Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese

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On "Savage Minds", Kerim has a new post entitled "How do you pronounce '革命ing'?", which features this initially enigmatic photograph:

The photograph shows Taiwanese historian and political activist, Su Beng (aka Shih Ming), in front of a banner that reads:

Táidú 台獨, which is short for Táiwān dúlì 台灣獨立 ("Taiwan Independence")

Quánmín gémìng ing 全民革命ing ("the entire people [are carry]ing [out] revolution")

I should note that this scene is part of the general turmoil now roiling Taiwan because of a secret trade agreement that was signed between the ROC and PRC governments ("Taiwan Protesters Occupy Legislature Over China Trade Pact").

The assimilation of the English present progressive morpheme -ing into Chinese has been covered on Language Log already in 2008, and it was also discussed on Pinyin News. It's not impossible to express roughly the same sentiment in Chinese without resort to English -ing. I asked several native speakers how they would say "全民革命ing" purely in Chinese, and here are some of the suggestions I received:

quánmín gémìng shí 全民革命時
("when / while / at the time the entire people [are carrying out] revolution")

quánmín gémìng zhōng 全民革命中
("the entire people in the midst of [carrying out] revolution")

quánmín gémìng zhèngzài jìnxíng 全民革命正在進行
("the entire people are right now carrying out revolution")

zhèngzài quánmín gémìng zhōng 正在全民革命中
("right now in the midst of the entire people [carrying out] revolution")

xiànzài zhèngzài jìnxíng quánmín gémìng 現在正在進行全民革命 ("right now the entire people are just in the process of carrying out revolution")

None of these convey exactly the same nuance as the original version with -ing, but they may be said to approximate its intent.

It is very interesting that -ing resurfaces just at the moment when we have seen English being used liberally in the Taiwanese version of "Let It Go!" and in the comments on the YouTube video where it is recorded, starting with this forthright comment of Patrick Sia:

i dont see the necessity of everyone commenting in english, heck i am using it too. but thats only because i am not that good in mandarin. and some of your grammar tho. its gone wrong.

There are some interesting comments there (something that is not usually the case for Youtube), and the commenters, the great majority of whom seem to be Taiwanese, often write in English. This helps to demonstrate that so many Chinese speakers are writing in English for other Chinese speakers to read that others are complaining about it (some in English even). And there’s even (perhaps) an indirect suggestion of a connection with the lack of a standard written form for Taiwanese.

English vocabulary and grammar have been extensively incorporated into various Chinese languages, certainly as they are spoken and written in Taiwan. It would be interesting to see how this compares with the situation in Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and all the other languages with which we deal.

[Liwei Jiao, Rebecca Fu, Fangyi Cheng, Grace Wu, and Matt Anderson]


  1. valency said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 12:58 am

    I guess this demands the question, in Taiwan, can you, Charlie Sheen style, be 赢-ing.

  2. Peter said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 1:15 am

    This is the first time I've seen Chinese + ING, and I just read the 2008 article as well. Can't say I've seen it in Hong Kong, but I have not been there much either. Personally, at least in this context, I think it is an attempt at being hip to attract the younger crowd. When used in other contexts, like being part of an SMS, "…ing" saves the the writer a few Chinese characters for a concept that may be hard to express in pure Chinese, as demonstrated by the translation attempts.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 6:38 am

    I asked several graduate students from the Mainland how they would write "全民革命ing" purely in Chinese, without resort to a morpheme borrowed from English. Here are some of the suggestions:

    quánmín zhèngzài gémìng 全民正在革命 ("the entire people are right now [carrying out] revolution")

    quánmín gémìng jìnxíng zhōng 全民革命进行中 ("the entire people are in the midst of carrying out revolution")

    quánmín gémìng jìnxíng shí 全民革命进行时 ("when / while / at the time the entire people are carrying out revolution")

    As a side note, during this exercise I noticed that one student wasn't sure how to write shí 时 ("time") and one wasn't sure how to write zài 在 ("at; in; exist"). These are two of the most common Chinese characters. This phenomenon of forgetting how to write even some simple, basic characters is further evidence for creeping character amnesia.





    Finally, the students told me that jìnxíng shí 进行时 ("when / while carrying out") is also the Chinese grammatical term for "progressive tense" and it is automatically invoked when reading English or translating from English as the equivalent of "-ing".

