2.6 Duration

This lesson is set in the RoC. In the last two units, we took up questions of when. In this lesson, you’ll learn to understand questions and answers about how long. Let’s listen in as Mrs. Oolong asks Mr. King, a foreign service officer, about his plans.

Nǐ zhù duó jiǔ?你住多久 How long are you staying?
Wǒ zhù yìniān.我住一年 I’m staying one year.

Here’s the verb to stay.

zhù to stay/to live

You’ve had the word zhù followed by the word zaì plus a place word. In these sentences, it’s followed by a duration phrase.

Here’s how you say how long.

duó jiǔ多久 How long

You’ll recognize the word duō how as in duó dà how old. The word jiǔ means long in a sense of duration. Word for word then, the question nǐ zhù duó jiǔ? is you stay how long?

Here’s how you say one year.

yìnián一年 one year

When telling how many years, no counter is used. Notice that the tone on one becomes falling before the rising tone of nián.

Notice that duó jiǔ how long and the duration expressions that answer it, like yìnián, come after the verb. You’ll remember that when shénme shíhoù and the time expressions that answer it, come before the verb.

Check your comprehension.

On their way to Taiwan, the Kings stop in Hong Kong. Mr. King had to leave for Taiwan the next day but Mrs. King stayed a little longer. Here’s the question Mr. King might have been asked when he was still in Hong Kong.

Nǐ tàitai zhù duó jiǔ?你太太住多久 How long is your wife staying?
Tā zhù liǎngtiān.她住两天 She is staying two days.

Listen to the speaker count from one day to five days.

In telling how many days, just as in telling how many years, no counter is used. You’ll remember that in a phrase telling how many, the number two has the special form liǎng.

Suppose Mr. King was not definite about his wife’s plans. Listen.

Nǐ tàitai zài Xiānggǎng zhù duó jiǔ?你太太在香港住多久 How long is your wife staying in Hong Kong?
Wǒ xiǎng tā zhù liǎngtiān.我想她住两天 I think she is staying two days.

Here the verb to think.

xiǎng to think/to believe

Notice that when a place and the duration are mentioned in the same sentence, the place goes before the verb and the duration goes after the verb.

Check your comprehension.

The verb xiǎng can also be used for a different meaning. Listen to this exchange.

Nǐ xiǎng zhù duó jiǔ?你想住多久 How long are you thinking of staying?
Wǒ xiǎng zhù yìnián.我想住一年 I’m thinking of staying one year.

When the verb xiǎng is followed by a whole sentence, as in wǒ xiǎng tā zhù liǎngtiān, it means to think such and such is the case. When its followed by just a predicate, it acts as an auxillary verb, meaning to be thinking of doing something or to plan or intend to do something.

Check your comprehension.

So far, we haven’t had a duration expressed in months. When telling how many months, you do use a counter, the general counter, -ge. One year is yìnián but one month is yíge yuè. Listen to the speaker count up to five months.

Listen to the duration in month in the following exchange.

Nǐ xiǎng zài Táiwān duó jiǔ?你想在台湾多久 How long are you thinking of staying in Taiwan?
Wǒ xiǎng zhù bāge yuè.我想住八个月 I’m thinking of staying eight months.

An auxiliary verb like xiǎng comes not just before the main verb of the sentence but also before any prepositional verb.

Listen to the following sentence with or without the auxiliary verb xiǎng.

The auxiliary verb qualifies the meaning of the entire verb phrase not just the main verb. What you’re thinking of doing is working in Taipei not simply working. A duration can also be expressed in weeks.

Here’s the word for week.

xīngqī星期 week

You’ll probably remember it from the names of the days of the week. For instance, xīngqīsì Thursday. Here’s a duration expressed in weeks.

Nǐ péngyou xiǎng zhù duó jiǔ?你朋友想住多久 How long is your friend thinking of staying?
Tā xiǎng zhù liǎngge xīngqī.他想住两个星期 He is thinking of staying two weeks.

You’ll notice that weeks, like months, are counted with ge. Two days is liǎngtiān but two weeks is liǎngge xīngqī.

Check your comprehension and review.

Questions about how many days, weeks, months or years use the question word jǐ- how many which takes the place of a number in the duration phrase.

Try translating the following duration questions.

Now listen to a discussion of how long Mr. King has already been in Taiwan.

Nǐ láile duó jiǔ le?你来了多久了 How long have you been here?
Wǒ láile sāntiān le.我来了三天了 I have been here three days.

Notice that these sentences have two le markers. The le marker after the verb marks completed action. The le marker after the duration phrase marks a new situation. In the sentence tā láile, the two le markers are combined into one. But when there’s a duration expression after the verb, each of the two meanings is expressed by a separate marker.

When you’re talking about the present, the new situation marker le, can be translated as of now. In duration sentences however, a better equivalent is the expression so far as in I’ve been here three days so far. The so far translation suggests, that whatever has been going on for the amount of time you mentioned, will keep going on.

Check your comprehension and review.

You may have noticed that in English we talk about the situation I’ve been here for three days, while in Chinese we talk about the action that brought the situation about wǒ láile sāntiān le. The function of a new situation le marker can best be understood if we consider a situation in which it would not be used. Listen to this continuation of the conversation which is taking place after Mr. and Mrs. King have both arrived in Taiwan.

Nǐ tàitai zài Xiānggǎng zhùle duó jiǔ?你太太在香港住了多久 How long did your wife stay in Hong Kong?
Tā zhùle liǎngtiān.他住了两天 She stayed two days.

Since Mrs. King is no longer in Hong Kong, Mr. King can’t say that she has been there two days of now. He has to say she was there for two days. So the new situation marker le is not used.

Check your comprehension and review.

Let’s compare sentences with and without the new situation marker le.

The first sentence, with one le marker after the verb, only asks about how long the activity took place how long did she stay. The second sentence with two le markers asks about how long the activity has been taking place as of now.

Let’s go back to an earlier sentence. You’ll remember that we said that in a sentence ta láile, the le marker had two meanings – ‘completed action’ and ‘new situation’. Now listen to the same sentence, set under different circumstances. Mr. King is being asked whether someone came to a party he gave the previous week.

Tā lái le ma?他来了吗 Did he come?
Lái le, tā lái le.来了,他来了 Yes, he came

In this context, since the man could not be still at a party that took place a week before, the syllable le after the verb lái is taken to be the completed action le alone and is translated with the English past tense.

Check your comprehension and review.

Now listen to how Mr. King would’ve answered if the person hadn’t come to his party.

Tā lái le ma?他来了吗 Did he come?
Méi lái, tā méi lái.没累,他没来 No, he didn’t come.

Notice that since there is no new situation le in the affirmative sentence, there is no hái yet in the negative sentence.

Compare a sentence which negates just completed action le to a sentence which negates combined le. Check your comprehension and review.

Now listen to Ms. Lin ask Mr. Perez if he has been in Taiwan before.

Nǐ cóngqián láiguo ma?你从前来过吗 Have you ever been here before?
Wǒ cóngqián méi láiguo.我从前没来过 I have never been here before.

Here’s the word for formerly/before.

cóngqián从前 formerly/before

We’ve translated the marker guo of lái guo with the word ever in the affirmative and never in the negative. This marker is used to talk about whether someone has ever experienced a certain kind of event. The completed action marker le on the other hand, is used to talk about a particular single event.

Notice that the marker guo, like the completed action marker le, is negated with méi rather than . But while the marker le drops out in the negative sentence, the marker guo stays.

Check your comprehension and review.

Pronunciation Practice