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In my Chinese lesson, I learnt “我去美国出差一个星期” (present tense) as the duration comes after the verb, but when I said “我去美国出了差一个星期” (past tense), my teacher said it was wrong and corrected my sentence to “我去美国出了一个星期的差”, so the duration is in the middle of the sentence.

The best article that I looked for an explanation this one about time durations and I know 出差 is a separable verb, so I have to put the object 差 at the end of the sentence (as according to Pattern 2). But this still confuses me, as “我去美国出差一个星期” is still correct.

Can anybody help me clear up the confusion? Is “我看书五分钟” correct or do I need to correct the sentence to “我看五分钟的书”, where 看书 is obviously not a separable verb?

EDIT: For future reference, I've had a look at "Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar" (1st edition) by Claudia Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma and found another pattern in Section 35.1.2.

You can also use verb + object + verb (了) + time duration, examples from the text:

我每天晚上看书看四个小时。 - Every night I read (books) for four hours.

You can add 了 after the second verb if you are referring to the past:

我睡觉睡了八个钟头 - I slept for eight hours.

This doesn't affect the premise of my question, but this structure is also good to know.

EDIT 2: It seems the crux of the matter is whether 出差 is a verb-object phrase, in which you need to place the object after the duration, or whether 出差 can be considered a verb in the whole, as per user2249675's answer, and so the duration goes after the verb. I'm happy for the moment that 出差 can be used as both, but in which scenarios, I'll leave it for somebody to have a go at explaining.

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  • Personally, your teacher is incorrect. 我去美国出了差一个星期 is legit. You can test it on the average Chinese. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 4:11
  • Mr Penguin: Why are there no simple explanations in language? Not sure what 差 in 出差 means, but it can mean 派遣, also 选择. It seems, some speakers think 差 means "send on an errand" and other speakers think 差 just means "errand", Then you get 出差了 or 出了差. The distinction noun / verb seems indistinct!
    – Pedroski
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 6:33
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    I found this sentence 我去美国出了差一个星期 weird. The other two are OK.
    – joehua
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 9:39
  • 我去了美国出差一个星期。去 is the verb. 出差 is a noun, 出 is not the verb of the sentence.
    – PdotWang
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 15:21
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    出差 appears in a list of separable verbs, so the sentence has two verb phrases.
    – Lewis T.
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 23:13

2 Answers 2

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出差了一个星期 is correct. 出了差一个星期 is not. 出了一个星期(的)差 is correct.

我看了五分钟(的)书 is correct. 我看了书五分钟 is not. 我看书了五分钟 is not.

张斌《现代汉语描写语法》Section 5.6.4.3 has some explanations:

与数量补语使用相关的问题

(1) 带数量补语的结构如果加“了、过”,“了、过”要跟在动词后面。

看书 is considered 看(verb) + 书(noun, object), so 了 must come after 看. On the other hand 出差 can be either 出差(verb) or 出(verb) + 差(noun, object), so 了 can come either after 出 or 差.

(2) 如果述语动词又带宾语,要注意宾语的位置。大致有以下规律:

第一,当宾语为一般表事物的名词时,一般放在数量补语的后面。

正确:我已经复习了一晚上英语了。错误:我已经复习了英语一晚上了。

If we consider 出差 as a whole, then there is no object, and 一个星期 comes simply after 了, as in 我出差了一个星期. If we consider 出差 as 出 + 差, then 差 falls under "一般表事物的名词", hence it must be placed after the duration phrase. So 我出了一个星期差 is correct, but 我出了差一个星期 is not.

On the other hand 看书 cannot be considered as a whole. 书 is also "一般表事物的名词", therefore it must be placed after the duration. Hence 我看了书五分钟 is not correct.

需要注意的是,如果补语为表示动作实现以后所经历时间的时量补语时,宾语都要放在补语的前面。如:我到北京半年了。

When the verb describes an instant action, the time phrase is put after the object. However, neither 看书 nor 出差 describes instant action. Therefore this rule does not apply.

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  • Can you give me an example of an instant action? Also, is everything you wrote still true without 了?
    – Lewis T.
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 0:08
  • Yes, they still apply without 了. Hence 我出差一个星期 and 我出一个星期(的)差 are correct, depending on whether you consider 出差 as a whole or verb + object. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 0:18
  • The text has an example: 我到北京三年了。 "到北京" (arrive at Beijing) is completed in an instant, therefore you put 半年 after 北京. Other examples are 我本科毕业两年了 (graduate from college is instantly completed), 我们吃完午饭两小时了 (完 indicates the point where an action is completed). Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 0:19
  • If it's instant action, the time phrase indicates how long time has passed since that action. If it's not instant then the time phrase indicates how long the action lasted, and is subject to the first two rules. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 0:24
  • Can you give me an example sentence with an instant action?
    – Lewis T.
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 0:34
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I think it does not matter with the use of 出差. The verb is 去. I would like to give the following examples to help you.

(1) (Present simple) “我去美国一个星期”. It is not a well-defined case. The time of the action 去 is not given or not clearfied. Here 一个星期 is not an adverb but a complement.

“我去美国出差一个星期”, “我去美国探亲一个星期”, “我去美国开会一个星期”, in those sentences, 出差, 探亲, 开会 are nouns which are purposes but not actions.

(2) (Simple future) “明年我将去美国一个星期”, “将来我要去美国”, “以后我会去美国看看”.

“明天我去美国, 我去一个星期”. you can not say “明天我去美国一个星期” (wrong).

(3) (Simple past) “去年我去过美国一个星期”, “去年我去了美国一个星期”.

“昨天我到达美国, 我将住一个星期”.

“去年我去美国出差一个星期”, “去年我去了美国,出差一个星期”,“去年我去美国出差了一个星期”,“去年我去美国出了一次差,去了一个星期”.

You can say “出了一次差, 去了一个星期”, “出了一个星期的差”, but not “出了差一个星期”. I think this is just the current practice. There is no reason to say it is wrong in its logic. If you say so, people can still understand you.

(4) (Present perfect) “今天,我已经到美国一个星期了”, “今天,我已经到美国出差一个星期了”.

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