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I'm Chinese, my teacher told me don't use the means of code-switching to learn foreign languages, she made an instance for this:

Chinese:

我们不可能在很短的时间内就掌握英语。

Divided into words by gaps:

我们 不可能 在 很短的 时间 内 就 掌握 英语。

Literal meaning by words: we, impossible, in/on/at, very short, time, in/inside/within, just, master(v.), English.

She said the correct expression is like:

It is impossible for us to master English in a short time.

But Chinese perhaps express it as follow due to the code-switching, which is incorrect:

We are impossible to master English in a short time.

What I want to ask is, does this 'incorrect' sentence sounds really incorrect or unnatural in native speakers' opinion? May you tell me?

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  • note in your English gloss "we are impossible..." you have inserted a new verb "are". This changes the English to something like "我们很不可能". Perhaps that's just as odd in Chinese.
    – James K
    Apr 8, 2022 at 16:17
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    Short answer: yes, completely incorrect and unnatural. "We are" and "It is" are completely different.
    – stangdon
    Apr 8, 2022 at 16:55

3 Answers 3

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[我们] [不可能] [在 很短的 时间 内] [就 掌握 英语]。

It is impossible for us to master English in a short time.

is fine.

We are impossible to master English in a short time.

is ungrammatical. Having the English terms follow the word sequence of the Chinese sentence would give

[We] [can't possibly] [in a short time][master English].

which does not sound as good as

We can't possibly master English in a short time.

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Yes, it sounds completely unnatural. I guess a native-speaker's mind would quickly replace "We are" with "It is", and immediately follow it with "for us".

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Let's look at an easier sentence first:

The book is green.

This sentence describes the book and names an attribute that the book has, namely the book's color.

We are impossible.

would follow the same principle. But you do exist, therefore you can't be impossible ;)

What you want to do is describe an attribute not of yourself, but of learning the English language. So, a simplified version of your sentence could be

It is impossible to master English.

Then, you expand this sentence with additonal information:

It is impossible to master English in a short time.
It is impossible for us to master English in a short time.

As a side note, it would be a topic of its own where the "it" in "It is impossible" comes from ;) So for this question, you may want to just accept it.

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