only, though it might not meet everyone's sense of language.

In summary, I see no reason to blame that dude in the video. This is merely a bad question.

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  • Quote:- "...basically it's due to the impact of English grammar" which of course gives us "modern or Anglicized Chinese"? Quote:- "...grammatically correct to use "一切" to address two things only, though it might not meet everyone's sense of language" The point is this is HSK Text material, meaning a lot of non-Chinese speakers would learn and be learning the language from. If this is not an isolated "bad question", then the issues require urgent review before anything that does not conform strictly to English grammar becomes "bad / wrong Chinese" – Wayne Cheah May 12 at 16:20
  • Personally 100% agree with @WayneCheah. With anglicization becoming more and more prevailing, we do need more clarification on issues like these. In fact, there are actually more academic publications concerning Anglicized Chinese these days, and so I think sooner of later this would reflect on HSK, Chinese Gaokao and stuff. For now I still take this as an isolated question, 'cuz I genuinely don't think this makes up a huge proportion of Chinese grammar as a whole. But I also think the authors of HSK should at least to some extent avoid such controversial questions. Just a little thought. – Asher Shang May 13 at 6:57

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