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I'm learning Chinese from a book, and there are some examples regarding the use of 还是. In some cases, the verb is repeated, like in 你喝茶还是喝咖啡? (note the two here). In other places, the second instance of the verb is omitted, like in 他学习日语还是英语?

Is this a question of preference, or there are some rules to omit the second verb?

Thanks!

  • Just a matter of preference. You can ask 他學習日語還是學習英語? This might be regarded as wordy but wordy is not incorrect. – joehua Oct 12 at 9:23
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From C. Li, S. Thompson, Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar:

This category of questions explicitly presents the respondent with a choice of two or more possible answers connected by 还是, which may be called constituents. The syntactic nature of the connected constituents may vary from question to question, but all such constituents within a question are of the same syntactic type. Some examples of constituent types:

  1. Verbs:

    还是? Will you walk or will you run?

  2. Direct objects:

    你买这个还是那个? Will you buy this one or that one?

  3. Subjects:

    张三还是李四讲话? Is Zhangsan talking or is Lisi talking?

  4. Coverb phrases:

    他在这儿还是哪儿住? Does she live here or there?

  5. Adverb phrases:

    今天还是明天来? Is he coming today or tomorrow?

  6. Nominalized adjectives:

    那本书是红的还是白的? Is that book red or white?

So coming back to your question, both examples are fine: in 你喝茶还是喝咖啡?the constituents are verb phrases, while in 他学习日语还是英语?the constituents are direct objects.

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There is no rule for this and is mostly based on preferences. If the verb for the two actions are the same, you can choose if you want to omit it. However, in China, often one way of expressing is more fluent and more widely used than the other. The exact rule is difficult to describe, but it is likely based on the rhythm and flow of the language.

For example:

Saying 你喝咖啡还是喝茶?and 你喝咖啡还是茶?are both valid ways of expression, but the former sounds more rhythmically like a question and therefore is more often preferred.

On the other hand, 他学习英语还是日语?and 他学习英语还是学习日语?are also both valid, but the latter often sounds unnecessarily wordly and is often avoided.

P.S. In China, you may also often here people adding another word within these expressions to clarify what exactly they are asking. For example, 你喝咖啡还是喝茶?is ambiguous since we cannot really identify if it means "Do you want to drink coffee or tea" or "Are you drinking coffee or tea". For the former meaning, we often clarify by saying 你要喝咖啡还是喝茶?. For the latter meaning, we clarify by saying 你在喝咖啡还是喝茶?.

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  • Thanks for the PS, it helps to remove the ambiguity. +1 – oscarah Oct 14 at 9:50

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