In most grammars (in English!) and bilingual dictionaries of Chinese that I have seen (some do not specify category), meaning “all” is categorized as an ‘adverb’. Let’s assume that, in those cases ( has other senses we may ignore here), “all” is the best possible translation of into English and that native Chinese speakers understand exactly as English speakers understand “all”. [This, of course, need not, but may be the case; since I do not know, I just assume the most favorable scenario]. Such a broad consensus suggests that there must be syntactic/semantic reasons to say that , in that sense, is indeed an ‘adverb’, but – and this is what puzzles me - I have so far not seen any. Let me explain why.

By definition, an ‘adverb’ must modify a verb/verb phrase by specifying some circumstance of the event the verb names (e.g., time, place, manner, frequency, imminence, (in) completion, etc.), and there are at least forty kinds of ‘adverbial’ concepts, but the meaning of “all” is not among them.

English “all” and its equivalents in other languages, presumably including Chinese , function as ‘universal quantifiers’ over ‘individuals’ (things, persons, animals, reified abstract entities, etc.). That’s why logicians represent sentences like “All professors are male” as "For all x [Professor (x) → Male (x)], which may be interpreted set-theoretically as “for all x, if x is a member of P, then x is a member of M” and truth-conditionally as “for all x, if ‘x is a professor’ is true, then ‘x is a male’ is also true”.

Universal quantifiers, on the other hand, are typically encoded in syntax as determiners or adjectives that must accompany nouns within the same noun phrase (e.g. “All the professors”), although in some languages the quantifier can also ‘float away’ from its noun phrase, as in “All the professors are male” > “The professors are all male”, or “All the professors live in Cambridge” > “The professors all live in Cambridge”.

Being determiners/adjectives, quantifiers must often agree with the nouns they modify in ‘nominal’ features like number, gender and case. In English, “all” can agree only in number (= plural) with its associated noun (“professors”, in our example), but in languages with richer inflection (e.g., Spanish) the universal quantifier must agree with its noun in number and gender. As Chinese is even poorer in inflection than English, can agree with a preceding noun only in number (plural or dual), but it MUST. [English has a separate dual quantifier “both” that Chinese lacks, which is why sometimes corresponds to English “both” rather than “all”].

Note that, like English “all” (and equivalent quantifiers in other languages), must be preceded by the plural noun/pronoun it quantifies, which may function as a subject, a topic, or, in Chinese, an object preceding the verb in a ‘passive’ “ba3 …” construction.

At first blush, then, the fact that follows and often appears separated from the plural/dual noun/pronoun it quantifies suggests that is also a ‘floating quantifier’, but this is surely wrong, because cannot appear preceding its noun, the position that “all” (and its equivalents in other languages), as well as other quantifiers (e.g. Chinese “xu3duo1”) occupy.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but, as far as I know, “thong1guo2ren2 dou1 yao4 shuo1 ying1yu3” is correct, whereas “*dou1 thong1guo2ren2 yao4 shuo1 ying1yu3” (with in the position another obvious quantifier like “xu3duo1” would occupy) is not.

Thus, a) unquestionably has the meaning of a universal quantifier, and b) shares the number agreement and broadly ‘pre-verbal’ position of a ‘floating quantifier’ (“all”), but does not ‘float away’ from its noun phrase, because it cannot appear within it, and whether it occurs exactly where “all” and other ‘floating-Q’s’ do is uncertain, as Chinese lacks the highly complex auxiliary system of English, Spanish, French, and the other languages in which quantifiers do ‘float away’ from their NPs.

For these reasons, it would not be accurate to say that is a ‘floating quantifier’, after all, but that does not entitle us to deny its status as a universal quantifier and loosely call it an ‘adverb’ instead. Note that need not even be adjacent to the verb (= an ‘ad-verb’): if the verb has prepositional modifiers, will NOT be adjacent to the verb.

The ‘universally quantifying ADVERBS’ parallel to “all” would be mainly “always” (= at all relevant time intervals) and “everywhere” (= at all relevant places), but note that such adverbs quantify over the times and places at which verbal events occur. On the contrary, in the examples we are concerned with, quantifies over participants in such events. That is another relevant difference.

It is true, though, that in English (as in other languages) the universal quantifier “all” and the adverb “always” may produce very similar interpretations, cf. “All German customers drink beer” <> “German customers always drink beer”, but the quantifier ‘goes with’ the subject noun phrase “German customers” and may ‘float away’ (cf. “German customers all drink beer”), whereas the adverb affects the time argument of the drinking event and has nowhere to ‘float away’ to.

Accordingly, in all grammars of English (and the other languages) “all” and its equivalents are called ‘quantifiers’ and “always” and its equivalents are called ‘adverbs’. Why, then, should Chinese be treated in a different way? The null hypothesis is that it is also a ‘quantifier’, not an ‘adverb’. Of course, why it cannot appear before its noun, contrary to other Chinese quantifiers, should be explained, and where exactly does it occur ‘before the verb’ should be specified in much more detail, but those are different issues.  

