Tense in English and Chinese 英汉时态

Tense( 时态)

For native Chinese, tenses in English are hard nuts to crack. We can’t help thinking that why you guys use so many tenses. Actually we use as many tenses as you do, but we don’t change the forms of verb, instead we use other methods to convey the same meaning.

Unlike English which has 5 forms(Basic,-s,past tense, past participle and -ing), Chinese verbs don’t change at all. We use adverbs to indicate the tense. Let’s take present simple and present continuous as examples to illustrate the point.

In English, we use present simple to describe things that are generally true, or happens on a regular basis such as a habit or a hobby. While we use present continuous to describe the things that happens as the time of speaking. The basic forms of two tenses: do/be doing.

  1. I am reading a book on Technology.
  2. I read a while every night before I go to sleep.

In Chinese, the main verb remains the same.

  1. 正在一本科技
  2. 每晚入睡前都一会。(每天晚上都一会再睡觉。)

As you see, the main verb 看changes nothing at all. Instead we add 正在 to indicate the present continuous while we use (每晚)very night to indicate the present simple.

For each tense, we will cover in the following post.

word order

Word order (词序)is important in Chinese. With the same words, if you put them in different orders, you convey totally different meanings. Here are some examples.

Example 1:

1. 我喜欢她。I like her, but she may not like me. -:(

2. 她喜欢我。 She likes me, but … you know.


Example 2:

1. 他跳上桌子。He jumped onto the table. This sentence emphasize the action that he jumped onto the table. I use past simple to indicate that the action has been done.

2.他在座子上跳。He is dancing on the table. This sentence has a total different structure, you will learn more in ensuing chapters.

Rule No.1: Always pay attention to the word order.