下雨 (subject/agent)

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by Tom24, Dec 20, 2016.

  1. Tom24 New Member

    Italian - italy
    Hi everybody.

    I just have a little question for you:

    Grammatically speaking, does the sentence 下雨 contains a subject?

    I came up with 2 conclusions by myself:

    1. There is no subject. it's like an impersonal verb, which it means that chinese language actually has impersonal verbs.
    2. 雨 is not the object of the sentence but is actually the subject: "the rain fall".

    Another doubt: I tried to put the verb in a longer sentence:


    This should be the proper and natural way of asking if today in Beijing it has rained or not (Chinese friends confirmed this).

    Grammatically speaking, here 北京 could be seen as a Subject? My answer would be negative, but actually the lack of 在 before 北京 bugs me.

    I asked some Chinese friends but they could not come up with a solution.

    Please share your thoughts, thanks you!
  2. NewAmerica

    NewAmerica Senior Member


    天要下雨,娘要嫁人 ===>>> 天下雨,娘嫁人

    其中的“天”就是被省略的事实主语(注)。没有了天,北京或任何地方都不可能下雨,所以在"今天北京下雨了吗?"句子中,北京只是方位状语而非主语,真正主语是被省略的"天" (今天北京<的天>下雨了吗?)。

  3. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    I don't know the terms, but I believe:

    1. 下雨 does not need a subject. For "it rains", Chinese simply say 下雨了.

    2. If it is necessary to specify "what" 下雨了, we will say "the sky" 天下雨了.
    So 雨 is never considered as the subject of 下. In Chinese, the subject should take action actively, but 雨 falls passively. We'd rather think the rain "is dropped" by "the sky".

    3. 下雨 is usually considered as one word (verb), but the word itself has a "verb-object" structure. It is combined by “fall” and "rain". With the same construction, we can form other words like "fall-snow" 下雪, “fall-heavy rain” 下大雨, "fall-hail" 下冰雹, even "fall-knives" 下刀子.

    4. There may be multiple ways to explain sentences like 北京下雨了. You can see it as "the sky" is being omitted. Or, in some people's minds, "a place" is not so different to "a person/animal/thing". If "a person/animal/thing" can be the subject, why not "a place"?
  4. retrogradedwithwind Senior Member

  5. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    「北京下雨」的「下雨」, 或「天下雨」(天上掉下雨)的「下雨」, 好像跟「天下雨」(天空灑下雨)(結構如「雞下蛋」)的「下雨」不太一樣。應該是 無agent 的動詞。

    起霧了 ==> 天起的霧, 還是地起的霧?
    颳風了 ==> 天颳的風, 還是旁邊颳來的風?
    誰下的雨, 誰起的霧, 誰颳的風都不是重點, 這些都是agentless的結構。

    My analysis:
    今天北京會下雨, 北京正在下雨, 北京下了三天雨 ==> 北京 is a nonagent subject with a semantic role as the "experiencer" (北京 is the one that experiences the action "rain") and 下雨 an agentless verb that does not have an implied agent or an implied cause of the action.

    楓落紅 (楓樹脫掉紅色的外衣) ==> agent
    楓落紅 (楓樹經歷落紅的現象, 紅色的葉子從楓樹上掉落) ==> experiencer
    皮落毛 (毛從皮膚脫落) ==> experiencer.

    所以, 我是這麼看的:「下雨」(an agentless verb) 雖不需要主詞, 但可有省略的或暗示的主詞 (譬如, (外面)下雨了, (我這裡)下雨了, (天)下雨了). 這個主詞不是agent, 而是experiencer. 「北京下雨」有個explicit subject, 那就是「北京」. In situations where there is no explicit subject, you may categorize 下雨 as an impersonal verb. An adjunct may serve as the subject of an impersonal verb in some languages (like "The next day poured with rain"). It parallels the use of 北京 (which can be seen as an adjunct or adverbial) as the subject of an agentless verb (下雨) in Chinese.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2016
  6. hx1997

    hx1997 Senior Member

    汉语普通话 Chinese - Mandarin
  7. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    Similarity with the existential verb 有 "there be":

    了嗎 vs. 了嗎 (as in 那個位子有人了嗎; also 有人在嗎 ==> 无主句)
    不久北京 vs. 不久(這個)池塘
    今天北京了嗎 vs. 今天(這個)餐廳顧客了嗎
    北京, 那個位子, 這個池塘, and 這個餐廳 are SUBJECTS.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2016
  8. NewAmerica

    NewAmerica Senior Member

    It Rains.