My point, then, is this: unless native speakers construe as meaning “always”, a translation that none of my sources licenses, I do not see any reason why it should be called an ‘adverb’.

Of course I’m perfectly aware that the eminent scholars that have written all those dictionaries and grammars must have had their reasons to call an ‘adverb’, which means that I must be missing something, but they have not cared to explain them, and, honestly, I do not see what they might be. Can anybody here enlighten me in this respect?

Thanks in advance.

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Thanks, Jim.

You are right. I loosely referred to the "ba3 + noun (phrase)" as 'passive' (with scare quotes, though) only because of the similarity between the way in a passive English sentence the object is 'moved' into the subject position (= before the verb), as in "Oxford U.P. published my book" > "My book was published by O.U.P.", and the way the object of a Chinese verb must be moved to before the verb when it is preceded by "ba3". However, that broad use of the term 'passive' was inaccurate on my part, because what must follow 'passive' markers like "bei4" is the Agent, whereas what follows "ba3" is not the Agent, but the Patient (affected object). My apologies for that unhappy technicism of mine.

Hi, again, Jim.

In my earlier reply to your correct observation that "ba3+NP" is not a 'passive' construction, I forgot to say what was perhaps most important: "ba3 objects" precede the verb, but do NOT occupy the subject position. The subject, in its turn, must precede the "ba3 object". That is even clearer proof that you are right and my use of the term 'passive" was too informal.  If anything, Mandarin "ba3 objects" resemble pre-verbal objects in languages like German. German, like Chinese, is primarily a V+Object language, but only when the verb is tensed. If it is not (that is, if the main verb is an infinitive or a participle), its object must PRECEDE it (a feature of OV languages like Japanese or Latin). Thus, in German "I visited my family" is "Ich besuchte meine Familie", with the object after the verb, but "I must visit my family" or "I have visited my family" are, respectively, "Ich muB meine Familie besuchen" and "Ich habe meine Familie besucht", with their objects before the verb (not "*Ich muB besuchen meine Familie" nor "*Ich habe besucht meine Familie").

I will be more careful next time! :-)

所有is for nouns, 都is for verbs and adjectives.

the meaning of adverb is different from mandarine to english.

one problem of chinese dictionary is not to indicate the categories of the words, i think this is because it's a problem remain not solved. i heard somewhere that it has or is going to be done, but still i don't think it's quite reliable. collecting good examples will be more preferable.

your questions are very good ones. and your explainations are professsional, i learned a lot from them. thanks. looking forward to see more.

Thank you, zhangmei.

Indeed, the lack of category labels in many bilingual Chinese dictionaries makes it very difficult for foreigners to think IN Chinese. Translations, however useful in practical situations, can be very misleading. The vagueness surrounding the way "dou1" should be interpreted is a case in point.

I'm glad to hear you find my questions motivated, but that's the least I can contribute to this forum. If this were a forum about learning English, Spanish, or other European languages, I would probably be in a position to occasionally help others. In Chinese, on the contrary, I am a beginner, my role can only be that of a humble learner, and all I can do for the community is help my potential teachers by making my questions as clear and informative as possible. If my doing so also benefits others, that's great! :-) 

I found a TW based research project on parsing and one of the samples sentences they use is

We all like butterflies.


Wǒmen dōu xǐhuan húdié.

Here is a link to one of the papers using this sentence as a sample:    

and a link to the Project:     

Thank you very much, Thomas!

I have quickly looked at the papers you pointed me to and the category the authors assign to "dou1" (actually, "du", in their transcription, presumably because they are from Taiwan?) in their example tree and the associated formula is 'quantity Dab', apparently a sort of quantifier. Unfortunately, they do not explain their abbreviations and it is impossible to determine what "Dab" stands for. I guess "D" might stand for "determiner?", but the "ab" part might well stand for "adverb". That would leave "du/dou1" as a 'Quantity determiner? adverb?', but that category is completely new to me. Nevertheless, whatever they take the category of "dou1" to be, they offer no reasons, they seem to take it for granted, at least in that paper. Maybe they do explain their abbreviations in some other paper. I'll have a look.

I'm overwhelmed by your generosity, but, please, do not spend any more of your valuable time doing research for me. When I asked this question, I assumed native speakers' intuitions - the way they construe "dou1" when they think in Chinese - would suffice to settle it. If it is not so, and the answer has to be sought in linguistic publications, it is only fair that I myself should look for the answer and tell the forum (if I find it!).

Kindest regards

I found this paper by accident while researching why the different computer translators ( GOOGLE Translate, WCC, etc ) seem to parse Chinese sentences in different ways giving sometimes very different translations.  I quickly found that this is a very big complex subject.

I also could not find a definition of Dab and notice they claim the  都  is a modifier but I saw no elaboration of this fact.


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