Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Does 乳以 mean the same as 以乳?

Today, I was reading the 四字小學(사자소학), which was a book that Korean children used to study in traditional Korean schools (書堂 - 서당), when I came across something I did not understand. Why does 以 come after the nouns in lines 3 and 4, but before the nouns in lines 5 and 6?

[My] father () gave life () [to] my () body ().
My] mother () raised () my () body ().
[Her] stomach (腹) was used (以) to shelter () me ().
[Her] milk (乳) was used (以) to feed () me ().
With () clothes () [she] warmed () me ().
With () food () [she] filled () me ().

From what little I know about classical Chinese, the order of the characters was important to determining the meaning of a sentence. Therefore, I suspect that 以 coming before the noun had a different meaning from 以 coming after the noun. However, the only difference I noticed between the two sets of sentences above was that the nouns in sentences 3 and 4 were either a part of the mother (her stomach) or originated from her (her breast milk), but the nouns in sentences 5 and 6 were just general references to food and clothing.

When 以 came after a noun, did it imply that the noun belonged to the subject of the sentence or originated from him or her? In other words, does 乳以 mean "with her milk," and 以乳 mean just "with milk"?

UPDATE: I think I have figured out the difference in meaning when putting 以 before a noun and after a noun. When used before the nouns above, it means "with": "with clothes" (以衣), "with food" (以食). When used after the nouns above, it means "was used to": "Her stomach was used to" (腹以 ), "Her milk was used to" (乳以 ).


  1. I think the last 2 with 以 coming first have a different meaning. In wikipedia as well as the following (in Japa. as well) 以 precedes the thing and means WITHIN THE SCOPE OF or something related to the scope

    이하 以下 Less than, below
    이전 以前 Former days/times
    이외 以外 Except, apart from
    이상 以上 More than, above
    이래 以來 Since, after that, hereafter
    이내 以內 within,less than
    이후 以後 After that

    so it doesn't mean BY MEANS OF/WITH/USING if it comes first.

    However, just based on this uneducated approach of trial and error, whereby 以 means WITHIN THE SCOPE OF in normal Korean these days, I can't get any help to understanding


  2. this page here
    says they mean the same thing, coming in front or coming after.

  3. Hi Joseph,

    Yes, the Korean translates 以 (이) the same, whether it comes before the noun or after it, but I suspect that, in the past, there was a difference in meaning that has just been forgotten over time.

    As for the meaning of 以 (이), it has a few different meanings, including "with."

  4. The two primary meanings/uses of 以 in Classical Chinese are (1) as a preposition and (2) as an adverbial conjunction.

    The use as a preposition looks like this:

    (1) 以 NP VP

    (NP means "noun phrase"; VP means "verb phrase")

    The meaning is instrumental: "do VP with/using NP"

    The use as a conjunction looks like this:

    (2) Clause-1, 以 Clause 2

    The meaning is "do Clause 1, and thereby (i.e. by means of it) do Clause 2"

    In the two lines 以衣溫我 and 以食飽我, 以 is clearly a preposition and the translation you gave ("with clothes", "with food") is not problematic.

    In the two lines 腹以懷我 and 乳以哺我, the use looks like the second type, although it is a bit difficult to interpret the preceding nouns clausally. The translation might be something like:

    "By her belly, she thereby sheltered me; By her milk, she thereby fed me".

    But this does not answer the question of why these two lines use different syntactic structures and make different use of 以. I think that your surmise that the answer has to do with inalienable possession is along the right track; as parts of the mother's body, the belly and milk are perhaps not seen as tools to be employed. But now I'm just speculating.

  5. Hi, I'm a 29 year old Korean man studying law. I happened to drop by your blog while searching "월계수", which was included in the title of one of your threads. When I read your articles on this blog, I was impressed by your deep knowledge about Korean language. Since it looked a little unexpected for me to read a material about Korean language in English, I was curious about who the writer is. Actually I just thought of a Korean guy teaching to foreigners or something, but what I found was you.

    Anyway, I'm leaving a comment about your question. As 사자소학 was written in purpose of teaching little kids 한문, the phrases in this book are very proper to learn various usages of Chinese characters. That is, many example sentences are to show grammatical items as well as to inject Confucian thoughts into children's minds. In this context, I believe I can explain the quotes by awakening you that 以 can be located both before and after noun when it is used to mean 'with, by means of.' So I guess that the intention of the writer is to teach the readers the usage 以 which can be located both before and after the object.

    Sorry I had to delete my comment since I couldn't edit it.

  6. And to tell you one more thing, I'm so sorry about your inference in regard to Dokdo island issue. I don't know what led you to stand in favor of the claimers who argue that the little - but precious to Korean - island doesn’t belong to whom had to be deprived of everything by Japanese militarism. There's a possibility that you're right, but I hope you don't fail in reviewing *all* the material impartially.

  7. Thank you, Boomz.

    Yes, the 以(이) comes both before and after the noun, but I wonder if there may be a slight difference in the meanings, as I explained in my post. I have not have time to do much research on it, however.

    Concerning Dokdo, I am afraid that it is more than just an "inference"; I am convinced that Dokdo was never Korean territory before Koreans occupied the rock islets in the 1950s.

    Before I started studying the history of Ulleungdo/Dokdo, five or six years ago, I had also believed Dokdo was Korean territory, but I have since learned that almost all of Korea's claims are either half-truths or complete fantasy. Many of the Korean claims are just ridiculous, and they have caused me to lose respect for Korean historians and to be suspicious of anything they say or write about Japan.

    I live in Korea, so I do not talk about Dokdo in my classes or in public, but simply writing about it on the Internet has gotten me in trouble in Korea. I was told that my work contract at my last university was not renewed because of my writings on Dokdo history. The president of the university called me to his office and told me that someone had called and complained about my writings on Dokdo history and asked me to stop it. I did, but a couple of months later, I was told that my contract would not be renewed. A Korean professor I worked with there told me it was because of my writings on Dokdo history. I was told that even if it were true, I should not write about it, and I was told that by university professors.

    I love Korea and the Korean people, but Koreans, in general, seem to have a problem when it comes to dealing with inconvenient historical truths.

    Koreans are very nationalistic and seem to think that it is their patriotic duty either to hide or distort history that makes Korea look bad, especially if it is history that involves Japan. Other countries may do the same to a certain extent, but what is different in Korea is that historical debate on such subjects as Dokdo and the colonial period seem to be taboo. That, by itself, should make people suspicious.

  8. I would just like to let people know that I had a revelation today have updated this post with the following:

    UPDATE: I think I have figured out the difference in meaning when putting 以 comes before a noun and after a noun. When used before the nouns above, it means "with": "with clothes" (以衣), "with food" (以食). When used after the nouns above, it means "was used to": "Her stomach was used to" (腹以 ), "Her milk was used to" (乳以 ).

    Anyway, it makes sense to me.