Dec 29 2009

Easy Past Tense Verbs

In Mandarin Chinese expressing verbs in the past tense is extremely easy.  In order to demonstrate this simply without teaching you any Chinese first let’s take a look at how incredibly difficult English is.

I am -> I was

I go -> I went

I eat -> I ate

I want -> I wanted

The first 3 verbs are irregular verbs, the English language has TONS of these annoying verbs.  The last verb is a regular verb meaning we can just add “ed” to the end of the verb to make it past tense.

So think for a second how difficult a language English is to learn.  A foreign speaker must simply memorize the past tenses of all those irregular verbs.   Imagine for a second, however, that the “ed” applied to every single verb in the English language.  In this hypothetical world the verbs above would be rendered :

I am -> I amed

I go -> I goed

I eat -> I eated

I want -> I wanted

To a native speaker of English the above renderings sound ridiculous, but to someone learning English they likely have sleepless nights wondering why they can’t just speak in the manner above.   It’s completely logical, but of course incorrect.

Now in Mandarin Chinese our hypothetical world comes true.  This is because they also have a similar “ed” rule in order to make their verbs past tense.  However, this rule has absolutely no exceptions.  There are no irregular verbs to memorize, just one simple rule that applies to the whole language.  Isn’t that easy ?

The figurative “ed” is actually “le”.  Just say “le” after any verb in Mandarin and you have the past tense.  To illustrate using our 4 examples above you simply say :

I am -> I am le

I go -> I go le

I eat -> I eat le

I want -> I want le

There’s no need to go into the actual Chinese for the verbs above as I am simply demonstrating one of the many ways in which Chinese is easy and logical.   (I do have to say though that the Chinese would rarely ever, perhaps never, put “le” after the verb “to be”.  So my example “I am le” isn’t entirely accurate as with this verb the context of the sentence would indicate whether we are talking about the past.  I think that one verb is the only exception.)

Now let’s talk a little bit about the Present Perfect tense.  Above was just simple past tense.  If you aren’t familiar with grammar and what Present Perfect means here are some examples :

I have eaten apples

I have heard that before

I have been to China

So we have situations where we “did” something and sometimes we say we “have done” something.  The most obvious difference I can see is that simple past tense is normally used to describe something we did in the recent past  (perhaps yesterday or last week) whereas present perfect is describing something we have done in the more distant past  or when we want to express that we have had the experience of doing something at least once.  For example when someone asks the question “Have you ever … ?” In order to answer that we would say “Yes I have …..” or “No I haven’t ever …..” using present perfect tense.  Using the verbs mentioned at the outset let’s look at their present perfect renderings :

I am -> I was -> I have been

I go -> I went -> I have gone

I eat -> I ate -> I have eaten

I want -> I wanted -> I have wanted

Here again we see no rule that applies to all the verbs making it that much more difficult to learn.  Mandarin Chinese however does have another rule to convey this type of verb tense.  You simply add “guo” to any verb.  So you would have :

I am -> I am le -> I am guo

I go -> I go le  -> I go guo

I eat -> I eat le -> I eat guo

I want -> I want le-> I want guo

Again with the first verb “to be” Chinese would never use “guo”, but I am just illustrating the simplicity of this rule.  The verb “to be” would be the only exception.

So there you have it.  Just learn “le” and “guo” and you have all the past tense versions of every single verb in the Mandarin language.  Can you say the same for English, French or Spanish ?  This is just one of many reasons why I think this is a very easy language to learn to speak.  I admit that the reading and writing is perhaps the most difficult, but you don’t need to know how to read or write in order to communicate and isn’t communication the purpose of language ?

I personally haven’t learned to write, nor do I think I ever will as I don’t need to.  I have learned how to read most of what I see but that was only out of interest and to continue challenging myself.  If you are thinking of learning Chinese or already are put reading and writing on the back burner, focus on your speaking and listening skills.  That’s just my personal recommendation.  You will have your hands full enough with just speaking and listening, no need to put your brain into overload.

Feel free to leave your comments and/or feedback

2 Responses to “Easy Past Tense Verbs”

  1. Robin says:

    Hi. Sorry to be the one to point this out, but ‘I have eaten’ is Present Perfect not Past Perfect, as Past Perfect is ‘I had eaten’. Unfortunately, you are a little confused about the use of the present perfect too, as it is not used for events that happened a long time ago. Instead it is used for events that happened but are 1. directly resulting in an important event in the present, 2. repeated over a long time but may continue repeating in the present or future and/or 3. very recent events which have stopped within the very recent past.
    I know this is about Chinese grammar, not English but I was confused as to how to use the Chinese grammar because the English examples were somewhat confusing. Otherwise, thanks for the article and I appreciate the work put into it. 🙂

  2. says:

    Hi Robin

    Thanks I will correct my article. Yes, I am by no means an English expert so get all our crazy grammar terms mixed up. Just more proof that Chinese is easier than English.

    However, we DO say “I have eaten X before” to indicate that we have had the experience of eating something in the past at least once in our lifetime.

Leave a Reply

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.

Alibi3col theme by Themocracy
Sundresses for Women