In English, we can say "He bought something to eat," where "to eat" functions like an adjective to "something." I'm wondering whether in Classical Chinese, "以 V 之" shares this function.

I'd appreciate your help.

  • 2
    using grammar to comprehend classical chinese is, like using newton physics to explain the paradox “Schrödinger's cat”. sincerely, be open minded, shift paradigm 😸 Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 4:13
  • How do you interpret ""每多得鰻黧魚以食之"?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 5:59
  • @水巷孑蠻 On the contrary, I do recommend to learn the grammar for 古汉语. But of course, it's hard though.
    – dan
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 23:49
  • @dan, to comprehend classical chinese, it’s really hard by using grammar 🙀 shift paradigm lah 😸 Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 0:47

2 Answers 2


in classical chinese, the structure “以” + one character + “之” could be interpreted in multiple ways.

in the analects (論語), chapter 為政:


confucius said (子曰): “the book of odes” (詩三百), in one verse, (一言) for (以) summarising (蔽) it (之) ; [which] is (曰): think (思) without (無) depravation (邪)

that, “it” referred back to “the book of odes”


again in the analects (論語), chapter 里仁:

子曰・. . . ・好仁者・無以尚之

confucius said (子曰): “. . ., those who (者) preferred (好) virtue (仁), nothing (無) could be (以) appended to (尚) [his/her goodness] (之)

i would interpret like this, others might disagree :)


in the book “稽神錄”, volume 3:

. . . 頃之・其女病・即生釘棺中・流之於江・至金山・有漁人見而異之・引之至岸・開視之・見女子猶活・因取置漁舍中・多得鰻鯬魚以食之・久之病愈・遂為漁人之妻・至今尚無恙

many times (多), catching (得) eels (鰻鯬魚) for (以) feeding (食 —> 餵食) her (之)

or, repeatedly (多), using (得) eels (鰻鯬魚) to (以) feed (食 —> 餵食) her (之)

in which, her (之) is referred to the sick girl (女病) whom is put into a coffin alive (生釘棺中), dropped into the river (流之於江), and saved by the fisherman.

treat “食” as “eat” in the above verses is, incorrect.

enter image description here

have fun :)


Pardon me for answering a question that was posted half a year ago, but I do feel the need to supplement by just a bit.

1. Use of the causative (使動用法)

In the example 一言以蔽之, the verb 蔽 'to cover; to summarise' is used as-is.

But in 多得鰻黧魚以食之, the verb 食 'to eat' is used as if it meant 使食*, or 'to make eat; to feed'. This is the causative use of a verb in classical Chinese. Other examples include:

  • 鬼神 'to make the ghosts and deities cry'
  • 先破秦入咸陽者之 'to make king whoever enters Qin and captures Xianyang first'

2. 以+(N) and inversion (倒裝)

The noun is usually implied and omitted (only because it is understood) after 以. In the asker's example, if the eel that the fisherman uses to feed the girl were not omitted, the sentence would become 以鰻黧魚食之.

The reason 以+V+之 is observed post-nominally (N+以+V+之) is inversion. Examples include:


'[The superior man] must show entire self-devotion and sincerity to attain it, and by pride and extravagance he will fail of it.' (transl. James Legge)


'The superior man in everything considers righteousness to be essential. He performs it according to the rules of propriety. He brings it forth in humility. He completes it with sincerity.' (transl. James Legge)

They mean just the same as 以忠信得之, 以驕泰失之, 以禮行之, 以孫出之, and 以信成之 respectively. They are 'inverted' relative to the modern Chinese speaker who would normally be more comfortable with 以+N+V+之 (to V it with N) than N+以+V+之. Nevertheless, a common justification for inversion is to emphasise the instrument (N) before the purpose (V+之) of the act.



  • 食 (for 飼, "feed") and 王 ("make king") each get read in 去聲 though, so it's not quite the same as the 泣 ("make weep") case.
    – yawnoc
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 4:43
  • @yawnoc they are read in 去聲 because they changed their part of speech from noun to verb. Irrelevant to if they are verbs in the causative form.
    – L Parker
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 4:52
  • * See the third definition of 食 in 古漢語常用字字典. They usually would have included the 通假字, but there is no mention of 飼. In fact, not only do I think that it is a new graph (後起字), one also cannot replace the causative-食 with 飼 when talking about feeding parents. Therefore the only way to explain 食 is to think of it as in the causative form.
    – L Parker
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 5:44

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.