ABC Chinese–English Comprehensive Dictionary (2003), p 629.

enter image description here

Wiktionary also defines this "nothing can surpass ..." I thought 莫過於 must start sentence, because

  • ... is at end

  • definition has just one ellipsis ...

But consider Wiktionary's two example sentences. Like screenshot below, 莫過於 does NOT start. So isn't definition above wrong?

  1. Shouldn't definition have another ellipsis? Like "no ...[first noun]... can surpass ... [second noun]"

  2. How improve definition?

I screen-shot 5:16. I know 痛苦莫過於生存 means "nothing is more painful than existence". enter image description here

  • If you want a word-for-word translation, it can be translated into "no more than."
    – joehua
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 22:14
  • Chinese and English have different grammatical structures. Although the meaning of 莫过于 is, in fact, "nothing can surpass"/"nothing surpasses", this does not mean that the place where it appears in a sentence will follow the English structure. The idea that this means the definition is "wrong" is completely unfounded.
    – YiFan
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 7:25

2 Answers 2


The thing is, Chinese and English are so different that you would rarely see a sentence that can be translated word-by-word and in the original order, without sounding unnatural.

For example, Wiktionary defines 什么 as "what". But can we translate 你在做什么? (what are you doing?) without rearranging elements in the sentence? No, usually we can't. Does that change the fact that 什么 means what in this sentence?

I'd argue that the English translation actually has the ellipsis right. Think about it this way, ellipsis means something needs to go in there. And in English, you start the sentence with nothing is more, so there is no need for an ellipsis to appear before the phrase, because there is nothing before it in the final sentence.



As a Mandarin/Cantonese bilingual speaker, I would say don't worry about this line in the video, because I've never seen a sentence goes:

Noun1 莫过于 Noun2

instead, there is usually a 'most' ‘最’:

Most adj. something 莫过于 Noun2

For example,


Literally translated (to maintain the word order) as,

Greatest pain, (can) not surpass, (the situation) when learning Chinese, the dictionary and daily life expression have discrepancy.

where English words in the brackets are those not appearing directly in the Chinese sentence, but added to make the translation grammatical.

And not == 莫surpass == 过于.

Other examples


For these two examples, I personally think the first one sounds very unfamiliar to me, while the second sounds more natural (probably because it is more of the 文言文 style).

If they are expanded according to the rules I summarised above:

快樂莫過於知足 --> (最大的 or 最简单的)快乐莫过于知足

不知羞恥,莫過於此 --> (最过分的 or 最令人不齿的)不知羞耻 (的行为),莫过于此


The problem arises from the discrepancy between word-by-word translation vs. sense-by-sense translation.

The direct translation should be:

莫 == not

过于 == surpass; where 于 is a preposition for 过, combined meaning beyond/over/surpass etc.

  • Have you considered the fact that 痛苦 can also be an adjective or adverb? It is not unusual to omit 的/地 in many cases.
    – zypA13510
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 7:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.