How to Express Past Tense in Chinese
There is no verb conjugation in Chinese. The form Chinese verb is only one regardless the tense of the sentence. Let’s say, the English ‘go’ can be conjugated as ‘go-went-gone’. In Chinese, the three of ‘go-went-gone’ are all expressed in only one word, 去 (qù). Isn’t that sounds good?
So, how do we differentiate what is the time that the action has occurred? For today, let’s learn how to express past tense in Chinese!
Adverb of Time
The first and also the easiest way to talk about past events is using the adverb of time. As long as you put the time in the sentence, then it is completely clear! Below are a few commonly used past time phrases:
|Traditional Chinese||Simplified Chinese||Pin Yin||English|
|三年前||三年前||sān nián qián||three years ago|
|兩年前||两年前||liǎng nián qián||two years ago|
|三個月前||三個月前||sān gè yuè qián||three months ago|
|兩個月前||两个月前||liǎng gè yuè qián||two months ago|
|上個月||上个月||shàng gè yuè||last month|
|三個星期前/三週前||三个星期前/三周前||sān gè xīngqí qián/sān zhōu qián||three weeks ago / three weeks ago|
|兩個星期前/兩週前||两个星期前/两周前||liǎng gè xīngqí qián/liǎng zhōu qián||two weeks ago / two weeks ago|
|上個星期/上週||上个星期/上周||shàng gè xīngqí/shàng zhōu||last week/last week|
|三天前||三天前||sān tiān qián||three days ago|
|兩天前||两天前||liǎng tiān qián||two days ago|
|昨晚||昨晚||zuó wǎn||last night|
|過去||过去||guòqù||in the past|
Wǒmen liǎng nián qián bānguò jiā.
We moved two years ago.
Wǒ zuótiān chīle niúpái.
I ate steak yesterday.
Tā tǐzhòng jiǎnle hěnduō, bǐ yǐqián qīngle wǔ gōngjīn.
She lost a lot of weight and was five kilograms lighter than before.
We can also add the aspect particle, such as 了 (le) and 過 [过] (guò) to indicate past events.了 (le) is used to indicate the completion of an action. In a similar way, 過 [过] (guò) is used to show that something has happened before.
The above three examples in adverb of time section contained the aspect particles in the sentence. In fact, the aspect articles can be also used with/without the adverb of time. For the usage without the adverb of time, please see the followings:
Tā qùle luómǎníyǎ.
He went to Romania.
Wǒ hēle sān bēi guǒzhī.
I drank three glasses of juice.
Tāmen yīqǐ zuòguò shēngyì.
They had done business together.
Tā kànguò nǐ de zhàopiàn.
She had seen your photo.
In addition, they 了 (le) and 過 [过] (guò) can also appear together in one sentence. Example:
Wǒ chīguò zǎocānle.
I had a breakfast.
Tāmen yǐjīng jiànguò miànle.
They had already met.
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