Why is 来 used in the following sentence? For some context, this is a line from a text used in the second workbook of the New Practical Chinese Reader series (pg. 93). In the text a teacher is explaining to his students how to use the word '东西'. The student uses it incorrectly, and the teacher says the following:

‘这个句子也不对。因为‘东西’一般不能用来表示人。同学们,要记住,说别人,‘不是东西’ 是骂人的话,不能随便更用’

Why is 来 used?

  • 1
    See here: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/37250/….
    – L Parker
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 11:57
  • The two questions seem similar, but they are actually talking about two different functions of 来, so it is not quite a duplicated question. "设了个陷阱 [来] 抓狐狸" is not the same as [用] (陷阱) [来] 抓狸
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 18:57
  • 「東西」一般不能用來表示人 is an inversion of 一般不能用「東西」來表示人 to emphasise 「東西」 (as evidenced by the quotation marks). Also, the morpheme 來 meaning 'in order to' has not changed its meaning in 用~來. That is to say, any difference in meaning between 用~來 and the stand-alone 來 is due not to 來 but 用.
    – L Parker
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 1:59
  • IMHO, (把)'东西 用来 表示人 paraphrased as -- "using non-conscious inanimate objects to represent humans" -- (like a wood carving of a human); 用('东西') 来 表示人 paraphrased as -- "equating non-conscious inanimate objects as sentient humans" -- (like worshiping an idol of a human) Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 2:49
  • I would kindly argue any pragmatic difference arising thereof would be due to the verb 表示.
    – L Parker
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 3:00

2 Answers 2


The answer to the question explained the function of 来 as a preposition (in order to; so that) that connect two related verb phrases, but here ' ~ ' can be simply explained as 'use ~ to'; (被)用来 as (be)used to

  1. "(把)'东西'用来 表示人" = "(take) 'things' to be used to indicate human"

  2. "('东西') 表示人" = "use ('things') to indicate human'"

“因为‘东西’一般不能用来表示人” = "because 'things' usually cannot be used to indicate human"

In the text you posted. 东西 (things) is the topic and 不能(被)用来表示人 (cannot be used to indicate human) is the comment


Why is 来 used?

It's a style thing (and an indication of an older language, I think).

You may choose not to use it:


Also, you may write:


来 and 去 are both used in this way as directional indicators, just like in German. (English has largely given up this practice.)

Language makes a lot of shortcuts: if you use something, you must have got it from somewhere.

In this case:

"You cannot take the word 'thing' (东西) from(来) your vocabulary and use (用) it to indicate (表示) a person (人)"


I just read about an African laughing tree when I saw this post.

来回: v. [来来去去] move back and forth

来回:literally: from (and) return

When the wind blows from,

the pistils inside roll from and back,



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