Chinese Mandarin is a beautiful language which is very unique in its structure, as one of the only languages which doesn’t have its own time-related verb tenses. For example, if you eat an apple every day, then yesterday you ate an apple. The form of the verb in English is changed from ‘To eat’ (infinitive) to ‘You eat’ (present) to ‘You ate’ (past). But when using Chinese verb conjugation, this will remain the same, ‘Chī’ (to eat), whether you are communicating the past, present or future.
The structure of the verb in Mandarin Chinese will not change in any way. Instead, a time adverb or aspect particle are used to express more detail about when something is happening. While this may seem complicated, because there are some sentence structuring rules to follow, it is much simpler than may be expected. Let take a look at how to express different periods of time in Chinese.
While learning Chinese, you may have noticed that the language doesn’t conjugate its verbs or reference time within its organic verb structure. Unlike European language, sentences in Chinese mandarin uses adverbs and particles to communicate the specifics of meaning within the sentence. This is done in a few ways which are easy enough to implement straight away.
If you would like to speak about the past, there are a few common words to know. They are :
Note that this particle is not a substitute for the past tense, It is a marker to communicate that an action has been completed. It can be used in the past, Present or for the immediate future.
This is often used to talk about unspecific periods in time.
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Note that while ‘guò’ can be used with ‘le’ it does completely change the meaning of the sentence when referring to the past.
When planning to travel to China or to learn the Chinese language, it is always the goal of language students to find the best ways to express themselves. Learning about how to best do that in Mandarin involves a lot of study and an understanding of how the sentence structure, grammar and tonal complexities of mandarin work. A key point is to realise that when you are learning a language like Chinese, that it is not like your native English language or other European languages like Italian or Spanish. Chinese is unique and requires a flexible and open-minded approach to learning.
Another way for you to express the past is by using commonly used time phrase or adverbs, such as
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These time phrases specify the time in Mandarin, by being placed before the verb,
Now we have learned some Chinese vocabulary for how to express the past in conversation. Let’s take a look at the present tense in the Mandarin language.
Its easy to communicate the present in a few ways. Photo Source: Unsplash
A great thing about learning Chinese is the difference between Chinese and European languages. For the English speaker, we have to conjugate everything, but once the time frame is understood in Mandarin, there is no need to continue to reference it. This means that even though some parts of Chinese maybe intensive and challenging. To learn Mandarin Chinese is not as challenging as a foreigner might initially believe. Verb construction is a breeze thanks to the lack of tenses within the language as well as other structures within the language that makes mastering Chinese a joyful exercise.
The huge advantage is that once you have memorized the sentence construction, time phrases, adverbs, nouns and particles to memory you will be able to include the extra dimension of proficiency to your ever growing communication as you are learning how to speak the language fluently.
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Remember that no matter when a verb is used in Mandarin Chinese it always remains in the infinitive form. For example – I am (wǒ shì) You are (nǐ shì) He Is (tā shì). This is essential to understand so that when you are making your sentences, you can correctly communicate in Chinese. These sentences may not translate directly from English, but as long as they are correct in Chinese, you can speak confidently with the awareness that you will be understood.
Another way for you to express the present is by using commonly used time phrases or adverbs, such as
These common time phrases specify the present time in Mandarin, by being placed before the verb,
Now that we have seen how to speak Chinese using past and present aspects let’s learn to speak Chinese indicating the future.
Although Mandarin is a tonal language, you should be confident about more than Chinese pronunciation and tones. While that is essential, you should also try to learn the word order of sentences, comprehension of grammatical rules, expand your vocab and expressions to make your conversational language skills robust, vibrant and clear.
When speaking about the future, you must know how to use the following time adverbs and particles.
To construct a sentence expressed in the future, we must use the sentence structure with the temporal marker at the beginning of the sentence.
If you don’t do this, you will be either changing the meaning of the sentence or at worse making no sense at all.
Here are some examples to fully immerse yourself in the expressions of the future in Chinese:
There are no conjugations in Chinese Mandarin. Photo Source: Unsplash
While around 80% of Chinese sentences are constructed using the SVO model (subject-verb-object/complement), passive sentences are also used, In Chinese language and culture these sentences are used primarily for three reasons:
An example of the passive voice for a native English speaker will be I write a letter (active voice) A letter is written (Passive). To express this passivity grammatically in Chinese grammar, we must use bèi. To use bèi, beginners to Mandarin Chinese should remember the following rules:
For example, the standard sentence in the active voice;
Example of the passive voice with the “doer” omitted
It is also possible to build your passive sentence to the negative, but this more complicated technique that may be the subject of another article. It expresses itself with the preposition ‘méiyǒu’ which means ‘no’, and the sentence is conjugated according to the following: subject structure + negation + passive mark + agent + verbal sentence.
Chinese speakers do not have to conjugate verbs to be understood. Photo Source: Unsplash
It would be good practice for English speakers interested in Chinese learning. To study new words like the ones in this article and memorize their placement within sentences when speaking Chinese. For any beginner, These Chinese words may seem difficult, but this structure does make it easier to decipher word order and how to speak, read and write.
While speaking Chinese could become more of a challenge if you forget word order and find that you are not understood. The simplicity of having no verbs to conjugate will be a welcome gift to all Chinese students.
To speak Chinese correctly, it is therefore essential to know the time markers for each tense as expressed in Mandarin and to know how each of them is used. Whether it is their place in the sentence, their association or their recurrence, placing them well, will be essential to the proper understanding of your sentence, both written and spoken.