Time Expressions in Chinese

No Tenses for Verbs

Compared to western languages, Chinese has no tenses for verbs, which means one doesn’t have to memorize a list verb conjugation. Therefore, as a Chinese learner, you only need to remember one form of verb, regardless of the action takes place in the past, present or future.

That is the good news of learning this seemingly daunting language!

Time Expressions in Chinese

Whether you go to Singapore today (今天jīn tiān), yesterday (昨天 zuó tiān), or tomorrow (明天 míng tiān), you use the word 去 (qù).

我今天去新加坡。I go to Singapore today. (wǒ jīn tiān qù xīn jiā pō)

我昨天去新加坡。I went to Singapore yesterday. (wǒ zuó tiān qù xīn jiā pō)

我明天去新加坡。I go to Singapore tomorrow. (wǒ míng tiān qù xīn jiā pō)

With the usage of time expressions (i.e. 今天、昨天、明天), it is very clear to tell when the action happened.

However, how can we specify the state of the verb action within certain timeframe? For example, to indicate the action is ongoing or to indicate the action that has just happened or completed.

Chinese Auxiliary Words

That’s why there are some auxiliary words we can make use of to modify the verbs, to explain further on the subtle characteristics of the action’s time frame.

了 (le) and 过 (guò) are generally used for completed action that has taken place in the past.

我去了新加坡。I went to Singapore. (wǒ qù le xīn jiā pō)

我去过新加坡。I have been to Singapore. (wǒ qù guò xīn jiā pō)


As the verb action has been completed, so了 (le) and 过 (guò) are placed right after the verb.

我去了新加坡。/ 我去过新加坡。(I went to Singapore./ I have been to Singapore.)

Wǒ qùle xīnjiāpō./ Wǒ qùguò xīnjiāpō.

我喝了茶。/ 我喝过茶。(I drank tea./ I have drunk tea.)

Wǒ hēle chá./ Wǒ hēguò chá.

我查了地图。/ 我查过地图。(I checked map./ I have checked map.)

Wǒ chále dìtú./ Wǒ cháguò dìtú


过(guò) carries the meaning “thorough”, that is to indicate that the subject had done through certain actions, which is almost equivalent to the perfective aspect of English.


While for future aspect, as you are anticipating the action to take place, so auxiliary word 会 (huì) is placed before the verb.

我会去新加坡。(I will go to Singapore)

Wǒ huì qù xīnjiāpō

As such, Chinese does have its own way to express tenses, by utilizing another auxiliary word to be placed around the verbs. Of course, we can’t alter the fixed sets of Chinese characters for the verbs.