Chinese uses Coverbs for a lot of prepositions, and has compound/serial verbs, which is different coming from English. So I have phrases like this in English, how would you translate them to Chinese?

  • "We cross across the crossy cross." (This is cross [verb] across [prep] crossy [adj] cross [noun]. How would you use the same word basically, where it is a verb, noun, adjective, and also a coverb/preposition in Chinese. I'm making a fantasy language and unsure how a language like Chinese would handle this situation.)
  • "We arrived at the arrival spot." (Here, arrive and arrival, and potentially "at", are all the same concept).

Looking at here for other coverbs, how about these too?

  • "We start from the start." (to start coverb = 从 cóng, as "from", but also the verb start and noun start)
  • "We face toward the face." (to face coverb = 朝 cáo, as "toward", and face verb and noun)

Basically what I'm trying to get at is, how can you use a coverb which is also used as a verb and/or a noun? If these are bad examples, then what is the most complex example you can conjure up? Please write the pinyin and/or English gloss because I am new to Chinese and don't know the characters quite yet. I'm trying to see the literal gloss and how it handles words which serve multiple functions in a single sentence.

  • I've difficulty understanding "crossy [adj]" which wasn't listed in the dictionary. does it mean "cross-like"? Please confirm, otherwise explain. Thanks.
    – r13
    Jan 28, 2023 at 1:15
  • Yeah it means cross-like, has many criss-crosses.
    – Lance
    Jan 28, 2023 at 3:11
  • "We arrived at the arrival spot." - 我們到達了抵達地點. "We start from the start." - 我們出发起使(點/線) I suspect "We face toward the face." is grammatically incorrect - Pron + v + prep + n?
    – r13
    Jan 28, 2023 at 22:36

1 Answer 1


I won't say this is impossible to happen in chinese, but I think you would have to artificially create it, and I don't think it would happen natrually. Almost every single vocab in chinese has more than one definition, and inidividual characters often have dozens.

So all the things I think of to write your phrase uses unrelated terms for each part. For reference, when you are using simple terms such as "and", "furthermore", "but" it is common to change them every single time. So even functional words like conjuctions aren't very repetitive.

Chinese is context orientated-- as succint as possible and highly variated are two poster children of the language style. This is actually an interesting question, when I first read it I knew it wouldn't be natural but didn't expect to come up completely short.

My best attempt to write it is 穿過可橫跨的十字路口 or something similar. Even intentionally trying, it is still all different characters.... I feel like chinese really does actively avoid it. Most things that would be the same character in english are not actually the same in chinese, so it isn't as simple as translating an english example either.

Classical chinese might have something closer to what you are talking about on a small scale, since it can be much crueller about making you figure out the definition of single characters. However I'm not actually familiar enough with classical chinese to confirm.

P.S.-- I can think of some rare times to use the same term in close succession with a completely unrelated meaning. I don't think this is what you want so didn't go into detail. It would be like saying "use a lead to lead a horse." Its a different phenomenon in my opinion. But if you are interested a famous example would be the 道德經 using different meanings of 道 back to back. (Although some of those meanings aren't even used in modern chinese now) There are definitely modern examples as well but this was the first to come to mind.

Perhaps a native speaker will know of an example of this actually happening.

  • These things are also extremely unlikely to be preserved in translation. The words "to cross" and "a cross" happen to be related in English, but there's no guarantee that they are related in another language family. If you take examples like "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo", they obviously don't work in other languages, because those languages don't happen to use exactly those words for those concepts. Also, it's worth noting that these of course feel contrived in the source language too! :)
    – Olle Linge
    Jan 29, 2023 at 10:49

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