The HSK6 textbook has this example of the inappropriate use of a subject.

photo of relevant part of textbook, page 51 (click to enlarge)

(✗) 他向国家捐献出了一张祖传的字画,具有极高的研究、保存价值。



It argues that it's incorrect because the sentence begins with the subject 他, and switches to another subject (i.e., 字画) without declaring it.

I'm interested in applying this grammatical logic to the following sentence from the same textbook (it's intended to be a grammatically correct sentence):

photo of relevant part of textbook, page 90 (click to enlarge)


In particular, the subject in the first part of the sentence is 她的脾气 ("her temperament"). If I were to apply the above logic to the second part of the sentence, the subject of the second part remains 她的脾气, so it should be translated as:

Her temperament is not good, [and] [her temperament] often doesn't know why [it] suddenly gets angry.

There might be some reason why the above grammar rule doesn't apply here, but I don't see why. To me, it looks like it violates its own grammar rule, but it'd be nice to check this.

Question: Does the sentence 她的脾气不好,经常不知道为什么突然就生气了 violate the textbook's own grammar rule regarding inconsistent subjects?

  • 1
    他向国家捐献出了一张祖传的字画,"這字画"具有极高的研究、保存价值。 By adding 這字画, the change in subject is now clear. 她的脾气不好,经常不知道为什么突然就生气了。 In here, it is understood that there is "她" in front of the sub-clause, since no change in subject, so it is dropped from the sub-clause.
    – r13
    May 20, 2021 at 2:50

5 Answers 5


她的脾气不好, (她)经常不知道为什么突然就生气了

The above are two independent sentences in a comment

sentence 1: [她的脾气]不好 (她的脾气 is the subject)

sentence 2: [她]经常不知道为什么突然就生气了 (她 is the omitted subject)

The subject 她 in sentence 2 is omitted because both sentences are the comment of an implied topic '她' (both sentences describe '她')

topic: 她 (implied)

comment 1: 她的脾气不好

comment 2: (她)经常不知道为什么突然就生气了 - 她 is omitted because it is the same subject in the implied topic 她

To unite the two sentences, we can make '她' the only subject


'她' is the subject of both 脾气不好 and 经常不知道为什么突然就生气了 therefore no need to repeat it


她脾气不好 and 她经常不知道为什么突然就生气了 are closely related in logic, therefore, we can presume they are comments on the same topic/subject.

If the two comments are not closely related, we might not be allowed to omit the subject 她 in the second sentence, even both sentences are comments on the implied topic 她



If you omit 她 in the second sentence and wrote "她的兒子今年三歲,在中學教書" It would mean her three years old son is teaching at middle school

  1. Of course you are right in saying is not the subject for the verb 知道 here. But to me, 不知道為什麼 ('for some reason; god knows why') is adverbial-like, and has weakened to become almost subjectless.

  2. That is also to say, there is another verb/comment in the sentence that corresponds to : 生氣 ('to be mad') (she gets mad, not her temperament gets mad). The latter half of the sentence still agrees with the omitted subject.


I object to the existing answers explaining it as "她的脾气不好,(她)经常不知道为什么突然就生气了"。 This exactly violates the grammatical rule because it contains two sentences calling for two different subjects, while the original sentence only has one subject of 她的脾气。

I think the latter part of this sentence is a clause trying to further explain/complement the first part. The whole sentence is:

Her temper is not good, (for/because/since/that's why she) might suddenly lose her temper.

The latter clause is a complement to the first part and cannot be cut into a second sentence.

A similar example could be:

The weather is becoming cold, (so I) should put on my sweater.

In this example, the clause is a close effect/result of the main sentence 天凉了。

  • I am aware of the inconsistency between 她 and 她的脾氣 as the subject. (In my defence I didn't say explicitly 她 is the subject of the latter half of the sentence.) But if we reduce the 的 and think of it as 她脾氣不好, this becomes a topic-comment sentence which is arguably a better way of matching the subjects. Either way, these are still way more consistent than the 字畫 sentence.
    – L Parker
    May 19, 2021 at 11:52
  • 1
    I agree with you, L Parker. But the original textbook sentence is exactly "她的脾气不好" with a clause calling for a different subject 她. I think we are trying to explain why this is still a grammatically correct sentence. That's why I gave another example. And it can be seen that, in my example, you don't need to (and cannot) omit any 助词. My point is that, the correctness of the "她..." sentence in the textbook is fundamentally because it's with a progressive clause, instead of that it can be regarded as "她的脾气" as subject.
    – Shrinetown
    May 19, 2021 at 12:01
  • Nice explanation. Subject omission is permissible, but it shouldn't be done without discretion. Your argument provides a logical link between the two clauses. Betty provides examples from literature. But when the change in subject is too drastic, confusion may arise (as in the 字畫 sentence), and Chinese learners should be advised not to omit them without good reason.
    – L Parker
    May 19, 2021 at 12:08
  • 1
    I know it's indelicate to say it, but we all know 鲁迅’s modern Chinese works are poor in grammar, because in his time, the 白话文运动 had just begun, and his written Chinese is really polluted by his Japanese. (Sorry that my reputation is not enough to add comment directly to Betty's answer)
    – Shrinetown
    May 19, 2021 at 12:12
  • 持去蕪存菁之心看待白話文運動先驅的作品便可了。
    – L Parker
    May 19, 2021 at 12:22

Wow, what a good example of terrible textbooks...If you need to take a test, you may have to obey its rules. However, both sentences are perfectly fine in real life.

Omission of subjects is actually a characteristic of Chinese. The very explanation itself in the textbook is a good example of violating its own rule.


Subject of the first 分句: 前一分句的主语

Subject of the second 分句: 后一分句的主语

Subject of the third 分句: omission and secret change of subject! The omitted subject should be something like "句子的作者", which makes the complete sentence "句子的作者暗中更换了主语".

The omission and so-called secret change of subject is super common in Chinese. There are many researches on this, for example: 主语承非主语省略探讨.

Some examples by famous writers (Their works are like the standard of Mandarin Chinese and often appear in Chinese class for natives (语文课)):


Subject of the first 分句: 外祖母

Subject of the second 分句: 孩子们


Subject of the first 分句: 我

Subject of the second 分句: 小姑娘


In "他向国家捐献出了一张祖传的字画,具有极高的研究、保存价值。" why would anyone think:

"他具有极高的研究、保存价值。"?? What kind of mad rule-making is this?

Language doesn't run on hard and fast rules, it runs on fuzzy logic. Think of the famous argument in English:

Which is correct: "It is I." or "It is me." Which do you say?

I would immediately surmise your sentence has either 我 or 我们 missing. In it's context, this sentence will be easily understandable.

No context, lack of clarity, need to surmise.

她的脾气不好,(我, 我们,她)经常不知道为什么突然就生气了。
She has a bad temper, (she, I, we) often don't know why she suddenly gets so angry.

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