Help! Confused by 之 and 以 grammar usage
In fact, I think these two words might make good topics for future "请问" lessons. I often encounter these two words when reading articles, and I never quite know how they are used. I can't find good information in all the grammar books I own. I can get the meaning of what I'm reading, but it bothers me because I am not really "wrapping my head around" it. I’m NOT talking about the simple usages like 以后，以前，之中，之一，etc. I understand those usages.
dusg123March 21, 2011, 04:01 PM
Here's an example of 之 from an advertisement I saw here in Guangzhou recently for the popular beverage, 王老吉:
"亚运有我，精彩之吉" No idea how the 之 works here, to be honest.
The usage is the same as the 之 further down, but the actual meaning I'm not sure how to render into English. Chinese advertising slogans can be obscure and hard to translate (as I'm sure English-language slogans are, going the other way).
dusg123March 21, 2011, 04:01 PM
Here's an example of 以 from an article I am currently reading on the Harbin Ice Festival:
"哈尔滨国际冰雪节是我国历史上第一个以冰雪活动为内容的国际性节日" I think it's an 以...为 usage. Maybe it means something like "taking/using ice and snow as the content/theme?"
You're correct, this is a classic 以。。。为 construction. It's saying it's the first international festival that has snow and ice activities for content. Kind of clunky in English, but it works in Chinese.
dusg123March 21, 2011, 04:02 PM
These two words, 之 and 以 are also often encountered in ChinesePod advanced lessons, but rarely in the other lessons, like this usage of 之 in the lesson “风水”:
之 in modern Chinese is something of a holdover from the (totally different from modern Chinese) classical Chinese pronoun system, and having an understanding of how 之 was used in classical Chinese helps to make sense of modern usage (though it's not essential, I suppose).
Here you could rewrite 风水之说 as something like "风水那个说法." I think 之 can often be thought of like that, as referential to the clause immediately before it.
dusg123March 21, 2011, 04:02 PM
Or this usage of 以 in the lesson “姓名的起源”:
One of the uses of 以 is in a construction 以。。。(verb), that sort of means "of ... (verbed)" (again, bad in English, but it works in Chinese). So here it means (very literally) "of two characters and three characters be in the majority."
One place where this construction is commonly used, and is easier to understand conceptually, is with verbs that mean "compose" or "form." For instance, "以(something)组成的" is "composed of (something)."
dusg123March 21, 2011, 04:03 PM
There are many, many more examples, but I just wanted to throw this topic out there first. If a teacher can respond, that would be fantastic! I have teachers here in Guangzhou, but their English is not very good, and I know that if they tried to explain this to me, it would be a disaster...
Thank you in advance,
tingyunMarch 22, 2011, 02:08 PM
You can understand virtually all modern uses of 以 in terms of one meaning, and 之 in two.
First 之. It has two common meanings, 的 and 它. The 的 meaning is most often seen. Essentially 的 can be replaced by 之 if the expression is formal enough, an example would be the commonly quoted line from the Classic of Poetry to describe love, 执子之手，与子偕老 （子 means 'you' - holding your hand, with you together to old age). Slightly more complicated aspect - if you say 竞争激烈 you are saying 'competition(竞争) is fierce(激烈)', but if you say 竞争之激烈 you are saying 'the ferocity of the competition', ie you have turned it into a noun, so if you wanted to say 'they discovered the fiercness of the competition', you would say 他们发现竞争之激烈. You could use 的 for the same function, but you would have to be a little less abbreviated for it to sound right, ie 竞争的激烈程度 (the level of fierceness of the competition) - again, 之 is just 的 in meaning here.
Both of the examples above are this - 精彩之吉 (The auspiciousness of the wonderfullness, it might also be playing of the similarity in sound between 吉 and 极, both ji2, and the later meaning 'extreme, ultimate' - 之极 is fairly commmonly in meaning 'the extreme level of _____')
风水之说 is again 的，and is not the pronoun use. 风水的说法 is the meaning (again, one has to be a little less abbreviated for things to sound right when using the less formal 的, but the meaning is the same)
As for the pronoun use that johnb menotioned, you have to work pretty hard to find it in modern chinese outside of a few set expressions which get treated like chengyu. In this meaning, it just means 它, or 他. Example, 抛之脑后 (throw it behind your head - ie don't pay attention). 置之不理, 弃之不顾, etc. Another kind is 公之于世 (公 is 公布, announce, so 'to announce it to the world) (there's also 公诸社会, where 诸 is a contraction of 之 and 乎=于).
Now for 以. It means something like 'using, taking,' and is either followed by a noun (or has the noun omitted). So going through some examples, 以___为____ =to take _____as being _____ (为wei2 - pronounced in the second tone - means 'to act as, to be'). (using 'take' in the sense of consider, though the same pattern can be used in the sense of 'using____as____'). Thus 以education为most important, to take education as being the most important. The use of 以为 as a word to mean 'to take as' or 'to consider as' resulted from an ommision of noun after it, as an abbreviation. In modern times this abbreviation aquired a sense of mistaken belief.
Another example would be 以雕为友 (using a condor as friend, or taking a condor as friend) (don't use this in real life, outside of discussing a certain Jinyong novel ;) ）
In truth almost all the uses of 以 have the following noun ommitted/implied from what was said before. Example - 以后 (and all the other grammatical words you already understand) - whatever event was listed below is what is being used, so its 'using' that even as the fram of reference and then going afterwards. 以 used at the begining of a second clause to indicate purpose is this way - ie A,以B can mean B is the purpose of A, ie I reported her situation, 以get her help. Here, 以 is 'using' the first clause, to achieve the second.
The example you menotioned of 以...居多 is like the above, you just have to understand the 'using,taking' in a sufficiently broad way (which isn't an after the fact understanding - its a description of the evolution of the term)
BTW, for my friends here, I finished the thesis and am now back :) (70 pages, a good 30 of which are translations of Ming dynasty judicial opinions, took an unbeliavable amount of time to work through them).
dusg123March 24, 2011, 01:46 PM
Hi Tingyun and JohnB,
WOW. I ask a question hoping for at least some sort of half-ass stab in the dark... and I get beautiful treatises in clear language by knowledgeable Mandarin hands. Wow! I've read your responses over and over again and will return to this post when I get confused again. Thank you!