Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Was 之 (지) used to make causative verbs?

According to THIS WEB PAGE, the Chinese character 來 (내) was used in classical Chinese to mean, "[He] comes," and 來之 (내지) was used to mean, "[He] makes him come." In other words, the 之 (지) seems to have made "to come" (來) into a causative verb. In classical Chinese, was 之 sometimes used to make causative verbs?

I am curious because I want to know if the following translation is correct:

一僧寺 與餠茶粥醬以食之

A temple (一僧寺) gave (與) [us] rice cake (餠), tea (茶), rice gruel (粥) and soy sauce (醬) and had us eat them.
Does the 之 (지) change 食 (식) from "to eat" to "to have someone eat" ( 食之), or is 之 being used as a direct object pronoun to refer back to the food?


  1. 之 was not used to make causative verbs. There is a class of verbs in Classical Chinese that are basically intransitive, but take on a causative sense if used transitively with a direct object. In this case 之 ("it", "him/her", "them") is the direct object, but other nouns are possible and the causative sense would still be there.

  2. Thanks, Lance, but please let me make sure I understand.

    Since "to come" (來), which is an intransitive verb, was followed by the direct object pronoun 之 (it/him/her/them), which is a characteristic of transitive verbs, 來 took on a causative meaning (i.e. Have someone come). Is that right?

    However, since "to eat" (食 - 식) is a transitive verb, which is normally followed by an object, then 食 would not be a part of the class of verbs that take on a causative meaning, which would mean that the 食之 in the sentence I asked about should just be translated as "We ate it" (We ate the food they gave us). Is that right?

    I have ordered Pulleyblank's book, so, hopely, I will not be bothering you with so many questions in the future, or it may cause me to ask even more questions. Anyway, I hope you do not mind.

    The more I learn about classical Chinese, the more I enjoy trying to read it. It is a new, interesting challenge for me.

  3. Yes, that's right.

    However, there is a complication here. The character "食" writes two different (but related) words. One is the verb "to eat", which in modern Mandarin is pronounced shí; the other is "to feed", a causative verb, which in modern Mandarin is pronounced sì. These distinct words with distinct pronunciations can be traced back to ancient times. The former corresponds to the Sino-Korean reading 먹을 식 “식 meaning 'to eat'" and the latter to the SK reading 먹이 사 "사 meaning 'animal feed'". You'll note that the Korean meanings don't match up with the Classical Chinese, which is interesting, but a separate problem that we can set aside.

    It is possible that the verb being written here is "to eat" and possible that it is "to feed".

    You could take 食 here as writing the verb "to eat". Then 以食之 would be "and (we/they) thereby ate it" or better "in order that we/they might eat it". If so, then 之 refers to the food.

    But it could also be that 食 is writing the verb "to feed", so that 以食之 means "in order to feed them". Here 之 would mean "them", and could not mean "us".

    In order to determine which of the two is correct, you would need to look at context, and also it would help to know the time and place of the text from which the sentence comes.

  4. Lance,

    The passage comes from a 1425 passage in the Annals of King Sejong. It is referring to an incident in which a ship carrying Korean sailors to inspect Ulleungdo sank, drowning thirty-six and forcing ten survivors into a small boat that drifted to Japan, where they were found and given food.

    I was also wondering if 食(식) was being used to mean "to eat" or "to feed."

    Actually, the direct object pronoun seems redundant if it were referring to the food since the food was already mentioned. Is it possible that 之(지) was referring to the people "being feed"? If so, then the sentence could be translated as follows:

    一僧寺 與餠茶粥醬以食之

    A temple (一僧寺) gave (與) rice cake (餠), tea (茶), rice gruel (粥) and soy sauce (醬) to feed us (以食之).

  5. 之 is always a third-person pronoun. It could refer to the people being fed, but only in the third person: "them". It could not mean "us". Is it possible that it means "feed them" and not "feed us"? Is the text a first-person narrative? Could the narrator be referring to the others with him, not himself?

