I have suddenly realized that I do not know what syntactic category "nin2 gui4xing4?" belongs to and I wonder whether somebody here can enlighten me in this respect.

My elementary Chinese textbook (New Practical Chinese Reader, volume 1) categorizes "gui4xing4" as an 'interrogative pronoun', but, of course, I find that impossible to swallow. Looking it up in my bilingual ABC Dictionary did not help much, either, because, according to ABC, "gui4xing4" is a 'fixed expression' :-)! (but, obviously, there are fixed expressions of many categories, including sentences, noun phrases, verb phrases, adjectives, etc.; saying it is a 'fixed expression' is saying nothing). To my growing surprise, several other dictionaries (the Oxford Beginner's Chinese Dictionary, the Oxford Chinese Desk Dictionary, MDBG, NCIKU,...) I have consulted also remain silent about this matter, and I cannot help wondering why? What's the problem?

Since "nin2 gui4xing4" is used as a question, it is usually translated as if it were an interrogative sentence, but, obviously, it CANNOT be an interrogative sentence. If it were, it would have to be a WH-question, since it asks for a specific piece of information and the answer cannot be "yes" or "no", but in that case "shénme" or "zen3me" or some other wh-item should accompany the 'verb' "gui4xing4", and, of course, there is no such wh-element anywhere.

Thus, the only coherent analysis, as far as I can see, is to claim that "nin2 gui4xing4" is a 'noun phrase' that can be used as a sentence fragment to ask a direct question, when alone, or an indirect question, when preceded by "qing3wen4". Since the verb "wen4" can also take a noun phrase as its complement (although perhaps not as frequently as an indirect interrogative clause), "nin2 gui4xing4" CAN be a noun phrase even in "qing3wen4 nin2 gui4xing4". And since "gui4" is an adjective, "xing4" MAY be a noun (as well as a verb), and "nin2" may be a 'possessive pronoun' ("your") (as well as a nominative subject "you"), I see no difficulty in reconciling the internal structure of "nin4 gui4xing" with its external role as a complement of "qing3wen4" and with its interpretation as an interrogative sentence fragment.

However, all this is just a guess of mine in the absence of authoritative judgments from the sources at my disposal.

My question to the forum, then, is this:

Is my analysis correct, or perhaps there are facts out there that I ignore that invalidate it? If so, what other syntactic category may "gui4xing4" belong to?

Thank you all in advance.

Views: 149

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

您贵姓 ( Nín guìxìng )  ---  Your name ( really " your honourable surname " ).  The verb 姓 (xìng) literally means "to be surnamed" or "to have the surname." There should be a ? mark.  See this link and look at last block ::


You should be asking questions using Chinese Characters or in more difficult questions we will not know what is being really asked.  For example an alternate answer having the same Pinyin could be :

您贵幸 ( Nín guì xìng ) -- " You are expensively lucky "  is one other interpretation of nin2 gui4xing4 ( There are more than one because Pinyin is being used and not characters ).  Somebody trying to answer the question would immediately ask "Is there Chinese characters with the Pinyin ?  Is this a quote from a movie ? "

贵幸 ( guì xìng ) may mean  " success by expensively eliminating hazards (competition) " from what I see on the internet searching on 贵幸.  Not at all close to " honourable surname ", the answer that is wanted.

Thanks for your answer.  I know that using hanzi may avoid ambiguities, but, frankly, after the careful explanation I offer in my question, it does not seem to me there is any room for ambiguity in this case. I also prefer not to use hanzi because I am a beginner, I know very few characters as yet, and I want to leave it clear to whoever may feel inclined to answer my questions that I will not be able to understand much if their answer is in 'proper' Chinese characters. I send you my apologies, anyway, if you found it difficult to understand what my question was about.

