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I sometimes see the pattern "要 + adjective", for example "去火车站比去机场的距离要近得多". I know that example means "The distance to the train station is much closer than the distance to the airport". So does "要" mean "much" in the pattern "要 + adjective"?

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  • I've encountered this 要 + adj. pattern in e.g. 要好的朋友. Maybe this is considered different, though.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Nov 8, 2023 at 22:23

6 Answers 6

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In this sentence "去火车站比去机场的距离近得多", means "would be" or "must be". - The distance to A would be much shorter than to B.

Comparing the sentence without , "去火车站比去机场的距离近得多", which is a plain fact.

See some other examples.

(1)张三比李四高。(simply a fact)

(2)张三比李四要高。(my opinion, I guess, between #3 and #4)

(3)张三也许比李四高。(my opinion showing a weak confirmation)

(4)张三肯定比李四高。(my opinion showing a strong confirmation)

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Interesting. This is apparently not discussed in my grammar references. 现代汉语词典 says 要 is 助动词, but it does not fall nicely into any subtype of 助动词 as in 张斌《现代汉语描写语法》Section 15.5, and it does not behave like other 助动词. The following discussion is purely based on my intuitive feeling.

要 on its own does not mean "much". In fact it has very little semantic content. In different contexts, it slightly changes the connotation of the sentence.

  1. It can only exist in 比 comparison sentences. It cannot be used in other sentences even if the semantic content is still comparison. 我比他高 and 我比他要高 are correct, 我有他高 is also correct, but 我有他要高 is incorrect.

  2. It is not restricted to 要 + adj. 要 can also be placed before 比 as in 银行的现钞买入价要比外汇买入价低 (CCL Corpus).

  3. When the comparison conclusion is not an adjective, but verb + 得 + adverb, then 要 can be placed before 比, before verb, or after 得, as in 1) 善于借力和妥协的个性让他其他的人都要走得远。2) 在爱情中,欺骗几乎总是提防走得要远。(CCL Corpus)

  4. When 要 is used standalone, without "还" or "得多", it carries almost no semantic content. 我比他高 and 我比他要高 sounds exactly the same to me. If the concepts to be compared are long phrases, 要比 can be used to better mark the end of the first comparison branch.

  5. In A比B还要高 and A比B(还)要高得多, I think 要 can strengthen the comparison. If A比B还高 and A比B还要高 are placed together, I would think A,B has a larger difference in A比B还要高 than in A比B还高. But this is a very weak connotation.

  6. Although 还 and 更 are similar, when it comes to 要 they are different. 要 must be placed after 还 but before 更, as in: 在部分“热门”专业,直接出国留学的学生比例还要更高。(CCL Corpus)

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要 here is a part of the "A[比]B[要]+[adj]" = " A [compared to] B [require/ be more]+[adj]"structure

去火车站[比]去机场的距离[要]近得多

The distance to the train station [compared to] The distance to the airport [is more] close --> The distance to the train station is closer than to the airport

Since "得多" (be much more) already included the meaning of "be more", [要] can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence --> 去火车站[比]去机场的距离近得多.

  • You can remove "得多" --> 去火车站[比]去机场的距离[要]近 (without emphasizing it is a great degree more)

  • You can also remove [要] --> 去火车站[比]去机场的距离近. (make it unclear if it is just a bit more or a lot more)

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要 is an emphasis here, in the sense that it shows an air of certainty.

去火车站比去机场的距离要近得多

It is certainly closer to the train station than to the airport. While 去火车站比去机场的距离近得多 is just stating a fact.

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I think you need to understand this use of 要 as as kind of strange 'want', comparative with Spanish falta. What you want is what you don't have or what is missing.

falta really means "what's missing, what do we need?" and thus, something we want: ¿que falta?

In this case, comparing the distance to to the airport with the distance the train station, the distance to the airport "wants" a lot of nearness, compared to the distance to the train station.

去火车站比去机场的距离要近得多.
It is much further to the airport than to the train station.

逻辑!

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要 - necessary, essential; necessity https://www.zdic.net/hans/%E8%A6%81

去火车站比去机场的距离要近得多 - The distance to the train station is essentially closer compared to the distance to the airport.

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