  6. Gerry, I found the passage on a web site that includes a photo of the original text and a Korean translation. (I don't know if you want to know about this, since you are clearly trying to work through the text on your own.) It's here: . The Korean translation clearly implies a causative reading for 食, as you first suggested. And the causative interpretation makes sense in context. It strikes me as a bit strange, but (1) I could just be wrong, (2) it could be "non-standard" Classical Chinese, since it's written by a Korean in the 15th century.

  7. Incidentally, the punctuation makes it clear that 一僧寺 is in a different clause, and not the grammatical subject of 與. "He took us to a temple. (They) gave [us] ...."

    Ah, now I wonder if you are using the web page I just posted as your source, and wondering if the Korean translation is correct.

  8. `之' has always confused me!!! I took the liberty of asking my dear friend Cam Highfield, a reporter and consultant in Hong Kong about it here and she has written back:
    "Dear Fred,

    '之' has two meanings. One means possess:-' 's', such as in the case of 'mum's book', you would write: 'mum 之 book'. In your sentence it has the second meaning, which is a pronoun. I don't know the context of the story, but I think the word 食 in this sentence does not mean ' to eat' but its other verb form: 'to feed'. If it is the case, then the word 之 stands for the person/ animal that has been offered the 餠茶粥醬. I also wonder whether the first 3 words 一僧寺, should it be 一寺僧 rather? ( the former, although it means a temple, but it sounds repetitive to use
    僧 and 寺together, but 一寺僧means a monk, and it seems, just by that sentence, more rational. (but that one, I'm only guessing)" - too late to ask the original scrivener exactly what was meant, I guess!

  9. Gerry,

    Pulleyblank's grammar is searchable on line through Google books. If you look at pages 26-28, you will see the explanation of how intransitive verbs become causative. As it happens, Pulleyblank's discussion of transitive verbs involves 食 meaning 'to feed', on page 28.

  10. Lance & Frederic,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Yes, I saw the Korean translation and wondered why they translated it as they did, which is why I asked if "...以食之" could have a causative meaning. The Korean does not seem to have translated the 之 as an object.


    The account of the incident was in first-person, so since 之 was only used as a third-person object, maybe it was saying the temple give the speaker (the leader) the food, with which he fed his men?

    By the way, I tried to use Google Books to search on Pulleyblank's book, but couldn't figure out how to do it.

  11. Gerry,

    Go to . In the search window enter "Pulleyblank grammar". When I do this, Pulleyblank's book is the first result, and hopefully it will be for you too.

    Click on the book, and you will be taken to a page where you can search or browse through sections of the book. The "Contents" drop-down menu at the top of the page is a good way to begin.

    You can also try using this URL to get to the page:

    I think your last interpretation is quite reasonable: "(They) gave (me) [food items] and (I) thereby(=using them) fed them (i.e. my men)".

  12. Chinese on our classical literature is difficult to Korean, but very high level discussion is going on here!

    I am not 100% sure, but in my opinion,

    "一僧寺 與餠茶粥醬以食之
    A temple (一僧寺) gave (與) [us] rice cake (餠), tea (茶), rice gruel (粥) and soy sauce (醬) and had us eat them.
    Does the 之 (지) change 食 (식) from "to eat" to "to have someone eat" ( 食之), or is 之 being used as a direct object pronoun to refer back to the food?"

    I don’t think that 之 changes 食 to causative verb.
    食 can be used as an intransitive verb as well as causative verb.
    之 is a pronoun and it means 餠茶粥醬 on above sentence.
    一僧寺 is not a subject in this sentence. The subject is a Japanese who was not mentioned on your post.
    有一倭 因漁來見 率歸一僧寺 與餠茶粥醬以食之
    A Japanese came to fish and saw (us), (he) took us to a temple(=率歸一僧寺) and gave (us) rice cake, tea, rice gruel and soy sauce to have us eat them(之=餠茶粥醬).

    The reason why the writer mentioned 一僧寺, I guess that Japanese believed in many gods including buddha and the place is called 寺. Maybe the writer wanted to say it was a temple for Buddha, so mentioned 僧寺.

    From this blog, I can practice English, Chinese and Korean as well. 


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