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We have the word:

CC-CEDICT: 以为 (yǐ​wéi​) to think (i.e. to take it to be true that ...) (Usually there is an implication that the notion is mistaken – except when expressing one's own current opinion.)

and the grammar structure

以 + A + 为 + B
E.g. 我们公司是亚洲市场主,欧美市场辅。
Using "yi... wei...", Chinese Grammar Wiki

They both use the same characters, so...

Question: Is there a relationship between the word 以为 and the grammar structure 以…为?

My VPN is currently down so Google is behind the Great Firewall and therefore inaccessible, but searching Bing for word 以为 grammar 以…为 doesn't help.

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    I would assume they are related, "taking A as B" -> "taking (it) as (true)".
    – xngtng
    Jan 29 at 10:16
  • But nowadays the meanings they take may no longer be directly related.
    – xngtng
    Jan 29 at 10:17

2 Answers 2

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They are actually from the same origin 以 A 為 B in Classical Chinese. The basic meaning is take A as B.

以 was originally a verb, with lexical meaning of to use. 為 was originally, and still is, a verb, with lexical meaning of to do, make. When two verbs are used together, sometimes one of them gets grammaticalized. 以 and 為 especially have such a tendency, which is widely true for their counterparts in the Sino-Tibetan family. 以 or 為 is grammaticalized as a coverb (converb), used like a preposition in English.

The 以 A 為 B structure is used so much that it underwent different stages of grammaticalization and resulted in different synchronous uses.


  1. 以 A 為 B:①用 A 作為 B → ②把A當作B

以 is grammaticalized.

①用 A 作為 B, use A to do/act/make B

長安君質,兵乃出。 (西漢)《戰國策》

至丹荊卿計,始速禍焉。 (北宋)《六國論》

②把A當作B, take A as B

鏡,可以正衣冠。 (後晉)《舊唐書》

This usage is not so grammaticalized: in the above example, you can also interpret it as meaning ①.

In modern Chinese, this usage is kept mainly in idioms, like

以和為貴 origin: 《論語》禮之用,和為貴。

以仁為本 《司馬法》


  1. 以為 B: A is omitted.

以 is taken as a coverb taking and 為 as the verb predicate to be/do.

虎見之,龐然大物也,以為神。 (唐)《柳河東集》 namely 神, this 之, as well as the one in 虎見之, refers to the donkey, which is obvious from the context (not quoted here).

This structure has given rise to another verb meaning of 以, which is consider (as). As follows.


  1. 以為 B: A is omitted.

以 is taken as the verb predicate think/consider and 為 as a coverb as.

以為妙絕。(清)《口技》

This usage is relatively uncommon and sometimes hard to distinguish from Use 2. But it's corroborated by the verb usage of 以 (think) without 為. It's the same meaning

我以日始出。 (周)《列子》


  1. 以為 lexicalized as a disyllabic verb

This is often indistinguishable from Use 3. In the above example, it's especially so since the writing is composed in 清 dynasty.

When 以為 was originally used as a disyllabic verb, it was simply take/consider as, and didn't has the meaning of mistakenly think. Now in Modern Chinese, sometimes the mistakenly meaning is there, and sometimes it express uncertain modality.

It's even not that lexicalized. The native intuition of the disyllabic verb 以為 is still 以之為……, i.e. 以A為B. For example, 我以為我錯了。If you ask a native speaker to explain every word, (s)he would say I take it/the fact to be that I'm wrong. This naturally implies that I take it/the fact to be that I'm wrong but it might not be the case. Therefore either a mistake is involved or I'm simply not sure.

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    Realizing this connection is one of the things that drove me to study classical Chinese. Jan 29 at 13:00
  • Most compound words are coined with two single characters. Almost all single character is ancient. Classical Chinese is embedded in the modern language. IMO, the main purpose of studying classical Chinese is to understand the classical text.
    – Tang Ho
    Jan 29 at 14:01
  • Indeed understanding Classical Chinese helps understand Modern Chinese. But Classical Chinese itself has unique beauty beyond description. Pity that we're no longer trained to write in Classical Chinese, though modern writing also has a lot of classical elements, including use of monosyllabic words, especially to form the 排比 or 对偶 rhetoric style.
    – lilysirius
    Jan 29 at 14:21
  • Use of Classical Chinese also survive in idioms, proverbs and poems. The former two are widely used in the colloquial language.
    – lilysirius
    Jan 29 at 14:27
  • Classical style is also suitable for note (便條), e.g. "我今晚要很夜才回家,不用等我的門了" --> "夜返勿待"
    – Tang Ho
    Jan 29 at 14:49
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[以 A 为 B] is a grammar structure [以(with; use; take) + noun 1 + 为(as; being) + noun 2]

Example

[以]他[为]首 = [with] him [as] the leader

[以]和[為]貴 = [take] peace [to be] the priority

[以]退[為]進 = [use] retreat [as] (a plot to) advance

~

  • 以 = use; take

  • 为 = being; as

  • In modern Chinese, 以为 (presumptuously or mistakenly think; belief; consider) is a two-character compound word - a single verb. It is not relevant to the structure [以 A 为 B]

Example:

[以为]可以以退为進 - [though] he can use the retreat as a plot to advance

[以为]对方也会以和為貴 = [though] the other side would make peace as the priority too

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