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地球圍住太陽轉。

I understand this to be "The Earth revolves around the Sun."

My question is: it feels to me the structure/order of the words is a bit strange. I could have said: 地球轉太陽圍住. Can someone explain why this is incorrect?

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  1. In Chinese, 轉 (to rotate) is intransitive, whereas 圍住 (to surround) is transitive. Sentences b. and d. are in principle ungrammatical:

a. 地球在轉。

b. *地球轉太陽。

c. 我們圍住他。

d. *我們圍住。

Your hypothetical sentence therefore is doubly ungrammatical, because there is an object following an intransitive verb, and no object following a transitive verb.

Of course by 轉 we are referring to a spontaneous rotation by the object in question, not a rotation caused by an external force, because in that case it may also be transitive too:

e. 不要在上課時轉筆。Do not play with (lit. turn) your pen when having lessons.

There is not an external force that moves or rotates the Earth (at least in the linguistic sense); therefore 轉 here is intransitive.

  1. Try think of 圍住太陽 as a phrase adverbial on 轉; i.e. literally, the Earth is rotating as it surrounds the Sun.
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Just a nit point, Chinese wouldn't say "地球圍住太陽轉", instead they would say "地球圍着太陽轉". "着" after a verb (圍 in this case) usually indicates a continuous state, and "圍着太陽" (around the sun) becomes an adverb describing "轉".

And generally in Chinese adverbs and adjectives are placed before a noun or a verb. A very obvious exception is the adverbs that can be prefixed with a 得, such as "他跑得很快".

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    thanks for your answer. 住 is a cantonese particle (with same meaning as a standard mandarin 着)
    – cgo
    Mar 2 at 2:09

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