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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.

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  • 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 😸 Aug 19 '20 at 4:13
  • How do you interpret ""每多得鰻黧魚以食之"?
    – Apollyon
    Aug 19 '20 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
    Aug 19 '20 at 23:49
  • @dan, to comprehend classical chinese, it’s really hard by using grammar 🙀 shift paradigm lah 😸 Aug 20 '20 at 0:47
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in classical chinese, the structure “以” + one character + “之” could be interpreted in multiple ways.

in the analects (論語), chapter 為政:

子曰・詩三百・一言以蔽之曰・思無邪

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”

https://ctext.org/dictionary.pl?if=gb&id=1119

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 :)

https://ctext.org/dictionary.pl?if=gb&id=1173#s10020221

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 :)

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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:

君子有大道,必忠信以得之,驕泰以失之。《大學》

'[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)

君子義以為質,禮以行之,孫以出之,信以成之。《論語·衛靈公》

'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.


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  • 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
    Feb 14 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
    Feb 14 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
    Feb 14 at 5:44

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