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Are the words 心里, 街上, and 夜里 nouns or prepositional phrases[1][2]?

- I can not tell if 心里 means 'heart', or 'in my heart'.

It is possible to have 心里 or 心 in front of a verb, giving the impression that 心里 in (1a) is a subject, similarly to (1b), with the same meaning.

(1a) 我的心里很委屈/难过

'I feel wronged/bad in my heart' (Omitted subject)

'My heart feels wronged/bad' (我的心里 is the subject)

(1b) 我的心很委屈/难过

'My heart feels wronged/bad' (我的心 is the subject)

However, if it is possible to have 心 as an object (cf. (2a)), it is not possible to have 心里 as an object (cf. (2b))

(2a) 伤害我的心

(2b) *伤害我的心里

- I can not tell if 街上 means 'street', or 'on the street'.

It is possible to have 街上 or 街 in front of a verb, giving the impression that 街上 in (3a) is a subject, similarly to (3b), with the same meaning.

(3a) 这条街上很热闹

'It is lively on this street' (Omitted subject)

'This street is lively' (这条街上 is the subject)

(3b) 这条街很热闹

'This street is lively' (这条街 is the subject)

However, if it is possible to have 街 as an object (cf. (4a)), it is not possible to have 街上 as an object (cf. (4b))

(4a) 修建一条街

(4b) *修建一条街上

- I can not tell if 夜里 means 'night', or 'at night'.

It is possible to have 夜里 or 夜 in front of a verb, giving the impression that 夜里 in (5a) is a subject, similarly to (5b), with the same meaning.

(5a) 夜里很黑

'It is dark at night' (Omitted subject)

'The night is dark' (夜里 is the subject)

(5b) 夜很黑

'The night is dark' (夜 is the subject)

However, if it is possible to have 夜晚 as an object (cf. (6a)), it is not possible to have 夜里 as an object (cf. (6b))

(6a) 我喜欢夜晚

(6b) *我喜欢夜里

All in all, I feel that the examples (a) give the false impression that these three signs are nouns, because of the particularity in Chinese to have the subject omitted, while the location modifiers are placed in front of the verb, as subjects are too.

But I am not sure.

[1] These three words are different from 地上 (地上很脏/把地上扫一下) and 乡下 (乡下很无聊/我不喜欢乡下) which are clearly nouns, to me.

[2] Naturally, my question implies that categories like nouns, prepositions, etc. are applicable to Chinese, following a view shared by authors such as Her (1990), Huang et al. (2009), Paul (2015), Peck (2008).

References

Her, O. S. (1990). Grammatical functions and verb subcategorization in Mandarin Chinese. PhD Dissertation: University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

Huang, C. T. J., Li, Y. H. A., & Li, Y. (2009). The syntax of Chinese (Vol. 10). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paul, W. (2015). New perspectives on Chinese syntax. In New Perspectives on Chinese Syntax. De Gruyter Mouton.

Peck, J. (2008). The positional variation of prepositional phrases in Chinese: Synchronic and diachronic perspectives. PhD Dissertation: Stanford University.

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    While I can't give a definitive answer, my general comment would be to be careful about definitively placing Chinese words into grammatical categories. Often the categories come from European languages and Chinese words frequently "float" between categories. Rather, take a more practical approach: focus on how the words usually function in a sentence and learn how to employ the most frequent usages. Then, over time, expand your usage and understanding of the nuances based on lots of exposure to the language. Commented May 2, 2022 at 14:57

2 Answers 2

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"I can not tell if 心里 means 'heart', or 'in my heart'."

"心", in general, is a noun, a name of the tangible organ - heart; "心里" is a compound phrase, formed by "noun + prep.", the same as "心中", "心胸", "心懷"...all describe and associate with the intangible/psychological heart. However, when possessed by another noun, "心" can also be associated with the intangible heart with the help of a verb:

  • 我的(my)心里(inner heart - a phrase)很委屈/难过.

  • 我的(my)心(heart - noun)"感到(feels)"很委屈/难过

  • 伤害""(hurting)我的(my)心里(inner heart - a phrase)

  • 伤害(hurt)我的(my)心(heart - noun).

"I can not tell if 街上 means 'street', or 'on the street'."

"Street" - "街 (noun)"; "街上" is a phrase formed by "街(noun)" and "上(prep.)

  • 这条街上(On this street - phase)很热闹. -

  • 这条街(This street - noun)很热闹.

Note that the above two sentences are similar.

  • 修建(Constructed)""一条街上(on one street - phase).

  • 修建(construct)一条街(one street - noun).

Note, that the above two sentences mean differently.

I can not tell if 夜里 means 'night', or 'at night'.

Similar to previous questions, "夜里" is formed by "noun + prep.", as opposed to "夜 (night - noun)".

  • 夜里很黑 - It is very dark "at the night" (phrase).

  • 夜很黑 - The Night (noun) is very dark.

  • 我喜欢""夜里 - I like "under the dark" (phrase)

  • 我喜欢夜(晚) - I like the night (noun). Note, 夜晚 = 夜, I consider both are nouns.

Finally, "地上" is a phrase formed by "noun + prep.". though it often can be used exchangeably with "地", but not always:

地上很脏, 把地上扫一下 = 地很脏, 把地扫一下

把"地上的"(adj.)東西撿起來.

Note, I consider "乡下" as a noun - a name for the rural areas.

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For my money, 我的心里 is a location (in my mind). The "locator" is 里。

If you agree the name of a location is a noun, it's a noun.

If you think it is a noun, the test for a noun, I believe, is: Can you replace it with a pronoun?

我的心里很委屈很难过。
In (里)my heart (is just) grief and sadness. (heart = mind)

哪儿很委屈很难过。
There is (just) grief and sadness.

它很委屈很难过。
It (is just) grief and sadness.

哪里很委屈很难过。 (back to 里 again)
There is (just) grief and sadness.

The test with 'It' is not very reliable, because we can use 'it' for almost anything, including the universe and everything in it.

I concur with 2ndQuantized. We should be very careful about applying the categories of Western Grammar to Chinese!

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  • Quote:- "We should be very careful about applying the categories of Western Grammar to Chinese!" And vice versa of course. Commented May 3, 2022 at 11:49

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