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There is a recent Chinese Stack Exchange question on the significance of in 尤其, given the meaning of the word is largely contributed by .

I am quite confident that some of the answers in the thread are incorrect – i.e., is not a pronoun in 尤其 (neither personal, as in 其貌不揚; nor demonstrative, as in 其餘). I therefore suspect it should be a modal particle, traceable to classical Chinese, that helps provide emphasis.

I then looked up an article that suggests the grammaticalisation (虛化) of is especially prominent when matched with another character, e.g. in 與其 and 殆其:

與其譽堯而非桀也,不如兩忘而化其道。《莊子·內篇》

(with meaning 'to concur', seems to be an imperative/optative)

國不忌君,君不顧親,能無卑乎?殆其失國。《左傳·昭公十一年》

( suggests uncertainty which reinforces )

However, I could not find examples of 尤其 in the source. My questions are:

  1. Are there quotable examples of 尤其 in classical Chinese that supports really is a modal particle, as described in the article?

  2. I can think of 尤其, 何其, and 與其 as common words used in modern Chinese that probably have as a modal particle. Any similar examples?

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  • 1
    one more example where 其 might retain a modal origin is 极其 (not to be confused with 及其, where it is of pronominal origin)
    – blackgreen
    Apr 16, 2021 at 21:44

3 Answers 3

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Summary: What I think from evidence in the following sections

  1. 其 is a syllabic particle without lexical meaning and grammatical function.

與其=與

尤其=尤 The more ancient it is, the more frequent 尤 is used. At the extreme, in Standard Mandarin 尤 is not used stand-alone except for fixed expressions inherited from Classical Chinese.

  1. 其 is a future tense particle derived from irrealis modality.

殆其失國。

  1. 何其 is more complicated.

① 其 is a syllabic particle without lexical meaning and grammatical function.

賜,汝來何其晚也? (賜,你來得為什麼這麼遲?)《史記》

② 其 is an intensifying particle.

曷其有機? (什麼時候有盡頭?) 《詩》

③ 其 is an interrogative particle, pronounced as ji1.

若之何其? (怎麼辦呢?) 《尚書》

Usage ③ is distinctively different. But for ① and ②, I simply tried to replace one with the other and put it back in contexts to feel the difference. If it feels different, I put it as ②, otherwise ①.


This section all comes from 陽伯峻

①其 sometimes is used in the middle of a sentence without obvious meaning or grammatical function. It simply adds a syllable. Under this entry, he gave some examples when 其 is used with other characters.

賜,汝來何其晚也? (賜,你來得為什麼這麼遲?)《史記》

彼其之子,不稱其服。 (那個人呀,衣着不相稱呀。)《詩》 The second 其 is a 3rd person pronoun (including inanimate) at the genitive case.

You also mentioned 殆其. 殆 is also a modal particle meaning uncertain. Sometime it's used in 殆乎,殆于,其殆, adding an extra syllable for easier reciting.

殆乎非士也。 (恐怕不是人才。) 《呂氏春秋》

殆于不可。 (大概不可以吧。) 《孟子》

其殆庶兒乎。 (大概很可以吧。) 《易經》

You also mentioned 與其. 與 is a comparison conjunction. There's a fixed structure 與(其)……岂若/不若/不如/孰若. 陽伯峻 equates 與=與其. He doesn't say what role 其 plays here, so I tentatively put it here.

與我處畎畝之中。 (與其我在田野之中。) 《孟子》

與其生而無義。 (與其活下來而沒有義節。) 《史記》

It seems that 與 and 與其 can be used interchangeable. I don't feel any difference in modality.

Before 秦,尤 is used only as noun and verb. It's used in 《左傳》 more than 10 times, all as noun or verb.

仲尼尤其不能自安。 (仲尼尤其不能安於這種現象。) 《左傳》 陽伯峻 doesn't say what role does 尤其 play here, only translates it as 尤其 in Modern Chinese. I don't see how 尤 is a verb here.

After 秦, 尤 can be used as an adverb, which can be translated as 尤其 in Modern Chinese.

而尤善律曆。 (而尤其長於樂律和曆法。) 《史記》

Again, he doesn't say what role 其 plays here. I tentatively put it here since I don't feel any modal difference between 尤 in Classical Chinese and 尤其 in Modern Chinese.