  4. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 6:48 am


    For the many Language Log readers who do not read Chinese, especially such a densely complicated character as 赢, it is pronounced yíng and means "win", so 赢-ing is pronounced yinging and means "winning".

    As for the Charlie Sheen reference, I had to look this up:


  5. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 7:37 am


    You say that this is the first time you've seen Chinese + ING, but then later in your comment you seem to show familiarity with it from SMS and even explain why a writer might want to employ it. My students from China and Taiwan tell me that it's fairly common, and that it goes beyond just trying to be hip.

  6. Stephan Stiller said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 7:44 am

    About Chinese character frequencies, Jun Da's (笪骏) list is useful. The character 时 is #25 and the character 在 is #6.

  7. Jackson Lee said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

    The other day (read: many years ago!) back in high school in Hong Kong, I saw a classmate write "包ed" outside a box. It took zero seconds for everyone around to realize it meant "wrapped" and burst into laughter. Presumably, the English -ed suffix here was considered the functional equivalent of the Cantonese perfective aspect marker 咗 zo2, as in 包咗 baau1zo2 wrap-PERFECTIVE.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    From Stuart Souther:

    Fascinating Victor, thanks for sharing. When my schedule permits I'll revert regarding similar phenomena in Japanese. For the moment I will just note that "Let's" followed by any Japanese noun is a common construction, particularly in advertising.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 8:52 pm

    From Nathan Hopson:

    My impression is that this is a good deal less popular than it was 10-15 years ago, but, yes, this is Let's + Japanese was/is used often in Japan. Sometimes "Let's" is in katakana.

    Of course, Japanese + -ing is not uncommon either.
    This page has examples of both:

    "Let's" is also, btw, the name of a motor scooter:

  10. Observation said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

    The Chinese for 'present continuous tense' ('present progressive tense') is 現在進行式, hence "現在正在進行全民革命", I believe…

    I think 全民革命中 is the best translation. 全民革命時 does not imply the continuous aspect. The rest are too westernised, and 歐化 is any Chinese teacher's pet peeve – it sure took me a lot of effort to drop the bad 歐化 habits!

    I think the reason why -ing is not popular in Hong Kong is because we have the 緊 function word in Cantonese, which serves a very similar purpose:
    He is reading a book. 佢讀緊本書。

  11. Matt said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 10:36 pm

    "Let's X" is an interesting construction because it is a calque of "X しましょう" rather than a borrowing from English. (The word "let's" of course is borrowed, but the "let's X" construction is seldom used in contexts where an English speaker would use "let's". That's why English speakers find it so amusing to see "Let's enjoy" etc. on posters.)

  12. Peter said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 12:10 am

    @ Victor Mair
    I remembered the Cantonese use of 緊 this morning after having left the comment last night, but you and others beat me to it. :-)
    My comment on SMS is only a conjecture. As for being hip, I was talking about the 全民革命ing organization.

    BTW, great articles. I'll be coming back for more.

  13. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 10:50 am

    How would Chinese deal with the past perfect continuous passive aspect?
    As a librarian once told me, "That book has been being bound for six months now." This was to explain why a certain volume of a journal wasn't on the shelf. Wikipedia [Perfect (grammar)] says that these constructions are rarely used, but they're still valid usage.

  14. JS said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 10:20 pm

    attempt to address Dan Lufkin:

    Well, it's not Chinese that has to "deal with" English present-perfect-continuous-passives, etc., but English-to-Chinese translators. Mandarin constructions where the semantic patient appears as subject of the verb are very common but in general require no explicit marking (achieved by be+past participle in English), so meanings akin to your librarian's can be expressed more compactly, e.g. (via Google):

    Dingdan da-bao da le yi tian le, zenme hai bu fa huo
    order do-packing do perfective one day perfect, how still not send goods
    "My order has been being packed for a day already; how have you still not mailed it?" (could also choose to translate "You've been packing my order…")
    The "now" at the end of your English sentence, like "already” above, is usefully equivalent to Mand. sentence-final le marking what is sometimes called "perfect aspect," which plays a key role in expressing this and similar meanings.

    Bei allows resolution of the potential ambiguity that often emerges when the patient is animate (also Google):

    Wo you yi pengyou […] yi bei diaocha le yi nian ban le
    I have a friend […] already BEI investigate perfective one year half perfect
    "There's a friend of mine who has been being investigated for a year and a half now" (could also choose to translate "… who they've been investigating…")

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