Thursday, August 11, 2011


Nobody I've asked can tell me when to use a period or a comma in Chinese. My teacher, Sharon, said that when she was young, her teacher taught that the use of either was to be found in the beauty of the sentence. If the sentence was short and therefore ugly (necessarily?—seems so), it required a comma, regardless of the next subject or any intervening conjunction. If the sentence was long, however, and therefore beautiful, it required a period. Nonsense, I'm sure. People guess it has something to do with the subject: if the subject of adjacent sentences are the same, they can be joined with a comma. Another explanation is, if you feel the sentence is finished, you use a period. "Feel"? Since when do feelings enter into punctuation?

Chinese sentences do not have to contain a verb to be "complete." An adjective or even a noun may serve as the predicate without any verb attached. As I write this, I have all the early English teachers in my head saying, "A complete sentence has a subject and verb." I wish they'd used the word predicate instead of verb. When learning these other languages, Chinese and Korean, I perhaps would have been more satisfied to look for the predicate instead of the verb, saving me some time and frustration. In fact, Korean adjectives are conjugated the same way that verbs are. In Chinese, a speaker cannot use a form of {to be} before an adjective.

As I write this, the Bear looks over my shoulder and says, in Chinese, "{That's so boring}," but I want to spend hours in books looking for the answers.

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