thing (object / affair)

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by SuperXW, Sep 25, 2013.

  1. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    "Thing" is a very basic word. We can hardly find a more basic word to replace it.
    However, I believe "thing" have two basic explanations. One is concrete, the other is abstract.
    In Chinese we can't mess them up.

    If it's an object, we must use words like 物, 东西
    The thing is red. 这东西是红的。
    The thing is broken. 这东西坏了。

    If it's an affair, an action, a situation, we must use words like 事, 事情
    Get things done. 把事情搞定。
    I can't do this thing. 我办不了这

    If it's a vague sentence, well, for example,
    It is a great thing.
    It can't be accurately translated into Chinese. It's either 事情很棒 or 东西很棒.

    There is a linguistic term 事物. You can see the characters: it is a combination of the two basic meaning. But it's only for linguistic studies, not really used in daily life.

    Any language except Chinese differentiate them?
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2013
  2. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hi SuperXW,

    In Icelandic, the word mál means "matter, affair" (it also means "speech, language" etc.). As far as I know, it isn't usually used to refer to "thing" in the sense of an object -- on the other hand, the word hlutur means "thing" in the sense of "object", but to my (limited) knowledge, it isn't used to mean "matter, issue".

    I don't know of any other language offhand where a distinction is always made between these two senses of "thing", and even Icelandic may have a term that covers both meanings.

    By the way, what does the linguistic term 事物 refer to?
  3. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    Combining the characters of "affair" 事 and "object" 物, you get this word 事物. It reflects both meanings. It could be the most accurate Chinese word for "thing". However, it's only used in very formal or literary writings.

    "形容词可以修饰事物。" "Adjectives can modify THINGS." (Used in a language class.)
    "我对这些事物没有感觉。" "I don't have feelings towards these THINGS." (Used in literary writings. For example, 事物 may refer to both MUSIC AND INSTRUMENTS.)
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2013
  4. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek does not differentiate between a concrete and tangible thing, and an abstract "thing"; sometimes though we tend to use different names for a concrete object, and an abstract one:

    «Πράγμα» ['praɣma] (neut.) --> occurence, matter, affair, thing, object < Classical neuter noun «πρᾶγμᾰ» prâgmă, Ionic «πρῆχμ» prêkʰmă --> fact, affair of state, act, occurence, thing (PIE *per(h₂)-, to go through, cross).

    If we want to use a different name for an abstract object, then we might use:
    1/ «Θέμα» ['θema] (neut.) --> issue, theme < Classical neuter noun «θέμᾰ» tʰémᾰ --> theme, proposition (PIE *dʰeh₁-, to put, lay down, create).
    2/ «Ζήτημα» ['zitima] (neut.) --> object of inquiry, issue < Classical neuter noun «ζήτημα» zḗtĕmă (with obscure etymology).
  5. ahmedcowon Senior Member

    In Arabic, "thing" means شيء /shay'/ and this word is used to refer to both "concrete thing" and "abstract thing"
  6. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Hello! But am I right to say that you do distinguish between the two in Egyptian? حاجة vs حكاية / موضوع?
  7. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    In Cantonese, 嘢 refers to both meanings too.
  8. ahmedcowon Senior Member

    The distinction between the two in Arabic (not only Egyptian) is like the distinction between "thing" and "matter" in English. For example, you say "What's the matter with you?" not "What's the thing with you?".

    (شيء (حاجة is used when translating the 5 examples given by SuperXW:

    The thing is red = الشيء أحمر
    The thing is broken = الشيء مكسور

    Get things done = إنجاز الأشياء/الأمور
    I can't do this thing = لا أستطيع فعل هذا الشيء/الأمر

    It is a great thing = شيء/أمر عظيم
  9. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    I think the English word "matter" also refer to both concrete and abstract things.
    But "matter" has an extra connotation which is "something important/essential"...
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2013
  10. learnerr Senior Member

    In Russian, such word does not exist. An action that you have to do is called "дело" (which means an object of the verb "делать" ~ "to do"/"to make"); in some set expressions it means an essential part of some activity or happenings ("дело в том, что [...]" ~ "the matter is, [...]"; "тут вот какое дело: [...]" ~ "it is essential to understand that [...]"). This word can also mean some cause, i.e. goal: "дело чести" ~ "the matter of honour"; "the Family's Cause" ~ "семейное дело". A singular, either material or abstract, thing is called "вещь"; when this word is used, it often means clothes and the like ("забирай вещи, пошли" ~ "grab what's yours, let's go"). In philosophical settings, they use the word "объект" ("object")*. But, say, music is neither of these. You can say music is an object, but it won't be able to be true or meaningfull unless you're talking philosophically.

