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Lesson 12 How to express tense of verbs in Chinese

Posted by Grace Feng on January 29, 2012

So far you haven’t seen any change of forms in Chinese verbs, pronouns, nouns or adjectives. Does this ever leave you wonder where do I need to change form then? The answer is quite simple: never!

Or let’s put it this way, Chinese language is like a big bucket of legos. Each single lego has a unique look. A major part of these legos have their own meaning and can be used on their own as a single-character word. Some legos have to be used with another lego, or another few legos to form a word or phrase.

Each single sentence of Chinese is a combination of a couple of, or even tens of legos. As a learner of Chinese, your goal is to understand and memorize the way of putting together the right legos to express your thoughts. At the same time, understand the lego pattern that other people use to communicate to you. Remember, none of the legos need to change its look ever!!

That being said, you might ask? If no conjugation is needed, then how can I tell the difference between things that is happening now, happened before or already happened?

The answer is, use more legos! Normally you only need to know some generally used “help words” for each tense to accurately express the tense of the verb.

Before we jump into our core content, let’s take a bit of time to learn some new words first. Please use the estroke tool underneath the new word table to learn how to hand-write the characters:

chī wǔ fàn zhèng zài
吃 (eat)
午饭 (lunch)
 正在 (in the process of doing something)
 [mp3j track=”L12-chi.mp3″]  [mp3j track=”L12-wu-fan.mp3″]  [mp3j track=”L12-zheng-zai.mp3″]
shàng xīng qī qù nián zuó wǎn
上星期 (last week)
 去年 (last year)
 昨晚 (last night)
 [mp3j track=”L12-shang-xing-qi.mp3″]  [mp3j track=”L12-qu-nian.mp3″] [mp3j track=”L12-zuo-wan.mp3″]
 yǐ jīng dù jià kāi huì
 已经 (already)
 渡假 (go on vacation)
 开会 (have meeting)
 [mp3j track=”L12-yi-jing.mp3″]  [mp3j track=”L12-du-jia.mp3″]  [mp3j track=”L12-kai-hui.mp3″]
 zuò fēi jī
 坐 (sit on, ride)
 飞机 (plane)
[mp3j track=”L12-zuo.mp3″]  [mp3j track=”L12-fei-ji.mp3″]

 

  • You can copy and paste a few characters together into the box. They’ll show in the animation window one by one.
  • Once the stroke animation stops, click in the animation window and hit ENTER to replay it.
  • You can use the sliding bar to control writing speed of the animation.

 

Time to see some examples:

1. Present time:

wǒ chī wǔfàn

我吃午饭.

I have lunch.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

No “help word” is needed.

 

2. Present time (progressive):

wǒ zhèngzài chī wǔfàn.

正在吃午饭.

I’m having my lunch.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

“正在” is the “help word” that is used before a verb to represent progressive aspect of the verb.

You can also just use one character from the word of “正在”. The result is the same:

 

wǒ zhèng chī wǔfàn.

吃午饭.

I am having lunch.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

wǒ zài chī wǔfàn.

吃午饭.

I am having lunch.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

3. Past tense:

 

wǒ zuótiān chī wǔfàn

我昨天吃午饭

I had my lunch yesterday.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

or…

 

wǒ zuótiān chī de wǔfàn.

昨天午饭.

I had my lunch yesterday.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

昨天(zuótiān) is “yesterday”. We’ve learned this word in What is the right order of words in a Chinese sentence? You can put any time word that indicates the time that happened in the past to replace 昨天 in your own sentence. Such as 上星期(shàng xīng qī) – last week, 去年 – last year, 昨晚 – last night, etc.. And the time word is all you need to use to tell people it happened in the past. You can also add “的”right after the verb to make the sentence sound more balanced. (It’s a habbit that acient Chinese poet would think for days to find a word to fit into their peom or lyrics to make it sound more rhymed and balanced.)

 

4. Past tense (completion)

wǒ yǐjīng chī le wǔfàn.

已经午饭.

I already had my lunch.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

已经 + verb + 了”is all you need to remember for a completion past tense combination.

