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a) Position of Object:

Here is a sentence from the Practical Chinese Reader 2, that reads:

我这儿的书可以借多长时间?

I wonder whether the following word order is wrong or not?

我可以这儿的书借多长时间?

b) Adverbial Phrases

Which word order is correct?

他住在一个漂亮的房子里。 我想坐在后面。

他在一个漂亮的房子里住。 我想在后面坐。

I feel, that the 1st one is correct. But on the other hand, I read in grammar books, that adverbial phrases must come before the predicative verb. Like 我在办公室工作。

3 Answers 3

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我这儿的书可以借多长时间?

This is a topic-comment structure. It inverts the normal SVO order, brings the object to the front, and comments on it.

我这儿的书 These books here (topic)

可以借多长时间 Can be borrowed for how long (comment)

How long can I borrow these books for? OR For how long can I borrow these books?

The other two sentences concern the use of the location marker 在.

在 + location can come before the verb, or it can come after, depending on the relationship between the location and the verb.

在 + location + verb means the verb takes place at the location.

For examples,

在學校上課 to attend class at school - action of attending class takes place at school.

在家裏吃飯 to eat at home - action of eating a meal takes place at home.

Also the example you provided:

在办公室工作 to work at the office - action of working takes place at the office.

verb + 在 + location indicates that the object of the verb ends up at the location

For examples,

(把郵票)貼在信封上 to stick a stamp on an envelope

(把書)放在桌子上 to put the book on the desk

I am not sure if you are familiar with the BA (把) - construction, but this usage of 在 easily lends itself to this kind of structure. Please google "BA-construction" if you need to.

Regarding your example sentences, both are correct, but the emphases are slightly different.

他在一个漂亮的房子里住。 You think of 住 as an action, whereas

他住在一个漂亮的房子里 sounds more like just a statement of fact, a picture of where he lives.

Similarly,

我想在后面坐 sounds more deliberate to me. I want to seek out a place at the back to sit down, whereas

我想坐在后面 simply describe the location you want to end up in.

Very subtle difference, and they are both correct.

But there are many instances where only one is correct.

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  • I would like to understand what 我 is doing in 我这儿的书. Part of the topic? Someone forgot 把/将?
    – Pedroski
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 23:32
  • @Pedroski 我这儿的书 "my books here" OR "the books here with me". It can indicate possession or physical presence. Contrast this with 这儿的书 "the books here".
    – monalisa
    Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 5:16
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The first one(Position of Object): 我可以这儿的书借多长时间? , is incorrect.

The object in this sentence is 我这儿的书, so it should be put in the first position.

The second one(他住在一个漂亮的房子里。 我想坐在后面。 and 他在一个漂亮的房子里住。 我想在后面坐。) are both correct, depends on what you want to emphasize.

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A sentence can be correct only if it makes sense in both the speaker's mother language and the foreign language in use. You should now see the problem of case a2).

a1) (我)这儿的书(These books)可以(may)借(borrow)多长时间(how long)?

a2) 我可以(I may/can)这儿的书(these books)借(borrow)多长时间(how long)?

Also,

b1) 他(He)住在(lives inside of)一个漂亮的房子里(a beautiful house)。

b2) 他(He)在(in/inside of)一个漂亮的房子里(a beautiful house)住(lives)。

The last,

c1) 我想(I want to)坐(sit)在(at)后面(the rear)。

c2) 我想(I want)在(at)后面(rear)坐(sit)。

Note, both b2) and c2) are the sentence structures often chosen/used by foreign tongues. Though understandable, or even acceptable, their uses should be avoided.

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