In the following examples, we have a subject + an adjective + a quantity. What are 一米八五 and 一个小时 in terms of grammar? Do they have a specific grammatical name? I cannot find it in grammar books.




Quantity complement

Also known as: 数量补语 (shùliàng bǔyǔ), quantitative complement and complement of quantity.

A quantity complement follows a verb and supplies information regarding an amount.


他高一米八五 (he is 1.85M tall)

  • 他 (he) is the subject

  • is short for 身高 (height). It is a noun that acting as a verb in this context

  • 一米八五 (1.85M) is a 'quantity complement' that complements the verb

Similarly: 姓(surname) is a noun, but it can act as a verb as in 我王 (I am surnamed Wang)

他晚了一个小时 (he is late for an hour)

  • 他 (he) is the subject

  • 了 (late for) is an adjective acting as a verb in this context

  • 一个小时。is a 'quantity complement' that complements the verb

Examples of quantity complement complements verb:

他的身高[是][一米八五] - his height [is] [1.85M]

他[来晚了][一个小时] - he [came late] [(for) an hour]

  • It looks as if you are right but in the literature I find the complement of quantity always refers to complement of duration or complement of frequency and always which is right in one of the examples but not in the other. Is there any literature in internet about what you wrote talking about hight or length .¿ And any of nouns or adjectives working as verbs. Thanks very much.
    – ANTXON
    Jun 10 '20 at 21:19
  • nouns or adjectives working as verbs is common in classical Chinese
    – Tang Ho
    Jun 10 '20 at 23:22

(I'm using terminologies from Chinese linguistics studies, so they might be hard to just search online. However, they explain Chinese grammar pretty well.)

The particular words have omitted the qualifier.

一米八五 in complete form, should have been 一 米 八十五 厘米 (1 meter 85 centimeters). See below also for an in-depth explanation in classifiers and numerals.

一个小时 is in the form of [numeral-classifier-adjective-noun].

一个X means one of something. 一 is a numeral and 个 is a classifier. Classifiers can be analyzed as nouns in linguistics. Numerals acting as adjectives is debated, but this is how the Taiwanese Ministry of Education classifies numerals.. This also helps in explaining Chinese grammar. The word 小时 is formed using the subordinate word structure.

一个小时 forms using the M-H Modifier-Head construct with 一个 (one) acting as an adjective/modifier, qualifying 小时 (hour).

All word formations:

  • Coordinate 並列: e.g. 海洋 ocean => sea (n.) + ocean (n.)
  • Subordinate 偏正: e.g. 小心 careful => small (adj.) + heart (n.)
  • Verb-complement 述補: e.g. 長大 grow => grow (v.) + large (adj.)
  • Verb-object 述賓: e.g. 作曲 compose music => compose (v.) + music (n.)
  • Subject-verb 主謂: e.g. 地震 earthquake => earth (n.) + vibrate (v.)
  • Reduplication 重疊: e.g. 爸爸 father => father (n.) + father (n.)

According to a linguistics book written by Taiwanese linguist Prof. Charles Ting-chi Tang, 華語語法入門 p.42, you can understand a bit more about the grammatical construct of modifier-head construct (subordinate) word formation.

I roughly translate:

Subordinate compound (modifier-head compound) consists of a "modifier" (may be a 定語 (adj.) or 狀語 (adv.)) and a "head". We can represent the word in the form of "[X/Y]". Subordinate compound includes, (i) using a "noun morpheme", "verb morpheme", "adjective morpheme", or "classifier morpheme" as the "modifier", and a "noun" (which includes words from other parts of speech: "verbs" or "adjectives")" as the "head".

The book proceeds to give examples of various forms of "[X/Y]" of subordinate words formed from different parts of speech.

As with '"noun" (which includes words from other parts of speech: "verbs" or "adjectives")', this is like gerunds in English. "I like swimming", the word "swimming" is used as a noun.

  • I had no problem understanding the quantity with the classifier. Is only the structure adjective + complement of duration I have no grammar reference.
    – ANTXON
    Jun 24 '20 at 10:15
  • @ANTXON please see my updated answer. In my answer I try to step away from "adjective + duration" constructs as this becomes too specific and not generalizable. I wanted to introduce the other word formations in Chinese grammar in the linguistics POV and proceeded to explain the M-H construct as a tool for analysis and learning. Jun 24 '20 at 17:02
  • @ANTXON Put simply, 一个小时 may be analyzed as a word formed using the subordinate word formation, consisting of an adjective-acting morpheme and a noun-acting morpheme. Jun 24 '20 at 17:09

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