Why Some Chinese Sentences do not Have a Subject?

(Last Modified: 2019-05-14 14:40:19    Author: jinyu)

In our free Chinese lessons, there are many sample sentences do not have subject in it. Such as:

List of Simple Sentences
# Chinese English Problem
1 不客气 You are welcome Lack of "you"
2 多少钱 How much is it? Lack of "it"
3 太贵了 It's too expensive Lack of "it"

In the above table, no subjects exist in the Chinese sample sentences, which is different from the corresponding English translations with semantically clear-cut elements. In fact, it is common in Chinese sentences where some of them are lacking of subject while remain correct.

Reason for this Phenomenon

Compared to Chinese, English is a language with more strict rules and more literally coherent. The major sentence forming method in English is called "Hypotaxis", by which different sentences or separate components are organized and constructed by certain cohesive ties (connection words). Lacking of any component or connection word shall be deemed error.

cover img for subjectless sentence

Chinese is a language of lax rules and relatively logical coherence. Accordingly, the sentence making mode is called "Parataxis". Therefore, Sentences in Chinese do not rely so much on cohesive ties as English do. So we use subjects or conjunctive words freely.

Types of Subjectless Sentences

1. Elliptical sentences. According to semantics, the meaning of some words or speaker's will can be deduced from the dialogue context. In Chinese, when people are talking about something, one subject usually appears once throughout the dialog. For example:

A: "She is ill now."

B: "Where is she?"

A: "She is in her house."

B: "How is her illness?"

A: "It's not very serious."

Meanwhile, subjects can be omitted when these sentences are under clear talking situation. Thus the subjects are implied from dialogs. For example:

A: "Where are you going?"

B: "I am going to have dinner."

A: "How much is it?" (holding or pointing at something)

B: "10 Yuan."

Such sentences can be found on imperative sentences also:

A: "You take it for your lunch."

B: "OK."

Sometimes the subjects are not clear:

"It rains."

"Let's have a meeting."

2. Emphatic sentences. Sometimes the subjects are not important, and we just want to emphasize the actions or changes, for instance:

"Experimenter electrify the circuit, and check if there is any change."

"The train is arriving at Chongqing."

"We are deeply implementing the Thought of the 19th National Congress of the Party."

Subjectless sentences appear frequently in Chinese, just because this language is not so restricted by definitive rules as English do. There are more interesting grammatical phenomena in our language. You will find more explanations for Chinese grammar included in our language lessons here.