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Lesson Transcript


Hi everybody! Yinru here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Chinese questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: Does Chinese have a past tense?
The answer is no. To express a past event, you don’t need to change the form of the verb. To suggest the passing or completion of an event, you’ll need one of two things. First, you can use sentence-final particles like 了 (le), 过 (guo), or ...过了(...guole) after the verb, and/or you add past time adverbials, like 昨天 (zuótiān “yesterday”) and 去年 (qùnián “last year”).
我吃了 Wǒ chī le or 我吃过了 Wǒ chīguo le means “I ate” or “I ate already.”
我们见过了。Wǒmen jiàn guo le. means “We met” or “we have met before.”
他昨天生病了。Tā zuótiān shēng bìng le. “He got sick yesterday.”
To make the negative past, we use
没 (méi)+ verb,
没 (méi) + verb + 过(guò).
Notice that you don’t need 了(le) here for the negative form. Let’s see some examples:
Positive: 我吃了。(Wǒ chī le. “I ate.”)
Negative: 我没吃。(Wǒ méi chī. “I didn’t eat.”)
Positive: 我们见过了。(Wǒmen jiàn guo le. “We have met before.”)
Negative: 我们没见过。(Wǒmen méi jiànguo. “We haven’t met before.”)
Positive: 他昨天生病了。(Tā zuótiān shēng bìng le. “He got sick yesterday.”)
Negative: 他昨天没生病。(Tā zuótiān méi shēngbìng . “ He didn’t get sick yesterday.”)
Generally, to turn a statement into a yes-or-no question, you can simply put a 吗 ma at the end. This works for past tense too.
你吃过了吗?(Nǐ chī guo le ma? “Did you eat?”)
你们见过了吗?(Nǐmen jiàn guo le ma? “Have you met?”)
他昨天生病了吗?(Tā zuótiān shēng bìng le ma? “Did he get sick yesterday?”)
Other time phrases you can use to describe past events include 昨晚 (zuówǎn “last night”), 前天 (qiántiān “the day before yesterday”), 上个星期 (shànggè xīngqī “last week”), 上个月(shànggè yuè “last month”), 以前 (yǐqián “before”).
Let’s see some more examples:
前天我去朋友家玩儿了。(Qiántiān wǒ qù péngyou jiā wánr le. “The day before yesterday, I hung out at my friend’s place.”)
她以前没有做过这种工作。(Tā yǐqián méiyǒu zuò guo zhèzhǒng gōngzuò . “She hasn’t done this kind of job before.”)
刘老师,你上个星期出差了吗?(Liú lǎoshī, nǐ shàngge xīngqī chūchāi le ma? “Mr. Liu, did you go on a business trip last week?”)
Be aware that seeing 了(le) in a sentence doesn’t necessarily mean the sentence is in past tense. 了(le) has a few different usages; representing the passing and completing of an action is only one of them.


How was it? Pretty interesting, right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below, and I’ll try to answer them!
我们下期再见。Wǒmen xià qī zàijiàn. I’ll See you next episode. Bye!