- 子曰: "The master says" or "The master said".
- 子: (zǐ) pronoun used to address to a teacher or master. 子 is a respectful form of address to a man, here used to address 孔子 (Confucius). Other similar uses include 孟子 (mèng zǐ) for Mencius and 孫子 (sūn zǐ) for Sun Tzu. In this case, it is assumed by the author that the learned reader will know who spoke the following quote, so it is not necessary to give the exact identity of the speaker.
- 曰: (yue1) verb to say. 曰 is one of the frequently used words for the verb "to say" in Classical Chinese. However, 曰 is not the only frequently used word for "say".
- 學而時習之: Learn and practice often [what you have learned]
- 不亦說乎: Isn't it pleasant?
- 有朋自遠方來: Friends have come from distant places. (Or: A friend has come from a distant place.)
- 不亦樂乎: Isn't it enjoyable?
- 人不知而不慍: [When] other people don't understand [him], but [he] is not angry
- 不亦君子乎: Isn't that (also) how a gentleman should act?
This grammar sections reveals that Classical Chinese in many aspects is close to English:
- The subject precedes the verb: 朋來 (péng lái) 'friend(s) come'
- The object comes after the verb: 習之 (xí zhī) 'practice it'
- Adjectives used attributively precede nouns: 遠方: (yuǎn fāng) distant place
However, there are notable differences:
- Chinese does not inflect for tense or number. In this example,
- Questions are formed by adding a marker at the end (usually it's 乎 (hū), but other markers also exist)
- No linking verb is used with adjectives: 說乎 (yuè hū) 'is it pleasant?'; 遠方 (yuǎn fāng) 'distant place'
If you looked up words in the dictionary, you may have noticed that sometimes part of speech marked there doesn't match that in the dictionary:
- 君子 (jūn zǐ) is given as the noun ('gentleman'), not as an adjective ('gentlemanly', 'like a gentleman should act')
It is because of a process called conversion: one part of speech can become another one. This process can also occur in English: "I love her" (a verb) versus "my love" (a noun).