    * The word for the object in a sentence is different, it is called "прямое дополнение" ("direct complement"), or just "дополнение", which, I think, happens even more often: to us, all complements are rather the same, they are all just complements, just complements of the verb, as opposed to "подлежащие" (subjects, lit. "subjected to"), "сказуемые" (predicates, lit. "the ones being said", which do not include any complements), "определения" (attributes, lit. "definitions") and "обстоятельства" (adjuncts, lit. "circumstantial notes").
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2013
  11. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    东西 dōngxi can refer to either a concrete or an abstract thing (泛指各种具体或抽象的事物 and so can 事物, shìwù, a term in existence since the Pre-Qin periods, more than two thousands years ago. 問世間情是何 "May I ask what kind of thing the worldly love is", in which 物 "thing" is an abstract thing, not a concrete thing. 物 "thing" in the Chinese idiom 有物有则 "Where there is a thing, there is a governing law or pattern for it" can be an abstract affair or a tangible thing. Some Mandarin speakers may opt to say 把东西搞定 "Get things done" as an alternative for 把事情搞定. In other words, the Chinese language does have the capacity of messing them up should the speaker/writer desire to do so, although I admit that in Chinese there is a tendency of not messing them up.
    What is interesting about Chinese is that the words for "concrete thing" (e.g., and 东西) can be used for "abstract thing" , but not the other way round. Yet the words for "thing" in many of the Indo-European languages seem to come from the opposite direction. For instance, English "thing" came from an abstract concept (i.e., Proto-Germanic *thengan "appointed time"), Spanish cosa "thing" from Latin causa "lawsuit, case", Tocharian wntare "thing, affair" possibly from PIE *wend- "to speak", and so forth.
  12. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013
  13. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)

    věc (< věštь < *voik/woik-ti-s; Russian вещь, related to Ger. Wicht, OEng. wiht 'thing; creature, being, wight; sprite, demon') is used universally like English thing;

    There are several synonyms, but not completely interchangeable, for example:
    předmět = a calque from Latin 'object';

    There is a peculiarity: předmět is sometimes translated as 'subject' in English.

    - in grammar: předmět = object (subject is podmět);
    - in school: předmět = subject (math, biology, geography, etc.)
  14. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Slovene also has predmet "object", with a similar semantic range to what you describe for the Czech term.

    A more general word for "thing, matter" in Slovene is stvar; I'm not sure whether the meaning "matter" or "object" (if either) is more original to this word.
  15. learnerr Senior Member

    Yes, this one I was not able to remember about. I think, it is the closest to the 'thing' sense. In Russian, you can use the word "предмет" in reference to music or worldly love, I mean, such reference will at least make sense, but I don't think it is used this way that often. Usually, it means either a material thing ("какой-то предмет на полу"), or a subject of talking, acting or pondering (in a wide sense: school subjects are included). It seldom means "дело", and if it does, then only in a subset of the meaning "matter". As for the word "вещь", there is one specific use, namely the semi-colloquial use in the meaning "a piece of individual art-work or scientific work": the connotation is that the piece is a very good one; one never uses "предмет" in this sense.

    Also, we may use pronouns to translate the English word "thing", like "что" ("what") or "что-то" ("something"). As an example, "nothing" is either "ничто" or "ничего" in Russian, both pronouns stem from the basic pronoun "что" ("чего" in Genitive) via the [semi]-negative prefix "ни".
  16. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Dutch: I can only see 'ding(en)'. It might not be that common to refer to 'affairs', events, but still: 'Die dingen gebeuren', 'Those things happen', is quite common.
  17. arielipi Senior Member

    In hebrew, if the object is direct we (usually) omit the word thing. If the object is abstract it will always be with thing (if not called by name) 'things are good'.

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