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Making Sense of Grammar
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How to say “was” in Chinese?

asked Mar 4 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by admin (24,470 points)

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The English copula becan be inflected in the past tense as was:

1a. He is a student. (Present tense)

2a. He was a student. (Past tense)

Such is not possible in Chinese, however, for two reasons. First, Chinese does not have tense, but only aspects, represented by aspect markers, such as le (perfective), guo (experiential), and zhe (continuative). Second, the Chinese copula shì cannot be used with aspect markers:

2. tā shì *le/*zhe/*guo xuéshēng

    he be LE/ZHE/GUO student

Thus, the only way to express “he was a student” in Chinese is by context or adding additional words that clarify the context, as illustrated in (3-4).

3. tā yǐqián shì xuéshēng

   he before be student

   He was a student before.

4. nà shíhòu, tā shì xuéshēng

   that time he be student

   At that time, he was a student.

answered Mar 4 by admin (24,470 points)
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