I am going through the word 坐牢 using the Pleco dictionary. Generally they will not keep // in between two characters. But I can see // for this.


What does // mean? Can zuò and láo be used with some sentence in between? Or is there any other meaning?

The example given here is some sentence in between.

他坐过三年牢。 Tā zuòguò sān nián láo. He was in prison for three years.

3 Answers 3

  1. Your question is answered here by user Shun in Pleco Forums:

    [T]his is a feature of the free Pleco dictionary. As you have correctly guessed, it indicates that other characters can sometimes be inserted where the two slashes (//) are, because the verbs have a V-O etymology. They only appear if the Pleco dictionary is configured as the first dictionary in Manage Dictionaries.

  2. in classical Chinese can mean 'to be punished for a crime' (see 4th and 5th entries here). Also see a related expression, 連坐 (an ancient method of collective punishment). is a possible way of saying 'prison', also fairly classical. Combining them, it means 'to be sentenced to prison' (note English does not consider 'prison' as a grammatical object, but Chinese does).

  3. The verb in such words must be transitive because they are followed by an object. A simpler example is 吃飯 (lit. 'to eat a meal').


The // is the marker used by Pleco to indicate that the word is in a special class of intransitive verbs called separable verbs.

Other references call these V.O. (Verb Object) constructions. ABC dictionary gives a useful TL;DR summary:

V.O. (Verb-Object Construction, Dòng-Bīn Jiégòu 动宾结构). Many English verbs get translated into natural Chinese as a verb plus an object noun, e.g. chīfàn for 'eat', shuōhuà for 'speak', etc. It is important for two reasons to know what is merely a verb in Chinese and what is actually a verb-object construction. First, verb-object constructions can never take a second object, i.e. chīfàn can never be followed directly by something else to be eaten. Second, a verb and its object can be separated from one another, thus allowing (i) aspect particles to be placed directly after the verb, e.g. chīle fàn 'after finishing eating'; (ii) modification of the object, e.g. chī Zhōngguófàn 'eat Chinese food'; and (iii) quantification of the noun, e.g. chīle sān wǎn fàn 'ate three bowls of rice'.

The notion of separable verbs can be a very useful thing to be aware of as a student. This introduction and this list of separable verbs from allsetlearning.com may be helpful references on this topic.


It's a verb-object collocation.

in Chinese means sit/sitting, and in Chinese means prison.

In Chinese, we add adj between the verb and object, like: 坐过两年牢.


  • 坐椅子 = Sitting on a chair
  • 坐镇 = personally attend to garrison duty; assume personal command(A great man is awe-inspiring even if he's just sitting there)
  • 坐诊 = providing medical service(Doctors are sitting (most of the time) when curing sick people)

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