I was reading a research paper in linguistics and came across this definition 虚化结果补语。

I'm not sure what the proper English translation would be.

There are a couple introductory sentences that illustrate the usage of the term. (Rough) translations are mine:


This paper uses the term "XXX result complement" to reflect the grammatical evolution of this category of complements.


[...] mainly expresses that an action event is "complete", has rather broad collocations with the preceding verb V, and has strong productivity: that is called "XXX result complement".

Google translates this as "blurred result complement". This doesn't sound correct. In fact, a quick cross-reference check returns no results.

The character itself has several different meanings. The ones that may be applicable here are "void" and "virtual". So together with the suffix 化 "-ize", I can come up with "virtualized result complement" but that also yields no results.

What's the correct translation of 虚化 in English?

Edit: the paper also claims that this category of complements is also called 动相补语 (phase complement) by other authors.

Edit 2: a longer sentence with the word 虚化 used in different positions:


Edit 3: I'm going to conclude that the answer lies somewhere in between Tang Ho and Pedroski / KK_tse's answers (thank you!)

The term appears to indicate verbs that lose their concrete meaning when they assume the role of a result complement. Thus, "virtual result complement", and "grammaticalized result complement" make sense to me. The former highlights the difference with "actual result complements" (see Tang Ho's answer). The latter highlights the process of abstracting away the inherent meaning of the verb in favor of its grammatical role (see Pedroski / KK_tse's answers).

  • 1
    I need to see some examples to start guessing what it means – Tang Ho Jul 4 '20 at 21:41
  • @TangHo I posted two (almost) full sentences from the paper, unfortunately I don't have much else. As the term is technical, it's found in technical contexts only. I got a longer sentence with it, I'll add it to the examples – blackgreen Jul 4 '20 at 21:45




We are familiar with the aspect markers below:

吃(eat) --> 吃了 (eat is a completed action)

吃(eat) --> 吃過 (eat is an experience action)

They are on the list of 虛化結果補語. And the article stated 虛化補語 is mainly used for indicating the verb is 'completed/ finished' and 實義補語 mainly used for indicating the result of the verb. e.g. 斬斷 (chop-apart); 切掉 (cut-away). 斷 is the result complement of the verb 斬; 掉 is the result complement of the verb 切. They indicate the 'actual result' of the verb

From the same article:


實義结果補語 (actual result complements) and 虛化结果補語 (virtual result complements) are practically identical in syntactic.

My knowledge in linguistics terms is based mostly on Hong Kong Standard Written Chinese (SWC). It is likely different from linguistics terms used by Mandarin speakers in the mainland. But I hope my input would help you find the most accurate translation of the term in question

I was taught '斷' and '掉' in '斬斷' and '切掉' are "verb particles"; '了' and '過' in '吃了' and '吃過' are "aspect markers"

  • This really sheds some light: 虛化结果補語 as opposed to 實義结果補語. Then "virtual" as opposed to "actual" does make sense – blackgreen Jul 4 '20 at 23:50

虚化 often gets translated as 'grammaticalization'. Example:

We conclude that grammaticalization and loan homonym are the main source of conjunction.

Tang Ho's excellent research cleared things up a lot! Well done!

But linguists are slippery eels, twisting and turning, persistently vague! I would translate 虚化 here as 'empty'.

I can only presume these sainted linguists mean this kind of complement is not in fact a concrete result or output, not a real, extant 'thing': 吃了

Some apostrophes would help!

本文采用体现这类补语语法 '演变过程' 的术语 '虚化结果补语'。

This paper uses the term 'empty result complement' for this kind of 'process of change' complement grammar.

  • I can get 'empty' in the context of 虚化结果补语, but 虚化 = grammaticalization?? – blackgreen Jul 4 '20 at 23:51
  • +1 though. Before asking the question I did find some works that push this translation, even though it's totally not clear to me why – blackgreen Jul 5 '20 at 0:04
  • 1
    Linguists, in my limited experience are deliberately vague. They will not use definable facts, or we might say, "That's wrong." So they couch their language in terms so obscure, no one knows what they really mean, which is quite a joke, considering they are supposed to explain how language works! A favourite term of linguists is 'non-felicitous', meaning, 'wrong, but we have no idea why!' 'grammaticalization' means 'bringing into grammar' and 'grammar' is 'how to write or speak properly' So, grammaticalize something and then it's correct! Wonderful self-justification! – Pedroski Jul 5 '20 at 11:10

In Chinese linguistics, the most common example of 虚化 is the grammaticalization of verbs into verbal suffixes that function as aspect markers. For example: 了, 过, 着.

It is an abstraction whereby a verb "empties out" its original lexical meaning and becomes a function word. When it is used with a process (action/event) in a sentence, the interpretation is derived from its combination with the contextual elements, most importantly the type of verb.

For example, the verb 了 has the lexical meaning of "to finish, to end" as in “了结”,“不了了之”. When it is grammaticalized and used as a verbal suffix, we will have different interpretations according to the contexts:

  1. 他去了北京。(He has gone to Beijing.)
  2. 我昨天买了一本日文书。(I bought a Japanese book yesterday.)
  3. 很久没见你,你好像瘦了。(I haven't seen you for long. You look slimmer.)

We can consider a grammaticalized verbal suffix as a kind of formula with which we calculate the meaning based on the contextual elements.

  • so 虚化结果补语 might be understood as “grammaticalized result complement”? – blackgreen Jul 5 '20 at 8:37
  • A lexical item used as result complement is not fully grammaticalized as it still keeps its lexical meaning to a certain extent. For example, in "这个桃子太高了,我摘不到" , 到 functions as verbal complement with its meaning of "arrive at, reach", whereas in "他昨天看到姚明" or "我最近听到些坏消息", 到 is grammaticalized: It is dissociated from its original meaning and functions as an aspect marker which indicates a value roughly equivalent to "happen to, incidentally" in English. – KK_Tse Jul 6 '20 at 0:20

I think the sense of 虚 is the same as in 虚词.

According to dictionaries, 虚词 is defined as:


{语} function word; form word; empty word; grammatically-partial word; structural word; syncategorematic word

The research paper in topic is talking about some characters such as 好 are in the way of getting to be 虚词(originally adjective) because in daily conversations we can see many uses of those words work more like those 虚词s (e.g. 了,吗,etc).

They also found that these characters is often used as a resultative complement. Hence they got the term 虚化结果补语.

虚化 is compared to the other words of categories such as adjective, verb, adverb, etc. You may name the other side of categories as 实词.

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