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The following dialogue is in NPCR 2, Lesson 23, listening exercise 7 in the exercise book, and my attempt in translating it.

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I'm unsure about the sentence marked in red. I have not learned the pattern 比较+adjective until now but my Chinese friend told me that it's the comparative form of the adjective, so in this case "good"->"better".

But I can't make sense of this question. It's better compared to what? I also see a 走 (to walk), but in the next sentence they talk about trains and climbing. So how should I translate it?

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    You can understand it as `what are the better ways among all possible ways?' Actually I think a better translation should just be plainly, 'What's a good way to go there?'
    – user58955
    Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 19:42
  • 走 has a general meaning here, and your translation is right.
    – user4072
    Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 22:53

4 Answers 4

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比较 here doesn't so much accentuate the comparison between two or more objects/methods. It more gives you an idea of something that has a quality to a somewhat significant degree or above the average. (So in some way, it is a comparison, but a comparison to an unreferenced standard/average).

It can be loosely translated into 'relatively', 'fairly', 'rather' or 'somewhat'.

Another example would be:

玛丽长得比较胖

Mary is rather obese/overweight.

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  • Sorry if I misunderstood you, but wouldn't it make more sense to say something like "What's the best way to get there?" rather than "the better"? Or is it expressed more naturally this way in Chinese?
    – pg-robban
    Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 22:24
  • @pg-robban Because that's not what she's trying to say. She just wants a good way, not the best way. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 22:50
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    The English gloss here follows the Chinese a bit too closely. In idiomatic English, the question would be better put as “What’s a good way...?” as suggested in the comment above, or “What’s the best way...?” Keep in mind that this is a gloss, not a translation - just an aid to understanding the Chinese, not a stand-alone text.
    – neubau
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 0:40
  • @user2619 Are you conversing with me or just making a general comment about the question? Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 1:38
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    @user2619 In fact I wouldn't translate it at all in the question's example, if it was up to me. As it would sound jarring idiomatically. However, that is what it implies in the example. It sounds natural in Chinese, but not so in English. You've pretty much covered that point. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 1:54
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A literal English translation is, "To go to Mt. Hua, how does one go there comparatively well [better]?

"To go to Mt. Hua" is what is called the "topic" of the sentence, and is placed in front for emphasis. The rest of the sentence is "commentary," with "how does one go there" preceding "better." The last part, 比较 好 is "commentary on commentary."

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What your Chinese friend said is right. 比较+adjective is a very common pattern used in Chinese which means 'beyond average' or 'beyond other competitors' according to one's knowledge or some theories and so on. So there do exist some comparative meanings.

I don't know the very reason why this expression makes sense, most of us Chinese don't. I think it appears as a brief way to say '...the best ... according to...'. The following sentence says exactly the same thing in Chinese

你觉得去华山怎么走最好?

We also say in oral language

去华山怎么走最好?

But 比较+adjective is the most commonly used pattern.

Supplement: Chinese has a tradition of modesty. We don't usually assert something is 'the best' unless it is the fact that we want to emphasize. When asked by your close friend '你最喜欢什么运动', you can say that

我最喜欢打篮球了

But when asked by an elder, we naturally would answer

我比较喜欢打篮球

The latter sounds softer and implicitly express your modesty.

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  • Ah, this makes more sense to me. 谢谢。
    – pg-robban
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 7:53
  • I think it appears as a brief way to say '...the best ... according to...'. No, it doesn't. 比较好 means better, not best. And the part on modesty regarding the choice of word used is certainly misplaced.
    – 杨以轩
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 9:31
  • @pg-robban I read over deutschZuid's answer and I think what he says is just right. Sorry for misleading you. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 11:44
  • I don't think you mislead me, but since his answer seems to be the consensus here, I changed the accepted answer. I guess we both learned something new every day :)
    – pg-robban
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 11:47
  • For my part, I prefer this answer. @Jianting Wang, you are too modest! :)
    – neubau
    Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 13:10
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In short:

"怎么走?" = "How to go to ... ?"

"去华山怎么走比较好?" = "去华山怎么走?" = "怎么去华山?"

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    This doesn't answer the question. Read the question more carefully. The OP is confused about the use of 比较 here. Commented Apr 14, 2014 at 23:07

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