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It's from 《左传 郑伯克段于焉》. The meaning of the sentence is clear: (the measure of) the wall of big cities cannot exceed one third of (the wall of) the capital.

My question lies in the grammatical structure of 三国之一 (one third of the capital). I intend to think that 三 is temporarily used as a verb, meaning to divide into three parts. If my take on 三 is valid, are there any examples that can corroborate it?

But then, even if it holds, the Verb Phrase 三国 (dividing (the measure of the wall of ) the capital into three parts) doesn't connect smoothly with 之一, which naturally follows a Noun Phrase.

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祭仲曰・都城過百雉・國之害也・先王之制・大都不過參國之一・中・五之一・小・九之一・今京不度・非制也・君將不堪

the verse of the question is from 傳 隱公元年

三 is temporarily used as a verb, meaning to divide into three parts

you’re correct, the character “參 (三)” is used as “divided by three”

三国 (dividing (the measure of the wall of ) the capital into three parts) doesn't connect smoothly with 之一

maybe, try to read it as:

[the] big (大) city (都) [does] not (不) exceed (過) [the scope of a] nation’s (國) [capital] one third (參之一)

[the] middle (中) [one, does not exceed the scope of a nation’s capital] one fifth (五之一)

[the] small (小) [one, does not exceed the scope of a nation’s capital] one ninth (九之一)

personal, i’ve difficulty to think that such structure is odd 😹

have fun :)

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  • Thanks! After a having it in mind for a few days I too get the sense that it's not odd
    – lilysirius
    Jun 18 at 22:51
  • @lilysirius, good sign, keep reading, you’ll find the “beauty” of classical ‘ literary chinese 😻 Jun 19 at 1:08

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