Sentence word order – Part 4 – How an action happened

Word order

In my first word order post, I explained the basic Subject-Verb-Object sentence order. Then in a second post, I explained how time (when something happened) normally gets added to sentences. In the third post, I looked at adding where something happened. In this final post in this word order series, I'll look at how an action happened.

How an action happened

In English, we can do this a few ways:

1 – In the office this morning, I drank my coffee slowly.

2 – In the office, I drank my coffee this morning, slowly.

3 – I drank my coffee in the office this morning, slowly.

4 – In the office this morning, I slowly drank my coffee.

5 – I slowly drank my coffee in the office this morning.

I'd say that the first option is probably the most common, the "cleanest" and probably conveys the meaning the best. The third isn't too bad but the second is starting to sound odd.  The fourth is a little odd, and what I think is also odd in the fifth one, is it's not that clear what you're emphasizing.

It's likely that the sentence is trying to emphasize the "slowly" part.

In English, "slowly" is an adverb. In Mandarin, adverbs are called 副词 (Fùcí) which is close to saying "auxiliary word". Google says "vice" for Fù but it's more like vice as in vice-captain.

As in English, adverbs are often closely related to adjectives.

The adjective for "slow" in Mandarin is (Màn).

I could say "I'm too slow" by writing:

我太慢了。(Wǒ tài mànle.) which is literally "I too slow" followed by the indicator that the action has completed in "le".

For our sentence about the coffee in the office, this is a likely outcome:

(Jīntiān zǎoshang zài bàngōngshì, wǒ màn man hē kāfēi.)

This is literally "This morning at the office I slowly slowly drank coffee".

Notice that the adjective and the adverb use the same character () so it's the context that tells you what it is. This is much simpler than learning "slow" and "slowly" as different words in English.

The other interesting aspect is that a typical translation like the one above, doubles up the word (). This is a common thing to do, and I'll talk about that more another day.

Another way this could have been said is:

(Jīntiān zǎoshang zài bàngōngshì, wǒ hē kāfēi màn man de.)

This is literally "This morning at the office, I drank coffee slowly". And apart from the order of the time and place, is pretty similar to our preferred English option.

What happened to "ly" in English ?

Curiously though, the "ly" seems to be disappearing in English nowadays. Can't say I like it, but I hear people all the time saying things like:

Drive safe.

When I was young, my teacher would have scolded me for saying that, yet you'll see it on even government publications here now.


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