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新中国发行的人物邮票大多以我国古今名人主。
刘云, 新汉语水平考试,HSK6级攻略,阅读, 2011, p.15. (photo; alternative)

The above textbook HSK6 病句 (faulty sentence) question is considered wrong, and I've determined that it's considered wrong because it inappropriately overlaps two grammar constructs: (a) 大多是…… and (b) 以……为主 (the book lists this error above this exercise). At least, in theory: I'm not convinced by this explanation. (The sentence appears "in the wild" here.)

It seems grammatical to me:

New [新] China-released [中国发行] caricature stamps [人物邮票] are mostly [大多] centered on [以……为主] China's [我国] new and old celebrities [古今名人].

It thus has a meaningful interpretation. Thus, I can't think of a reason for this to be declared ungrammatical beyond "someone said so".

So...

Question: Precisely how is 新中国发行的人物邮票大多以我国古今名人为主 ungrammatical?

6 Answers 6

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This is a standard 病句 that native kids are taught to correct in grade schools. The explanation from the answer key is correct. It's true that you can find examples using 大多以……为主, but it's for sure ungrammatical. If the sentence is simple like this example, it sounds very awkward by native intuition. However, if the sentence is very long, even natives commonly make this mistake.

As a general rule, 句式杂糅 has a heavy weight on 病句. Pretty safe to say that anything that you can disentangle into two grammatical constructs are 句式杂糅, e.g. 对于……问题上,本着……为原则,是因为……的原因,围绕以……为中心,靠的是……取得的,成分是……配制而成的,是由于……的结果, and many more.

In this very case, you can also understand it from a different view. 大多 is an adverb, found in 《现代汉语词典》, meaning 大部分、大多数. Categorizing it as an adverb, however, could be confusing. It's not equivalent to mostly but more accurately most that modifies the preceding noun. This type of words are generally found in Sino-Tibetan languages. Accepting this, then the original sentence is equivalent to the following in English

As for new [新] China-released [中国发行] caricature stamps [人物邮票], most (of them) [大多] have China's [我国] new and old celebrities [古今名人] (stamps) as the main part [以……为主].

It still feels grammatical to me in English. But semantically it's wrong. The sentence is meant to say that most of 新中国发行的人物邮票 are about 我国古今名人, not the main part of most of 新中国发行的人物邮票 are about 我国古今名人.

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  1. Sentences "in the wild" are not always good grammatical sentences. Sometimes exams may harvest ungrammatical sentences in the wild to make problems.
    I searched the sentence 新中国发行的人物邮票大多以我国古今名人为主 with quotes in google, and got only got 7 results. 4 of them are from the same article (the article in your question, on different cites), 3 of them are error-correction problems.

  2. You use an English translation to argue that the sentence is grammatical in Chinese. The argument does not stand, as English and Chinese are very different languages.

  3. You have already given the exact reason why this is considered a faulty sentence: because it inappropriately overlaps two grammar constructs: (a) 大多是…… and (b) 以……为主

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新中国发行的人物邮票大多以我国古今名人为主

Inconsistent object

To fix it:

  • Change 人物邮票 (historical character stamps) to 人物邮票中的人物 ( characters in the historical characters stamps. 新中国发行的人物邮票(中的人物)大多以我国古今名人为主 -- 邮票中的人物 agree with 古今名人 (both refers to the character in the stamp)

  • 新中国发行的人物邮票大多以我国古今名人为主(題) Most of the character stamps issued by the New China have the theme of ancient and modern Chinese celebrities -- 以我国古今名人为主題 describes the theme of the 人物邮票, not the stamp itself

Similar case:

(雇员)以(中国)为主 (X)

(雇员)以(中国人)为主 (O)

(雇员国籍)以(中国)为主 (O)

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  • 1
    Your argument is perfect for your first two examples, but might not be generalizable. This grammatical framework doesn't fit Chinese well. Most times semantic roles are more important than syntactical ones. To coerce into this framework, "古巴对外贸易以糖为主" (randomly picked from the corpus) should be "古巴对外贸易的产品以糖为主". But the formal is perfect. And for your 3rd example, (雇员国籍)以(中国)为主 is enough. (雇员国籍)以(中国籍)为主 even feels a bit unnatural. The linguistics theory underlying this is quite complicated, but in short, phases at the Object position (called 关系宾语) can have many semantic roles.
    – lilysirius
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 3:41
  • 1
    In "古巴对外贸易以糖为主" and "邮票以古今名人为主“, the Objects after the coverb 以 are used adnominally and the preceding noun phrases are head nouns, that is 古巴对外的糖贸易、古今名人邮票.
    – lilysirius
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 3:46
  • Yes, (雇员国籍)以(中国)为主 is enough
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 4:01
  • The Chinese language likes to wrap phrases at both ends. 在卧室里, 除了男人外 so, and apparently not, wouldn't 大多 .... 为主 count as main part .... main part, therefore an instinctive reiteration of a native Chinese speaker??
    – Pedroski
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 8:38
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It's because both 大多是 and 以...为主 denotes the same meaning in the context. Putting them together here adds a bit ambiguity.

Note that in spoken people might not care about it. We might hear it sometimes.

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Quote:- "...it inappropriately overlaps two grammar constructs: (a) 大多是…… and (b) 以……为主..."

How?

First, let's put them together -- 大多是以为主

If this is translated directly into English, it makes perfect sense, namely, "Mostly, (大多是), focused on / prioritized / centered on, (以...为主),...."; and in this case, "Mostly focused on / prioritized 我国古今名人", where "mostly" is an adverb modifying / qualifying the verb "focused on" So, it is grammatical.

However, when read in Chinese, 大多是 & 以为主 are not, (unlike in English as indicated above), seen as 大多是 acting as an adverb which modifies or qualifies the verb 以为主.

大多是 & 以为主 are in fact separate semantic entities having similar constructive meanings, hence the "inappropriately overlaps two grammar constructs" when used in the same sentence.

It is therefore, in the Chinese sentence, not a case of an adverb modifying or qualifying a verb, rather a kind of "semantic linear redundancy"

So, you should use one or the other and not both together. But if spoken quickly and not pay attention or perform any deliberate grammatical nick picking, it sounds OK to the ear. I actually felt that way when I first read the sentence. Can't fault the writer too much actually.

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I have some different thoughts. 大多以...为主 is not ungrammatical, it is very common in everyday Chinese usage. The improper usage in the sentence would be 人物邮票以名人为主,it's wrong. It should be 人物邮票上的人物大多以古今名人为主。 most of the figures on the stamps are composed of many famous Chinese people on history. 邮票 can't be composed of famous people, but the figures on stamps can be composed of people. so the subject is not coherent with the object.

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