Transfer verb patterns with yi 以 and yü 於
This is an old note of mine, in which I tried to propose a framework for the typical usage of "transfer verbs" with yi 以 and yü 於.
In Classical Chinese, some verbs that express the meaning of transferring things (from A to B) are often followed by two objects-the direct object (the recipient) and the indirect object (the theme). Sometimes, the two objects follow the transfer verb to form a nuclear sentence without the use of any preposition. For example:
陳侯與之車。The marklord of Chen gave him a carriage.
In this sentence, yü 與 “to give (something to someone)” is the transfer verb. The direct object 之 “him”, as the recipient, follows right after the verb. The indirect object 車 “carriage”, as the theme, follows the direct object.
NB: In English, the thing transferred is typically the direct object, and the recipient is the indirect object or the object of a preposition. In Classical Chinese, it is the recipient that is the direct object of the main factor.
In the majority of circumstances, co-nuclear phrases will appear in the transfer verb sentences. Depending on the nature of the transfer verb, the sentence patterns are categorized into the following two groups: “Deliver verb pattern with 以” and “Obtain verb pattern with 於”.
Deliver verb pattern with 以
Nuclei that express the delivering of something from a sender (expressed as a grammatical subject) to a recipient (expressed as a grammatical direct object) are often formed with 以 serving as the factor in a co-nuclear phrase where the thing delivered (the theme) is the object. Some examples of this type of verbs include gao 告 ‘to report (something to someone)’, yü與 ‘to give’, jiao 教 ‘to instruct (someone in something)’, fu 付 ‘to present, hand over (something to someone)’, and da 答 ‘to answer (someone with something)’. Note that the things being delivered need not be substantial but maybe abstract concepts such as answers, principles, and knowledge.
The structure of the sentence is basically: Subject + Deliver verb + Direct object + 以 + Indirect object. E.g.,
南子與夫子以瓜。 “Nancy gave Confucius a melon”.
In this sentence, the recipient of the act of delivering is Confucius, appearing as the direct object of the factor yü ‘give’. The thing is given, i.e., the thing delivered, is the melon, which is the object of a co-nuclear phrase where yi functions as the factor.
Examples of other verbs include:
1. 王教民以禮。 “The king instructed the people in the rites”.
2. 將告王以國事。 “The general reported the affairs of the state to the king”.
3. 真人付之以頌。 “The perfected person presented an encomium to him”.
4. 答以仁義。 “ [Mencius] answered [King Hui of Liang] with humanness and righteousness”.
Notice that sometimes an English translation can be made to reflect the 以 explicitly, but that is not necessary. For instance, the sentence 王教民以禮 can be translated as “The king took rites to instruct the people”. But in most cases, it is more convenient to translate 以 as an English preposition. E.g., in the translation of the same sentence: “The king instructed the people in the rites”, “in” is the English preposition which corresponds to 以. It is also not unusual that 以 is not translated at all. For instance, in the translation “Nancy gave Confucius a melon”, there is no English preposition equivalent to 以.
Sometimes, the co-nuclear phrase “以 + Indirect object” is moved ahead to be placed right after the subject, and the sentence becomes: Subject + 以 + Indirect object + Deliver Verb + Direct object. E.g.,
Also, when “以 + Indirect object” is NOT moved ahead, the subject and the direct object can often be omitted. E.g.,
without subject 與夫子以瓜。
without direct object 南子與以瓜。
without both 與以瓜。
But when “以 + Indirect object” is moved ahead, the subject, direct object, and indirect object can all be omitted. E.g.,
without subject 以瓜與夫子。
without indirect object 南子以與夫子。
without direct object 南子以瓜與。
以+ Deliver Verb 以與。
Obtain verb pattern with 於
Nuclei that express someone (expressed as a grammatical subject) obtaining of something (expressed as a direct object) from a source (expressed as an indirect object), are often formed with yü 於. Some examples of this type of verbs include wen问 ‘to ask (someone about something)’, qing 請 ‘to request (something from someone)’, suo 索 ‘to seek out (something from someone)’, qü 取 ‘to take (something from someone)’, and shou 受 ‘to receive (something from someone)’. Note that the things being obtained (the theme) need not be substantial but maybe abstract concepts such as orders, mandates, and knowledge.
The structure of the sentence is basically: Subject + Obtain verb + Direct object + 於 + Indirect object. E.g.,
王請命於天。 “The king requested the mandate from Heaven”.
In this sentence, the thing being obtained is the mandate, appearing as the direct object of the factor qing ‘request’. The source where the thing is obtained is Heaven, and it appears as the indirect object after the preposition 於. In this pattern, 於 always plays a secondary or subordinate function to form a relational phrase, which is often translated as “from someone or something”.
Examples of other verbs include:
1. 問於孟子。 “[She] inquired of Mencius [about something]”.
2. 正己而不求於人則無怨。 “Correcting oneself and then not asking [favors] from people, then one will have no regret”.
3. 無索於天下。 “[He] has nothing to seek for from the SCR”.
4. 何取於水也？ “What [do you] take from water”?
Same as the 以 pattern sentences, sometimes, the co-nuclear phrase “於 + Indirect object” is moved ahead to be placed right after the subject, and the sentence becomes: Subject + 於 + Indirect object + Deliver verb + Direct object. E.g.,
Also, when “於 + Indirect object” is NOT moved ahead, the subject and the direct object can often be omitted. E.g.,
without subject 請命於天。
without direct object 王請於天。
without both 請於天。
But when “於 + Indirect object” is moved ahead, it is normally only the subject that can be omitted. E.g.,
without subject 於天請命。
but seldom [王]於天請。
NB: Although the nature of the transfer verbs, be it deliver or obtain, tend not to change, the two different sentence patterns with 以 and 於 do not strictly apply to one verb type. For example, the obtain verb 請 does appear in 以 sentence pattern as well. The sentence 臣請以三十金復取之 can be understood in two ways:
1) The vassal requested to use (or to take) thirty pieces of gold to regain it.
2) 臣請（王）以三十金復取之 The vassal requested thirty pieces of gold [from the king] to regain it.