Yes I am a native Chinese speaker, but something confused me. I used to think the meaning of a Chinese sentence should unique no matter the intonation and stress (spoken Chinese, of course). I found this post and it gives an example of stress shifting the meaning slightly: "我从来没说过她把我的钱偷走了" (for details see the original post), but we can always translate it into "I never said she stole my money". But see this sentence:


Using different stress we are able to get 3 different interpretations:

  1. 都泼到书上了。 (Even water is splashed onto the book.)
  2. 泼到书上了。 (All the water is splashed onto the book.)
  3. 水都泼到上了。 (Water is even splashed onto the book.)

Now this completely confused me. Can anyone explain why this would happen, and how stress is associated with meaning?

  • There is only one translation/interpretation no matter the stress of any of the words - All the water is splashed onto the book. There are two situations this sentence will be used: 1) making a simple statement; 2) complaining (埋怨). The tone of the two could be slightly different with modifiers.
    – r13
    Jan 9, 2022 at 3:47
  • Speaking language does not have the help of punctuation to distinguish the turns in a sentence between the start and the end, so to be meaningful, shortstops (停頓) often are used to assist to make the meaning clear. However, the meaning of a Chinese long sentence is sometimes very easy to be altered by manipulating the shortstops. Remember the famous story - 下雨天 留客天 天留 我不留 vs 下雨天 留客天 天留我不 留. Note the stops between the phases and tone change of the sound of "不".
    – r13
    Jan 9, 2022 at 4:10
  • @r13 again, you failed to understand the change of meaning due to the change of stress that most typical native speakers (at least those from mainland China) would easily understand --- the OP's translations of the three cases are fairly accurate. Please do not make assertions on what you are not qualified for, to avoid misleading others. Thanks.
    – ALife
    Feb 6, 2022 at 16:51

1 Answer 1


都 has many functions, to disambiguate, you can add more indicators

()都泼到书上了。 (Even water is splashed onto the book.)

水()都泼到书上了。 (All the water is splashed onto the book.)

()书上都(被)泼到水了。 (Water is even splashed onto the book.)

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