Having said that, you have not really answered my question. Here is why:

I know that the verb "xing" 姓 means "to be surnamed", but from that it does NOT follow that "贵 姓" is a verb in "您 贵 姓", nor that the latter should be an interrogative sentence. As far as I know, if it were an interrogative sentence it would have to be either a yes/no question with "ma" (or "verb bù verb"), or a  'wh-question' with an appropriate wh-item, presumably "shénme" in this case. The first assumption does not make sense and can immediately be discarded, because to  您 贵 姓? the hearer cannot reply either "yes" or "no". As to the second possibility, that 您 贵 姓? should be a wh-question, it seems more plausible in view of the answers that are appropriate ("my surname is ___", etc.), but, as I pointed out in my  post, there is a problem: 您 贵 姓 does NOT contain "shénme", "zen3me" or any other wh-item. Hence, the only way to save the analysis of 您 贵 姓 as a wh-question is to assume that a non-pronounced "shénme" is understood, but as far as I know there is no reason to assume that unless "nin2 gui4xing4 shénme?" is also a well formed sentence and a legitimate alternative to "nin2 gui4xing4?". If it is, OK, 您 贵 姓 may be a wh-question with an elliptical object "shénme" and "gui4xing" may be a verb, as you seem to assume. But if "nin2 gui4xing4 shen2me" is NOT a Chinese sentence, then my question remains in need of an answer.

That's why I suggested the possibility that "nin2 gui4xing4" be just a noun phrase used as a 'sentence fragment' with interrogative force. Granted an appropriate context, using a noun phrase (or virtually any other category) as an elliptical question is perfectly possible in many languages, including English, obviously. Think of   "(Your) Name?", "(Your) Family name?", "Nationality?", "Married?", "Any children?" "Profession?", etc. Of course the hearer will interpret "Name?", "Family name?", etc. as wh-questions (= "What's your name?", etc.), but that does NOT entitle us to say that e.g. "Family name?" is a sentence. It is a noun phrase or a mere compound noun. For the same reason, the fact that "nin2 gui4xing4?" is interpreted as "[What is] your honourable surname?" does not entitle us to say that 您 贵 姓 is a sentence, or that 贵 姓 is a verb. At first sight, 您 贵 姓 looks like a noun phrase with the internal structure [Possessive pronoun + adjective + noun].

The internal structure of an expression, and its syntactic category is one thing; its use to perform one or another kind of communicative act is quite another.

Also, the fact that an expression E in language L1 is used in roughly the same situations another expression E' in language L2 is used does not entail that E and E' have the same category, the same structure, or the same meaning. This is obvious, just think of "Good Bye!" and "Zai4 jian4", "Hello!" and "Ni3 hao3!", etc. Of course THAT is the big problem, at bottom.

I hope I have sufficiently clarified the reasons why I am not sure what category 您 贵 姓 and 贵 姓 are, and explained why I was so daring as to offer my own guess in that respect. But I insist: In Chinese, I am a complete beginner; if anybody out there can offer me syntactic/semantic evidence that a different analysis from mine is to be preferred I would be most grateful.

“贵幸”,这不是个词语。如果你打拼音,输入法给出了“贵幸”作为备选,我觉得很奇怪。我在网上专门搜索了这个“词”,唯一找到的信息就是:贵幸 是一个古代名人。



Three sentence above, all ok.

My opioion , "nin gui xing" is a sentence fragment, It's in idiomatic expressing way.And I think "gui xing" is a possessive pronoun.


let me try this.

the full question is “请问您贵姓(是什么)?” This sentence is a courteous request, like "could you please let me know your surname." "请问" happens very frequently in this kind of requests, such as 请问几点了?请问烤鸭店怎么走?

according to language economic principle, the sentence can be abbreviated according to circumstances. the way from 请问您贵姓 =〉您贵姓=〉贵姓 is like in English "May i have your name please"=>"your name pls"=>"your name is?"  The basic line is having your full meaning expressed.

i can't imagine how can a published book can categorize it into a interrogative pronoun!


Thank you very much, zhangmei! 

IF you, as a native speaker, construe “您贵姓" as an elliptical version of "您贵姓是什么" , then, obviously, it IS a Wh-question, and, in the context of the request "请问", must be analyzed as an INDIRECT Wh-question. It also follows that "您贵姓" IS a Noun Phrase used as a sentence fragment, as I guessed it would be, and all is clear now, but not thanks to the textbook I mentioned above, which, by the way, is supposed to be one of the best available! [Nevertheless, I have spotted dozens of absurd statements in that, as well as other textbooks!]

yes, i've scaned lot of mandarine textbooks and also found lot of lame explainations. i used to tried to collect them but soon decided it's a waste of my time.


Recommended Resource

Certified Online Chinese Teacher

Recommended Live Chinese Class

Mandarin Tutor on Skype

mandarin tutor on skype

Popular School in China

Try I Love Learning Chinese

Sponsored Links

Get daily Chinese learning updates