Mandarin Grammar Part One: Tenses (Day 22)

As stated in yesterday’s post, I am starting to learn Mandarin Grammar. The goal is to make the work more interesting, and to keep it challenging. Grammar also allows you to take what you already know and express yourself a lot more clearly and eloquently.

Mandarin Grammar Part One: How Do Tenses Work?

The first thing, after building simple sentences, is to learn about tenses. Luckily, this is relatively straightforward in Mandarin (Thus far, I prepare to eat my own hat if I’m wrong further down the line.)
The reason that Mandarin grammar is straightforward is that Mandarin doesn’t have any verb conjugations. Other languages, English included, do. An example would be if you wanted to learn the different verb forms for “to be.”
In English, depending on the time frame, the verb to be is expressed as:
I am.
I was.
I will be.
I could’ve been.
I could be.
You are.
They are.
They were.
She is.
And so on. This makes it very difficult to learn a new verb. The equivalent in Chinese is, “shi.” It never changes. Instead, Chinese uses words to set the timeframe of the following sentences. An English approximation would be; “Yesterday I am hungry. I go to the shops and buy food. Later, I eat. Then I am tired. I go to bed.”
Notice that the verbs are all in the same, infinitive tense? The only way you know when these actions occur is by the word “Yesterday.” The rest of the conversation assumes the tense of the timeframe set by that word.
This is similar, so far as my understanding thus far, to continuous actions. What we would call progressive tenses in English. In Mandarin, key words are used to denote a continuous action. They are zhèngzài, zhèng or zài. Then, a ‘ne’ is added at the end of the sentence. An example would be:
Wǒ zhèngzài chīfàn ne.
The sentence means:
“I am eating.”

That concludes my learning for Mandarin grammar today. I’ll add in verbs/characters I know for all the sentences the above grammar produces. I am walking. I am sitting. etc. Also, any previous sentences I’ve used “I eat food” can now be converted into past tenses. I’ll learn the words “Yesterday” and “Tomorrow” and other time-frame words over the next few days. This greatly increases the amount you can express in a language.

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