Are you clear about all the above? If not, go back and read again till you fully understand the usage. Then we can move on with a little translation practice. Try not to peek back on the lesson while doing the practice. Could you use the new verb tense knowledge to translate the following Chinese sentences?

 

bàba yǐjīng qù gōngsī shàngbān le.

爸爸已经去公司上班了.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

tā zhèngzài dùjià.

他正在渡假.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

wǒmen qù kāihuì.

我们去开会.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

tā shàngxīngqī zuòfēijī qù Běijīng.

她上星期坐飞机去北京.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

How well did you do on the practice? I believe it’s very good. :-)

If you don’t have a Chinese article handy, please randomly search a Chinese article and see if you can see the words of “正在”and “已经”. With the help of online dictionary, see if you can figure out the meaning of the sentence. Don’t forget to share with me what you discovered. Have fun!

 

Related posts:

Lesson 4 How to ask questions in Chinese (1)
Lesson 15 How to say “I can”, “I'm able to” in Chinese
Lesson 18 How to structure “however” and “but” sentence in Chinese

 

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10 Responses to “Lesson 12 How to express tense of verbs in Chinese”

  1. nothing

    Joseph Alessandro Mati:

    09-30-2012 2:25 pm

    I forgot : 我忘记了! [ 忘记 = wang4ji4 = to forget ]
    verb + 了 = past tense
    I remember this simple pattern very well.

    What I forgot actually is the translation of ” have not +past participle+ yet. ” .
    ex: I haven’t had my lunch yet.

    I ‘m sure it was not 不已经 ( doesn’t exist ? ).
    “还没 + verb” or “从来没 + verb” perhaps ? from the dictionary.

    Can you help me ?

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace:

      09-30-2012 5:17 pm

      “I haven’t had my lunch yet.”

      You can use “还没 + verb”, that’s right:

      我还没吃午饭呢.

      There’s no 不已经 expression, don’t use it.

      “从来没 + verb” means “Have never done …”, obviously you can’t use it in this situation.

      Hope it helps, Joseph. :-)

      Grace

      Reply

  2. nothing

    Joseph Alessandro Mati:

    09-30-2012 9:27 pm

    谢谢!

    Reply

  3. nothing

    Ladner:

    08-18-2015 9:23 am

    After moving to Shenzhen, I choose to study with the teachers at Hanbidge Mandarin. It’s clear to all I meet that my Chinese has improved so much since I’ve started working with them. I’m always impressed by their professionalism, patience and flexibility. MLC is able to design a curriculum for any level of Chinese, from a complete beginner, to business Chinese and everything in between. As a beginner we focused on proper pronunciation. Now that I’m further along, we work on topics related to my profession. The teachers at Hanbidge Mandarin are wonderful to work with and anytime I know someone who is interested in studying Chinese, I always recommend Hanbidge Mandarin.

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      08-19-2015 1:06 am

      Hi Ladner, thank you for sharing your learning experience in China. Glad that you’ve found a good place to advance your Chinese. I believe this information will help other readers on this site too.

      Cheers,

      Grace

      Reply

  4. nothing

    :

    01-08-2016 3:55 pm

    老师,请问这些一样吗?
    1) 我现在正在看电视呢。
    2) 我现在正看电视。
    3) 我现在在看电视。
    4) 我现在看电视呢。

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      01-09-2016 12:21 am

      都一样啊。

      苏,你好厉害, 找出那么多不同的句式表达一样的意思。 :-)

      再接再励!

      Grace

      Reply

  5. nothing

    :

    01-13-2016 3:10 pm

    老师,
    多谢您的帮助。我是一个Software Engineer。
    If you need any of my little help with your free Chinese teaching, pls email me sawrochelais@gmail.com. I would like to help my best for free. I just simply admire your dedication and work for others.

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      01-15-2016 5:42 am

      苏,谢谢你啊!如果我碰到头痛的问题,一定会请教你的。:)

      Grace

      Reply

      • nothing

        :

        01-17-2016 12:02 pm

        不用客气老师。:)

        Reply

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