I've recently learned that 者 is used to nominalize an action, whereas I used to think its purpose was just to assign an action to an actor and reference the actor. But I'm going through Fuller's book, and he uses the structure in the title. For example, he says that instead of "从X坠", we can write "X者,所从坠也。" This emphasizes X and makes it the topic of the sentence. Another similar example is "剑者,涉江者所求也," where "剑" is emphasized, and that is the object which the "涉江"-er seeks.

I don't understand why we need 者 in these cases. 剑 and any X are already nouns, so why do they need nominalization? What is the 者 doing?

  • This thing sword is what the person who wades through the river looking for. Semantically speaking, the first 者 is not needed. "剑,涉江者所求也" also makes sense but that's not the common usage.
    – joehua
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 4:24

2 Answers 2


noun 者・所 verb 也

in such structure, the “者” served two purpose:

  • indicate a pause
  • as a modal particle, to adjust the mood, or flow of the verse

in 禮記 禮運


Hence the ruler is he to whose brightness men look


The ruler is he whom men support


The ruler is he whom men serve

one might interpret “者” as the spotlight and fabfare , when an emcee announces; “and the winner is . . .”; in which, “者” is, to emphasise the preceding noun (君, in this example), as the subject of the following verb (明, 養, 事, in this example)

have fun :)


(1) (pron) those who, he who, one who.

(2) (noun suffix) -er, -or, -ist. [3] used as topic marker

pausing after a topic can emphasize it.


兵,詭道也 = warfare, is an art of deception

兵(者),詭道也 = (what) warfare (is), is an art of deception

者 here is a "topic marker", not a noun. It leads the reader to a following statement. It can be omitted, as the example above showed.

  • I think it is a "topic marker". The sentence is a classic topic-comment structure.
    – monalisa
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 5:28
  • I agree, it is a pause marker that marks the phrase before the pause as a topic. I would edit the dictionary
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 5:31
  • Might as well remove 'pause marker' and replace it with 'topic marker' because a pause is a given between the topic and the statement
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 5:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.