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I came across the following sentences:

1.

电话是谁打来的?

Diànhuà shì shuí dǎlái de?

Who was calling?

  1. 晚饭是妈妈做的。

Wǎnfàn shì māma zuò de.

Mom made dinner.

Which literally is something like:

  1. The phone call was by who done?
  2. Dinner is by mama done.

This looks quite passive to me as the object appears first in the sentence.

Question 1: I don't understand the word order. Is it because the structure 是...的 allows for passive sentences? I couldn't find any resources explaining this such as in The "shi... de" construction for emphasizing details in resources.allsetlearning. Could you provide some?

Instead, I would have expected the object to be positioned before or after the 的 (as explained in the section Position of 的 from the previous link):

  1. 是谁打来电话的? or 是谁打来的电话?
  2. 是妈妈做晚饭的. or 是妈妈做的晚饭.

Question 2: Just to clarify, would this form be correct too?

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question 1

I don't understand how is it allowed this order structure. Is it because the structure 是...的 allows for passive sentences?

是 ~ 的 is typically used for emphasis.

The position of the object in your two example sentences is given by the topic-comment construction, which is typical in Chinese.

If we break it down:

晚饭 topic

(是)妈妈做(的) comment, with additional emphasis given by 是 ~ 的

It appears passive only if you go out of your way to keep the same word order in English.

question 2

Just to clarify, would this form be correct too?

I would say that 是谁打来电话的? and 是妈妈做晚饭的 don't feel right to me.

Whereas 是谁打来的电话 and 是妈妈做的晚饭 do, even though they shift the focus of the sentence on "who" and "mum" respectively: "who is it who called" and "it's mum who made dinner".

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  • 1. I guess having the topic before the comment is allowed by the phenomena of "topicalization" (see also this other post ). Is it usual in chinese to have this order? Does it sound a little bit stranger than the usual order? 2. You say having the object before 的 sounds weird to you. Maybe writing the object after 的 is more common in chinese because it gives more clarity to the detail that is emphasized... – Puco4 Jun 17 at 9:00
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    Chinese IS a topic-comment language. In informal speech maybe you find it less often, but topic-comment order is how the language works most of the time. As of where to place the object w.r.t 的,it depends on the role 的 has in the sentence – blackgreen Jun 17 at 14:10
  • Ah, I really didn't understood the topic-comment construction before. I'll just leave a link here if someone else has the same difficulty: Topic-comment sentences in resources.allsetlearning.com – Puco4 Jun 17 at 14:26
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In "是谁打来的电话" , the object is '电话'

[电话]是谁打来的 (places the object before the verb emphasize the object, makes it a more important part in the sentence - The phone call is the topic)

~

In "是妈妈做的晚饭" , the object is '晚饭'

[晚饭] 是妈妈做的 (place the object before the verb emphasize the object, makes it a more important part in the sentence - The dinner is the topic)

[的] marks 是谁打来[的] as an 'adjectival phrase' that describes the object to follow. In this case, it describes the object 电话 (phone call? What phone call? The phone call that was made by who)

[的] marks 是妈妈做[的] as an 'adjectival phrase' that describes the object to follow. In this case, it describes the object 晚饭 (dinner? What dinner? The dinner that was made by mother)

是 = (it) is/ (it) was

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In fact, the meaning of the two sentences is similar, which is related to the habit of speaking and tone of voice.

Q: 是谁做的晚饭? Answer: 是妈妈做的晚饭. Q: 晚饭是谁做的? Answer: 晚饭是妈妈做的.

Here have three words and different orders can be used to express the level of eating chili: 不怕辣;辣不怕;怕不辣. Your choice is...

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