②其 is used as a interrogative particle, pronounced as ji1, sometimes written as 居.

若之何其? (怎麼辦呢?) 《尚書》

夜如何其? (夜晚怎麼樣呢?) 《詩》

The two modal usage of 其 you mentioned is also documented by 陽伯峻. As follows. I think they also fit your examples though in the examples he gives 其 is used alone.

③ imperative.

君子其無廢先君之功! (你不要廢棄先君的功業!) 《左傳》

爾其無忘乃父之志! (你不要忘記你父親的心願!) 歐陽修

He only gives these two examples, and in both of them 其 is used after the subject.

④ speculative.

其陳桓公之謂乎。 (大概講的是陳桓公吧。) 《左傳》

堯舜其猶病諸。 (堯舜可能還做不到哩。) 《論語》


This section comes from 社科院 《古代漢語虛詞詞典》. I only list what I think is credible and is different or absent from 陽伯峻's.

①何其/曷其 (何、曷 have the same meaning and pronunciation and can be used interchangeably): 其 is an intensifying modal particle.

曷其有機? (什麼時候有盡頭?) 《詩》

②殆其 speculative adv used before predicate. 恐怕將、可能會

It doesn't say what role 其 plays, but from the translation it seems to be of irrealis and future.

國不忌君,君不顧親,能無卑乎?殆其失國。 (国人不畏惧国君,国君不顾念亲人,地位能够不下降吗?恐怕将会丢掉他的国家。found on Internet) 《左傳》

In this example,殆其 cannot be used instead of 殆. Compare it with

殆先生乎? (大概就是先生吧?) 《史記》 There's no future tense involved.

This is corroborated by 陽伯峻. He says that 其 can be an adv to signal future tense.

予其殺。 (我將殺死他們。) 《尚書》

-2

Classical Chinese (先秦)use 尤其 which has different meanings, not today's meaning.

For example,

子不諭至言而以為尤也。尤其在子矣。(列子·仲尼)

尤 wrong
其 (emphasize, no real meaning)
-2

There are many different meanings and usage of 其 in Chinese. Here I'd like to list several of them. If it's used more often in ancient Chinese than in modern (note: just "not so often used" rather than "not used"), I'll put a " * " on it.

其qí

-As a pronoun:means someone/we/they or his/her/its/their-i.e.,順其自然、不知其可

-As an adjective: demonstrative-i.e.,不堪其擾

-As an adverb:

*(1)殆、大概,表示揣測 might/may/maybe-i.e.,其庶幾乎

*(2)將,表示時間 will-i.e.,五世其昌

*(3)豈、難道,表示反詰kind of rhetorical question-i.e.,欲加之罪,其無辭乎

*(4)可、應該,表示期望could, should (to express an expectation)-i.e.,君其詳之

*(5)極、甚 very, extremely-i.e.,開地數千里,此其大功也

-As conjunction: if (subjunctive) / or (means to choose) / perhaps / still

-As aux.:

(1)merely a syllable having an auxiliary grammatical function, no meaning of it; can be put at the beginning or the middle of a sentence

(2)Acts as a reinforcement-i.e.,尤其、極其

*Still other meaning of 其 if we pronounce it as "jī" and "jì"

Note that 尤 has a meaning of "more, especially, very" as an adverb itself, hence, if you want to express the meaning of "especially", 尤其 and 尤 are both grammatically correct. However, in modern Chinese, most of the time we'd go with 尤其 instead of omitting 其 when speaking.

But there are still examples of using 尤 individually, such as 尤工於詩/畫/其他(means very good at writing poetry/painting/other things),尤有甚者, we use these kinds of four-letter idioms in writing more than in speaking(but I have to emphasize: it's just about personal speaking habit. Still a part of the Chinese get used to using them).

As for 與其、何其, unlike 尤其, they are definitely inseparable, as the meanings between 何其and何, 與其and與 are totally different.

Reference:

https://www.moedict.tw/%E5%85%B6

https://dict.revised.moe.edu.tw/dictView.jsp?ID=153736&q=1&word=%E5%B0%A4%E5%85%B6

https://www.zdic.net/hans/%E5%85%B6

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  • I don't think this answers the question...
    – blackgreen
    Nov 16, 2021 at 22:13

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