Jump start your Chinese (1) Tense

Mandarin Chinese is not difficult to start with. It does NOT have tedious rules to remember at the beginning. Wait, that doesn’t mean Chinese language has no grammatical rules. If you want to get the gist, here are some rules for beginners who want to jump start your Chinese.

  1. Tense

Generally speaking, we have 3 tenses: past, present, future.

Past tense

For verbs: example — qù 去 (to go)

wǒ qù běi jīng. 我去北京。(I go to Beijing.) — Present Tense

wǒ qù le běi jīng. 我去了北京。(I went to Beijing.) — Past Tense

As one can see, by adding “le 了” after the verb, it indicates the action of “to go” is finished. Some people may see “le” often in the end of the sentence, such as “wǒ qù Běi jīng le. 我去北京了。” In this case, “le 了” is indicating the making of a statement, stating a new status as I’ve gone to Beijing.

Not like other language, when it is past tense, normally the verb itself does not change. It is enough to add “le 了”.

Try with the verb “chī 吃” (to eat).

Future Tense

wǒ míng tiān qù Běi jīng. 我明天去北京。 (I will go to Beijing Tomorrow.)

For future tense, in most of the cases, a time indicator would be enough. For the sentence above, stating “míng tiān 明天” is enough for the listener to know it will be happenning in the future, therefore, verb “qù 去” stays as it is.

Some students ask, do you always indicate time while speaking? What if there is no time specifically? Well, that’s when the future tense indicators swoop in! Here are two: huì 会 & jiāng yào 将要.

Besides being a verb to indicate the ability of performing a skill that one acquired, “huì 会” could also indicate a possibility that something will happen in the future. So, forget about “míng tiān 明天”, one could say:

wǒ huì qù běi jīng. 我会去北京。 (I will go to Beijing.) This case, no specific time is known here.

wǒ jiāng yào qù běi jīng 我将要去北京。 (I will go to Beijing.) (“Jiāng yào 将要” is a little bit more complicated, for beginners, stay with “huì 会”)

Exceptions or not quite what mentioned above?


“zài 在” mostly has two use. 1. as a prep. it means in or at … a location; 2. it is the indicator of verb-ing form, meaning the action is happening now.

So if someone says: I am/ was in Beijing, one just need to say wǒ zài běi jīng 我在北京, “zài 在” does not change or being added with an indicator for past tense, simply specify a time frame that is clearly in the past will do. For instance,

wǒ zuó tiān zài běi jīng. 我昨天在北京。 (Yesterday I was in Beijing.)

Hey! Until here, stay happy, because as a Chinese language beginner, you don’t need to remember all kinds of verb forms and conjugate all the verbs. 😀

p.s. “predicate” is important in Chinese. Will continue in the next post.