Chinese Calligraphy

Lesson 20

Point of time and period of time

The following examples show how to express actions that occurred on a particular point of time and actions that stretch over a particular period of time. In this context also compare the correct use of the particle 了 (le) as described in Lesson 14.


The verb in duration phrases

There are two different ways of expressing duration phrases in Chinese. One way is to only use the verb one time and the other way is to use the verb two times within the duration phrase. The following examples show you the two alternatives.


Habitual actions

Habitual actions are actions that happen regularly. In Chinese you can recognise habitual actions by signal words such as 每 (méi), 常常 (chángcháng), 平常 (píngcháng), 總是 (cóngshì), 從來 (cónglái) etc.

Habitual actions


If you want to express how often or how many times you did something, use 次 (cì) or 遍 (biàn). 次 (cì) or 遍 (biàn) are either preceded by a number or a question word.


Time words

During our grammar course we have already encountered a number of time adverbs (e.g. 作天, 明天, 今天). In this section we want to introduce some more useful time adverbs.

The adverb 以前 (yǐqián)

The adverb 以前 (yǐqián) means "ago", "before", "in the past" and describes actions that happend in the past or before another action.

以前 (yǐqián)

To indicate a sequence of two or more events either in the past or in the present, use the particle 了 (le).

了 (le)

The adverb 以後 (yǐhòu)

The adverb 以後 (yǐhòu) means "later", "after", "afterwards", "in the future" and describes actions that will happen in the future or after another action.

以後 (yǐhòu)

If you describe a sequence of events in which one event happens in the present and the subsequent event happens in the future, use the particle 了 (le) to indicate the sequence and then use 就 (jiù) to introduce the following event.

particle 了

To indicate that one event of the sequence happened in the past, use the particle 了 (le).

particle 了

The adverb 然後 (ránhòu)

The adverb 然後 (ránhòu) just like 以後 (yǐhòu) means "afterwards". The usage of 然後 (ránhòu), however, is limited to consecutive events that take place in the future, in the presence or in the past.

然後 (ránhòu)

The adverb 後來 (hòulái)

The adverb 後來 (hòulái) is used to indicate a sequence of events which occurred in the past.

後來 (hòulái)

The ...的時候 ( shíhou) pattern

The ...的時候 ( shíhou) pattern is a very useful pattern in Chinese and is used to say "when(ever)", "as long as" or "while".


"As long as"

Apart from ...的時候 ( shíhou) you can also use 只要 (zhǐyào) to explicitly express "as long as".

只要 (zhǐyào)


To express the meaning of "otherwise" in Chinese, use (要不然) yàobùrán.


Positions, movements and directions

In Lesson 13 we learned some useful positional nouns such as "前面", "當中", "地下" etc. This section introduces some more words allowing you to indicate positions, movements and directions.

The coverb 離 (lí)

You use the coverb 離 (lí) to indicate the distance from one person or object to another.

離 (lí)

The coverb 從 (cóng)

The coverb 從 (cóng) allows you to express the direction from where a person or object is coming.

從 (cóng)

The coverb 往 (wǎng)

The coverb 往 (wǎng) means "to go to(wards)" and is therefore very suitable for giving directions.

往 (wǎng)

Compass directions

The following examples show how to indicate compass directions in Chinese. Note that there is one difference between English and Chinese. When you want to say Northwest, Southwest, Southeast or Northeast, in Chinese you say west-north, west-south, east-south or east-north.

Compass directions

The passive voice

As in English, the passive voice also exists in Chinese (e.g. "My bag was stolen by a robber."). In Chinese the passive is not as frequently used as in English. Chinese people use the passive mainly in the following situations:

1. To indicate a negative result, e.g. "My house was burgled into".

2. To indicate that the originator of the action is less important than the person or thing affected by the action, e.g. "The book was translated into Chinese by a translator". In this example the fact that the book was translated into Chinese is more important than the person who translated it. That's why the passive is used.

3. To indicate that the originator of the action is not important, should not be mentioned or is unknown, e.g. "This material was first discoverd 2,000 years ago". In this example the originator of the action is not known since the material was discovered 2,000 years ago. The originator is consequently left out by using a passive sentence.

The formation of the passive

When forming the passive, the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence. To finish off the passive sentence, one of the three passive markers 被 (bèi), 讓 (ràng) or 叫 (jiào) must be added after the subject of the passive sentence.


Here are some more examples of passive sentences.


Negating passive sentences

If you want to negate a passive sentence, you just put 沒(有) before the passive marker.


The additional word 給 in passive sentences

Note that in passive sentences you will sometimes find the word 給 before the verb. The word 給 is optional and can be left out. However, you should not be suprised when you discover a passive construction containing one of the three passive markers plus the word 給.


The differences between the passive markers 被 (bèi), 讓 (ràng) and 叫 (jiào)

As long as the passive marker is followed by an object, you can use all three passive markers interchangeably. The passive marker 被 is more often used in written Chinese or formal situations whereas 讓 and 叫 are more colloquial. Also note that 被 has a greater tendency to be used to describe negative situations.
If your passive sentence does not have an object, you can only use the passive marker 被 or alternatively also 給.


Other functions of 被 (bèi), 讓 (ràng) and 叫 (jiào)

Note that 讓 and 叫 can also be used in situations where in English you would say: "to let somebody do something" or "to have/make somebody do something."

被 (bèi), 讓 (ràng) and 叫 (jiào)