"Who is our science teacher this year?"


November 19, 2017

This discussion is locked.




Marked wrong, but is something wrong with this sentence?


Moreover is there anything wrong with: “今年谁是我们的科学老师?”


That looks technically correct, but in reality people much prefer to say X是谁 rather than 谁是X.

The reason is information structure: In declarative clause, you can usually put all your words into two categories: “old” information (stuff that you expect the other person to already know about) and “new” information (stuff that you want to tell them). Many languages, including Chinese, have a strong tendency to put the old information as close to the beginning, and the new one as close to the end as possible. Actually English has this tendency, too, albeit not quite as strong as Chinese. It’s the reason you would normally say “my science teacher is xyz” rather than “xyz is my science teacher” – unless you’re in a situation where xyz has already been mentioned previously and the new information is his position as your science teacher.

So in English, just like in Chinese, you would put the answer to our “who is our science teacher” question at the end of the sentence, because the identity of that teacher is the new information. And since Chinese leaves question words in the same place where the answer will be, it is much more common to put the question word late in the sentence as well.


exactly, I am getting so pissed off with duolingo lol.




You can technically do that but it's more natural to put the question word later in the question where possible. It's just the Chinese way of structuring information to try and put known things earlier than new information.

This also has to do with topics because you can only make something a topic if it is "old information" (e.g. something which has come up before or a general category). Phrases that involve question words by definition ask for new information so they cannot be the topic (this is the reason why "as for our new teacher, who is it?", is ok but "as for whom, is s/he our new teacher?", isn't). So it's much more natural to put the known information "our science teacher this year" first where it can double as subject and topic, than to put the question word first, in which case there would be no overt topic (so the listener might misunderstand and think an earlier topic carries over).


I know right....What's the difference...


科 (kē) = brach of study/field/science
学 (xué) = to learn/to study/science
科学 (kēxué) = science

老 (lǎo) = old/experienced/always
师 (shī) = teacher/master/expert
老师 (lǎoshī) = teacher


今年谁是我们科学的老师?It was marked wrong, thank you if you could explain it!


我们科学的老师 sounds rather strange, a bit like “the teacher of our science”.

Fronting 今年 (i.e. 今年谁是我们的科学老师) should work, though I prefer the version with 今年 as the attribute to 科学老师.




I’m confused by this sentence. Isn’t 我们的科学老师 the subject, and not just 我们? I thought 今年 needed to come either before or after the subject, but it’s kind of in the middle here. How is this correct please?


Maybe it’s clearer if we build the phrase up in stages:

  • 科学老师 science teacher
  • 今年的科学老师 this year’s science teacher/the science teacher of this year
  • 我们今年的科学老老师 our science teacher of this year

You could ask why there is no 的 after 我们 then. Probably the reason is that then the listener might be led to nonsense interpretations like “the science teacher of our this year” ([[我们的今年]的科学老师] instead of the correct [我們[[今年]的科学老师]]). In any case, there can be no 的 in that space.

Now there is another possible order: 今年我们的科学老师是谁? This would make this year the topic of conversation rather than the teacher.

What is not possible (or at least not without delving into the realm of very weird interpretations of the original sentence) is the order you might expect from English: *我们的科学老师今年是谁? The reason is topicalisation: This word order assumes a particular science teacher and then asks who he is this year. Basically it sounds like the science teacher changes identity every year and you’re asking who he is this year.

Does that make sense?


Thank you AbunPang for your very clear and detailed answer. I do understand now.


Sorry, your explanation does't make sense to me. Yes, we are talking about a particular science teacher: our science teacher. The topic of conversation does not seem to me to be our. It is a science teacher. Which science teacher? Our science teacher. In English, our is a possessive, an adjective modifying science teacher. Our is important but not as important as science teacher and probably more important than this year although that could depend on the circumstance. But it makes no sense that anything other than science teacher is the antecedent of who.


Maybe I should have expressed myself more clearly. If you make the science teacher the topic, you imply that you have a particular person in mind – not just whatever random person happens to be filling the position of “science teacher”. Does that make sense?

So 我们的科学老师今年是谁 sounds to me like you still have the same teacher. Let’s call him Michael. You still have Michael as a teacher, only he somehow transformed into a different person. Maybe Michael is taking part in an annual school play and the speaker is asking who he is portraying this year? That’s about the only reasonable situation I can come up with where that word order would make any sense to me.

But in the more obvious situation where we just got a new science teacher for the new school year, you can’t use it. You have to either incorporate 今年 into the science teacher noun phrase which would then be the topic 我们今年的科学老师 “our science teacher of this year”. The speaker may not know the teacher’s identity yet, but they know the teacher exists and that the addressee knows about them, so it’s possible to topicalise them. Or you make 今年 the topic: 今年我们的科学老师是谁? “As for this year, who is our science teacher?”


Why I cannot put 谁 at the beginning?


I did put it at the beginning (well, after 今年) and it got accepted.


可不可以说: 我们今年科学的老师是谁? 谁今年我们的科学老师?




“我们今年科学的老师是谁” is probably technically speaking not wrong, but it sounds weird to me. It’s much better to put 的 behind 今年. The reason is that 科学 and 老师 are bound together much more closely, almost like a single word, whereas 今年 is only an attribute.

”谁今年我们的科学老师” is missing 是, so it doesn’t work.


Duo does accept another alternative: 今年谁是我们的科学老师?

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