    Where does rain come from? It comes from "the waters which were above the firmament"(Genesis 1:7), from the sky.

    Thus "the sky" is the de facto subject in the sentence "It Rains."

    Any place of the surface of the Earth is not THE SKY, therefore disqualified as the subject of "It Rains."

    This logic can be extended into the Chinese sentence "(天上)下雨了.“

  9. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    天下雨 ==> 天降下雨
    楓落紅 ==> 楓樹掉落紅葉
    皮落毛 ==> 皮膚脫落毛髮
    Yes, "the sky" (天) is often the implied subject of 下雨 "It rains", but this implied subject is not an agent in my opinion. It has some sort of adverbial attribute (e.g., 從 "from") in it.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2016
  10. NewAmerica

    NewAmerica Senior Member

    Remove 從, it works well:

    天下雨 ==> 天降下雨
    楓落紅 ==> 楓樹掉落紅葉
    皮落毛 ==> 皮膚脫落毛髮

    Take the maple for an instance: the tree is the active and efficient cause or root cause of growth and shedding of leaves. An agent is defined as an active and efficient cause. Thus the maple is clearly an agent here.

    The Bible serves as one of the most authoritative sources of English. Thus the sky can be seen as an agent as well, though modern science gives different explanation for rain.

    As for the relationship between skin and hair: 皮之不存,毛将焉附?Skin is an agent of hair, no doubt about it.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2016
  11. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    My point in #5:
    天下雨 (like 楓落紅, 皮落毛, etc.) is structurally ambiguous and allows two different interpretations: one entails volition (agent), and the other non-volition (experiencer). Although 天下雨 (上天灑下雨) and 天下雨 (從天降下雨) have the same superficial structures, they are in fact different sentences with different meanings.

    My point in #9:
    I think when we say 「下雨了, 下大雨了, 趕快把晾在外頭的衣服收進來」, we mean 雨天降了 (non-volition), rather than 上蒼把水灑到人間了 (volition; 被動則為:雨天降了). In other words, despite possibly being the implied subject, 天 is not the agent of 下雨 in the null-subject structures.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2016
  12. NewAmerica

    NewAmerica Senior Member

    You've not clearly defined your "agent." You make it equal to volition, which Cambridge Dictionary defines as "the power to make your own decisions."

    Such definition explicitly entails free will, which is quite different to the definition given by me ("An agent is defined as an active and efficient cause" - a maple is active because it is a living organism. But it does not have free will.) .

    That is, different definitions of agent lead to different results.

    So you have to explain the source of your definition.
  13. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    No, I didn't say "agent = volition" or "experiencer = non volition".
    I said "one entails volition (agent)", meaning "one entails volition and in that case the subject is a grammatical agent".
    The word "agent" of course refers to "grammatical agent", that is, the cause or initiator of an action. The 天 in 天下雨 (雨從天降) is neither the cause nor the initiator of the action 下雨。

    BTW, "an active cause" does not mean "a living cause" (regarding your "a maple is active because it is a living organism").
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2016
  14. NewAmerica

    NewAmerica Senior Member

    As I've indicated that the Bible is historically authoritative source of English. Rain comes from "the waters which were above the firmament." Such waters are part of the sky. That is, the sky is exactly the cause of the action-raining!

    It is recommended to read the description of modern science:Rain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then precipitated—that is, become heavy enough to fall under gravity (Wikipedia).

    "Atmospheric water vapor"! The white cloud! How lovely! How graceful! Because they are the angel of the sky! The root cause of raining!

    A living organism is active. Is it clear enough?
  15. Hyperpolyglot Senior Member

    British Official English
    Try to think outside the box and forget about the grammatical terms such as subject and object, Chinese is a very flexible language, unlike many European languages that have strict rules about subject and object, use 下雨 as it sounds good in a sentence, anyone who grew up learning Chinese as their native language didn't learn about subject and object, so need not to worry about subject and object.
  16. strad Senior Member

    English (American)
    To be fair, the sentence "it is raining" doesn't really have a subject in English either. The "it" is called a dummy pronoun and is just added to fit grammar requirements--it doesn't actually refer to anything.

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