Arrival and Departure

2.4 Arrival and Departure

In this lesson, you’ll learn to understand questions and answers about arrivals and departures. You’ll remember that Mr. Martin’s wife arrived in the PRC a few weeks after he did. Here’s a conversation he might have had with someone before she arrived.

Nǐ àiren lái ma?你爱人来吗 Is your wife coming?
Tā lái.她来 She is coming.

Here’s the verb for to come

lái to come

Check your comprehension.

In English, we may sometimes use the present tense to refer to a future happening. In the last exchange for example, she’s coming probably doesn’t mean that Mrs. Martin is on her way right now. Mr. Martin might amplify this by saying she’s coming next month using a present tense verb form that’s specifying a future time.

This is how Chinese always works. There are ways of specifying future time but there is nothing like a future tense.

It’s the same for specifying past time. In English, anything before the time of speaking must have a past tense verb. In Chinese, there is no such uniform rule. There are however, several ways of indicating that an event took place before a certain time. Unless some other time is specifically mentioned, this time is assumed to be the time of speaking.

For instance, listen to the following exchange.

Nǐ àiren lái le ma?你爱人来了吗 Has your wife come?
Lái le, tā lái le.来了,她来了 Yes, she has come.

Both of these sentences contain the expression lái le – the verb lái plus the neutral tone syllable le. We translate the expression lái le as has come. This translation suggests the two different things indicated by the added syllable le.

First, the fact of the action has been completed. In other words, that Mrs. Martin came to Beijing.

Second, the fact that a new situation has come about. In other words, that she is in Beijing now. Because there’s the meaning that a new situation has come about, the sentence tā lái le could also be translated she’s here.

Later you will find that Chinese can indicate either of the two meanings separately. Either the completion of an action alone or the coming about of a new situation alone.

Check your comprehension.

Here’s another live exchange

Notice the position of the adverb and dōu before the verb.

Check your comprehension.

Let’s go back to the situation where Mr. Martin is alone in Beijing. And listen to him say that his wife has not come into China.

Nǐ àiren yě lái le ma?你爱人也来了吗 Has your wife come too?
Tā hái méi lái.她还没来 She hasn’t come yet.

Compare this negative answer with the affirmative answer you heard earlier to the same question. There’s more difference than you would expect.

First, the negative of a completed action expression is indicated by putting the syllable méi in front of the verb – méi lái. Second, the fact that we are talking about the situation as of now is indicated by adding the adverb háihái méi lái.

You’ve had the adverb hái translated as still. Here we translate it as yet. Both the English sentence she hasn’t come yet and the Chinese sentence tā hái méi lái suggest of course that she is coming sometime. If you knew she isn’t planning to come, you’d simply say tā bù lái she’s not coming.

Check your comprehension.

You’ll recognize the méi in this exchange as the special negative that occurred in méi you as in the sentence we don’t have any children. The syllable méi in méi lái is actually an abbreviation of méi you. Either méi you or méi can be used in the negation of a completed action sentence.

Listen to this exchange

As a review of verb with and without the markers lái and hái méi, see if you understand the following random sentences.

The Chinese expression for when is shénme shíhòu. Literally, what time. You only know the word for what shénme. Listen to the word for time.

shíhòu时候 time

Now listen to the expression

shénme shíhòu什么时候 what time/when

Here’s the word for tomorrow.

míngtiān明天 tomorrow

Listen for both words in this exchange about Mrs. Martin

Tā shénme shíhòu lái?她什么时候来 When is she coming?
Tā míngtiān lái.她明天来 She is coming tomorrow.

Check your comprehension.

Now listen as Mr. Martin is asked about a friend.

Nǐ péngyou shénme shíhòu dào?你朋友什么时候到 When is your friend arriving?
Tā yǐjīng dào le.他已经到了 He has already arrived.

Here’s the verb for to arrive.

dào to arrive

Here’s the word for already

yǐjīng已经 already

Check your comprehension.

Now see if you can understand the following live exchange and review afterwards.

As a review of what we have covered so far, make sure you understand the following sentences. Each is given twice.

So far, you haven’t had any sentences concerned with when completed actions took place. These sentences don’t use the markers lái and méi. The markers lái and méi are used to specify whether or not an action was completed. That is, they are used when the center of interest of a sentence is the verb. But when the action is in the past, and the center of interest is something other than the verb, on the time the action took place for example, a completely different construction is used. Let’s say that Mrs. Martin arrived yesterday.

Here’s the word for yesterday

zuótiān昨天 yesterday

Listen to this exchange about when Mrs. Martin arrived.

Tā shi shénme shíhòu dàode?他是什么时候到的 When did she arrive?
Tā shi zuótiān dàode.她是昨天到的 She arrived yesterday.

There are two unexpected elements in these sentences. The first unexpected element is the verb shi which appears before the time expressions shénme shíhòu and zuótiān. Notice that the verb shi is in the neutral tone. Here, the word shi, is really a marker which identifies that place that follows it as the center of interest.

The second unexpected element is the final syllable -de added to the word dào to arrive. You can think of the marker -de as substituting for the marker lái when the action is in the past and the center of interest is shifted away from the verb.

Check your comprehension.

Let’s compare a sentence about when an action is going to take place with a sentence about when a completed action took place. Notice the addition of the marker shi and -de in the past time sentence.

Now let’s compare a sentence centering on the completion of a past action with a sentence centering on when the past action was completed. Notice the use of lái when the verb is the center of interest and the use of shì and de when the time expression is the center of interest.

Listen to the following live conversation.

So far, all of our examples of the construction of shi and de, have involved time expressions. But this device may be used to shift the center of interest from the verb to another part of the sentence. Take the following exchange.

Nǐ shi yíge rén láide ma?你是一个人来的吗 Did you come alone?
Bú shi, wǒ bú shi yíge rén láide.不是,我不是一个人来的 No, I didn’t come alone.

You’ll probably recognize yíge rén as the expression one person. Here it is being used to describe how Mr. Martin came to China. That is, alone or not alone. The fact that he did come is assumed. Notice that in a shì de sentence, the negative goes with the marker shì not with the main verb. The short answer to a question with a shì de is also formed with the marker shi rather than with the main verb.

Check your comprehension.

The conversation might continue as follows.

Mr. Martin, talking to a Certain comrade Lin, found out that she’s just been transferred to Xiandu. Here’s the verb

zǒu to go, leave

And here’s the verb for today.

Jīntiān今天 today

Listen to the exchange.

Nǐ shénme shíhòu zǒu?你什么时候走 When are you leaving?
Wǒ jīntiān zǒu.我今天走 I’m leaving today.

Now listen as Mr. Martin asks his question a little differently.

Nǐ něitiān zǒu?你哪天走 What day are you leaving?
Wǒ jīntiān zǒu.我今天走 I’m leaving today.

Here’s the word for what day.

něitiān哪天 what day/which day

The word for day is tiān. The bound word něi which combines with the word tiān to form a compound question word něitiān just like the compound question word něiguo which country. In this compound, and in the words jīntiān, míngtiān, and něitiān, the bound word tiān loses its tone. Notice that the word něitiān, like the other tone expressions you’ve had, goes before the verb.

Now listen to the following live exchange.

Now here’s a live conversation reviewing what we have covered in this lesson. Mr. Dao has just arrived in Beijing and his predecessor Mr. Flynn is about to leave.

Pronunciation Practice