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我和太太日前到一家自助火锅店用餐时,便目睹了因错误判断而引起的误会。

I was looking at this chinese-forums.com post and was about to give my translation:

The other day, as my wife and I were going to a self-service hotpot restaurant to eat, we witnessed a misunderstanding caused by an error of judgement.

However, I realized my translation is semantically different than Google Translate's:

When my wife and I dined at a self-service hot pot restaurant a few days ago, we witnessed a misunderstanding caused by misjudgment.

Specifically, I interpret the sentence as meaning the incident occurred as 我和太太 were on the way to the restaurant, whereas Google Translate interprets as meaning the incident occurred as 我和太太 were eating at the restaurant.

Question: Which translation of 我和太太日前到一家自助火锅店用餐时 is better?

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  • The ambiguity is rooted in the sentence itself. Did the author try to say 我和太太日前"在"一家自助火锅店用餐时 or 我和太太日前"剛到"(or 一到)一家自助火锅店用餐时. If the latter, "用餐" could be omitted.
    – joehua
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 11:45

5 Answers 5

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This is complicated. The use of the word "到" and "时" suggests the moment you arrived at the restaurant, you witnessed the misunderstanding. So google translate's translation is better. But I might refine to:

When my wife and I went to/reached a self-service hot pot restaurant a few days ago, we witnessed a misunderstanding caused by misjudgment.

But otherwise google translate's translation is correct.

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Note the difference due to "时":

我和太太日前到一家自助火锅店用餐 - My wife and I went to a self-service hotpot restaurant to eat a few days ago

我和太太日前到一家自助火锅店用餐 - When my wife and I dined at a self-service hot pot restaurant a few days ago

The second sentence is in the pattern of "(當/在)...時", which means "when", and implies "in that situation". (當 or 在 can be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence.)

  • ()我讀書,我喜歡安靜 - When I study, I prefer a quiet environment.

  • ()我再見你,我必回報 - When I see you the next time, I'll return the favor.

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那天,正当我和太太到达餐厅准备吃火锅时,
The other day, as the wife and I just arrived at a self-service hot-pot restaurant,
目睹了因错误判断而引起的误会。
we saw an altercation caused by an error of judgement.

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I would interpret it as the incident occurred in the hot-pot restaurant. Here 到 is synonymous with 在. If I want to say the incident occurred on our way to the restaurant, I would add 途中:

我和太太日前到一家自助火锅店用餐途中 ...

I know you did not ask about the second clause of this sentence, but I would delete the word 便

我和太太日前到一家自助火锅店用餐途中,目睹了因错误判断而引起的误会。

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我和太太日前到一家自助火锅店用餐时

I think that verbs like 到, 去, and 来 are not durational verbs like their usual English counterparts "arrive," "go," and "come." For instance, they cannot be used with 在 to mean "is arriving," "is going," and "is coming." The Mandarin expressions do not describe the passage of time and only describe a punctual event involving a destination. As a result, 到 could not correspond with "as my wife and I were going/on the way to..." without other words to change its use in the sentence.

These Mandarin verbs can occasionally correspond with English translations using such progressive constructions. For example, to describe an imminent future event, you could say 警察来了 as an equivalent of "The police are coming!," but the underlying structure of the two expressions is quite different in the two languages and the meaning of the Mandarin expression in this case is heavily dependent on the contextual interpretation of 了. You might even say 他到一家火锅店去 as an equivalent of "he is going to a hotpot restaurant"; however, the Mandarin, unlike the English, cannot describe the action in progress and cannot mean "he is on the way to a hotpot restaurant." The Mandarin has more the meaning of "What he is doing (today) is going to a hotpot restaurant" or "He "generally" goes to a hotpot restaurant," depending on context.

I think the easiest way to understand the original Mandarin sentence is:

When my wife and I got to a self-service hotpot restaurant to eat a few days ago...

The use of 到 with 时 forces the interpretation that the subsequent clauses happened after their arrival.

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