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Many online dictionaries (dictionary.writtenchinese.com, yellowbridge.com, chine.in/mandarin/dictionnaire/, app.ninchanese.com/search, etc...) mention the meaning "actually" ("en réalité" for French dict chine.in) for this character.

But my Wenlin dict. and others (bishun.shufaji.com/, humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk//Lexis/lexi-mf/search.php?word=所, hanziyuan.net, etc...) do not mention this use !

Is that meaning really used in Modern Chinese nowadays ?

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  • Do any of the above-mentioned dictionaries have corresponding exams?
    – lilysirius
    Apr 9, 2023 at 4:51
  • "corresponding exams" ? what do you mean ? i am a French guy :-(
    – faure
    Apr 9, 2023 at 5:53
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    I meant 'examples'. It was cut short by my input method.
    – lilysirius
    Apr 9, 2023 at 5:54
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    I have put an example in my answer. But I think it is not a correct example. Please discuss and comment.
    – PdotWang
    Apr 9, 2023 at 6:40
  • See my update for my brief review of wenlin and hanziyuan, as well as the link for the dictionary.
    – lilysirius
    Apr 9, 2023 at 10:36

3 Answers 3

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I couldn't recall any in either Modern or Literary Chinese. Consulting a bunch of authoritative dictionaries confirms it (see the entry screenshot in the next section).

I really recommend against those quoted dictionaries (except for the cuhk one). On the mainland, 《新华字典》is the dictionary for primary schools and one of the two dictionaries for middle and high schools with regard to Modern Chinese. It has an official bilingual version, in which both the explanations and examples are presented with English translations. The examples also come with pinyin. A paper copy is cheap, and a free text mdx version is easy to get by (but in this case you need to pay attention to the copyright issues in your regions). The entry for 所 is as follows:

enter image description here

enter image description here


The character 所 is created to mean 'sound of wood chopping'. This original usage was very rarely used; attestations are mainly found in《诗经》.

所 was loaned to denote the noun 'place' (corresponding to meanings 1,2,3 in 《新华词典》), which developed into a classifier (4) and a pronoun (5), and the pronoun further grammaticalized to a verb prefix (6). Since 《新华词典》 is at the entry level, it is ok to treat meanings 5 as auxiliaries, but it is actually a pronoun (see 王力 《汉语语法史》). The above are actively used in both Modern and Literary Chinese.

If we extend to Literary Chinese, we can find some other less common meanings, none of which are related to 'actually'.

王力《古漢語字典》 enter image description here

《辭源》 enter image description here

《漢語大詞典》 enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

《教育部重編國語辭典》(https://dict.revised.moe.edu.tw/dictView.jsp?ID=10158&q=1&word=%E6%89%80) enter image description here


REQUESTED BY PdotWang

王力 discussed 所 in Chapter 5 指示代词. Here I post the screenshots of relevant pages.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here


RESPONSE TO @faure

I checked wenlin, it's good to offer some translation of 说文. The etymology and glyph composition are concise and useful. But I am only able to consult one word without login and thus cannot assess its overall accuracy. I opened hanziyuan.net and recognize that guy. Then I watched one video from him about 帽. He actually writes 冒 wrong. The upper part must be wider than the lower. And his claim that 𨸏 is wall is not attested. Again, I don't know enough about him to assess the overall accuracy.

Check https://mdict.org/post/0005/ for 新华字典双语版. You also need a software (free or open-source ones available for all platforms) for the mdx format.

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    #5 is a pronoun, such as that, what, or which.
    – PdotWang
    Apr 9, 2023 at 7:00
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    Would you please add the contents from 王力 《汉语语法史》if you have it? Thanks
    – PdotWang
    Apr 9, 2023 at 7:08
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    @PdotWang It's added to the bottom. But I was misleading earlier. Its usage to construct a passive sentence is indeed an aux, or verb prefix, which of course was grammaticalized from its pronoun usage.
    – lilysirius
    Apr 9, 2023 at 7:56
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    It is appreciated. 王力先生的治学精神令人敬仰。我们所敬仰的正是先生的学识和人品。
    – PdotWang
    Apr 9, 2023 at 16:42
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Whether "" means "actually"? Is that meaning really used in Modern Chinese?

My answer to your question is No. The word "" does not mean "actually" in any sense.

The word "所" has the following meanings,

(1) A noun = a place. For example, 厕所, 诊所。

(2) A pronoun = that (or which) in a clause. For example,

说的并不真实。= What he said is not true.

(3) A measuring word (or a classifier) = a number of places. For example,

县城有两高中。= There are two high schools in town. (no need to translate into English).

(4) Used in a passive sentence as 被--所--. For example, 他生活困。= He is confined by making living.

I found an example that translates the word "" into "actually". But I think it is a misunderstanding of the usage of the word "". I would like to give you a scenario to explain. For example,

(1) 虽然这本字典有一万个词汇,但是实际上学生需要学习的只有三千个。

(2) 虽然这本字典有一万个词汇,但是学生需要学习的只有三千个。

(1) and (2) have the same meaning = Even though there are ten thousand words in this dictionary, the vocabulary that a student needs to learn is actually only three thousands.

As you can see that the meaning of actually is indicated by 实际上. In (2), the word 实际上 is omitted, but it still has the same meaning.

The meaning of actually is not from the word .

https://www.lingq.com/en/forum/learning-chinese-forum-ask-a-tutor/%E4%BD%A0-%E6%89%80-%E9%9C%80%E8%A6%81-%E7%9A%84-%E8%BF%99%E4%B8%AA-%E8%AF%8D%E6%B1%87-%E9%87%8F-here-would-this-translate-to-you-actually-need-this-vocabulary-so-the-%E6%89%80-here-means-actually/

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    I agree it's a mismatch of translations.
    – lilysirius
    Apr 9, 2023 at 7:57
  • Thank you all, cannot be more clear ! @lilysirius : a link to this 《新华字典》 would be welcome :-) and please take a look to wenlin, they made a great job for foreigners like me :-) and also hanziyuan.net which give other informations about hanzis :-)
    – faure
    Apr 9, 2023 at 9:45
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Are your dictionary references listing it as a vocabulary definition, or as a general character meaning? This is a very important distinction to make and what I believe may be the root of your confusion. A characters individual meanings does not automatically overlap with its use as vocab in modern mandarin chinese.

None of my dictionaries listed actually as a definition of 所. All of them listed it as a character meaning... among an average dozen character meanings of all sorts. For record quite a few of these had no modern vocabulary relevancy or were purely grammatical etc.

Baidu Encyclopedia does mention this usage, however as usual it shows very ancient sourcing for meaning usage of terms. I see no indication of it having modern use.

So I would say that the character 所 has relationship to the meaning actual/actually . However the vocabulary 所 does not have this definition in modern mandarin chinese, except maybe in some set phrases/chengyu leftover from older chinese etc.

(p.s. cantonese I think has much closer use to actual/actually , but still not as an... actual vocab term :p)

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    Which entry in Baike do you think are related? I glimpsed through the page but didn't notice any. Interesting in Cantonese it can mean actually (or something close) contextually. Could you please give an example? By the way, Baike is never a good source for word meaning. It has some mistakes (ex. has 本义 place) and many inaccurate descriptions on this page.
    – lilysirius
    Apr 9, 2023 at 8:07

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