Duration, Military terms and Process verbs

2.8 Duration, Military terms and Process verbs

This lesson is set in Taipei. We’ll learn more of what you’ve done and how long you did it. You’ll also learn some expressions used in talking about military service.

Clara Matthews, an American student at Taiwan University, was talking with another student on campus.

Nǐ jīntiān hái yǒu kè ma?你今天还有课吗 Do you have any more classes today?
Méiyou kè le.没有课了 I don’t have any more classes.

In the sentence méiyou kè le, the marker le indicates a new situation. This morning she had classes, now she doesn’t.

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Since both Clara and her friend have no more classes for the day, they decide to make a visit to the Palace Museum. On their way out to the museum, they talk about their studies.

Nǐ cóngqián niàn Yīngwén niànle duó jiǔ?你从前念英文念了多久 How long did you study English?
Wǒ niàn Yīngwén niànle liùnián.我念英文念了六年 I studied English for six years.

When you want to talk about how long you did something, you first state the activity then repeat the verb and tell how long you did it. Notice that the marker le for completed action follows the second verb in the sentence.

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Now suppose Clara also knew that he had studied American history. She might answer the question like this:

The conversation continues.

Nǐ xiānzài niàn shénme ne?你现在念什么呢 What are you studying now?
Wǒ niàn Fǎwén ne.我念法文呢 I’m studying French.
Fǎwén法文 French

The marker ne is used to indicate an ongoing action.

Listen to Claire’s next question.

Nǐ niàn Fǎwén niànle duó jiǔ le?你念法文念了多久了 How long have you been studying French?
Wǒ niànle yìnián le.我念了一年了 I’ve been studying it for one year.

When you want to talk about the duration of an action which is still going on, you use two le markers. The marker le for ‘completed action’ after the second verb and marker le for ‘new situation’ at the end of the sentence.

Notice that in the reply, the friend gives a shortened answer. Since it’s clear that they are talking about studying French, he doesn’t restate the activity before telling how long he’s been doing it.

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Clara’s friend has another question for her. Listen and review afterwards.

Nǐ huì xiě Zhōngguo zì ma?你会写中国字吗 Can you write Chinese characters?
Huì yìdiǎn.会一点 I can a little.
xiě to write
yìdiǎn一点 a little/some

Clara continues.

Qùnián wǒ hái bù huì xiě.去年我还不会写 Last year I couldn’t write them.
Xiānzài wǒ huì xiě yìdiǎn le.现在我会写一点了 Now I can write a little.

Notice that even though she is talking about last year, the negative marker is used. This is because huì is an auxiliary verb. Auxiliary verbs along with verb such as how to be good are state verbs. State verbs never take the negative marker méi.

In the second sentence, the marker le for new situation is used to signal the change.

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A little later in the conversation, Clara asks:

Nǐ fùqin shi jūnrén ma?你父亲是军人吗 Is your father a military man?
Shì, tā shi hǎijūn jūnguān.是,他是海关军官 Yes, he’s a naval officer.
jūnrén军人 military man
hǎijūn海军 naval
jūnguān军官 officer

Several days later, Clara’s friend call her to tell her that he won’t be in class.

Wǒ jīntiān bù lái le.我今天不来了 I’m not coming today.
Wǒ bìng le.我病了 I’m sick.
bìng to get sick

Notice that the verb bìng is translated to get sick and not to be sick. The verb bìng is not a state verb but a process verb. A process verb describes a change from one state to another. In this case, from being healthy to being ill. In other words, getting sick.

Notice also that the sentence we translated as I’m sick ends with the marker le. This marker signals the completion of a process. Up until now we’ve called this the marker for ‘completed action’. But as you see, it’s also the marker for ‘completed process’. A better translation for this sentence might be I’ve become sick.

Notice also that the sentence wǒ bìng le also ends with the marker le. This is the marker le for ‘new situation’. Contrary to what he did yesterday, and contrary to what he expected to do today, he’s not coming to school. To signal this change in the situation, he uses the marker le at the end of the sentence.

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A couple of days later, Claire’s friend is back in class.

Jīntiān hǎo le méiyou?今天好了没有 Are you better today? (Are you recovered?)
Jīntiān hǎo le.今天好了 Today I’m better.

Notice that the verb hǎo to be good or well, is used here to talk about getting well. Whereas we translated it in the sentence to get better. There is an explanation for these different usages. The verb hǎo can be either a state verb or a process verb. As a state verb, hǎo means to be good/well. As a process verb, it means to get well.

The process verb hǎo to get well appears here with combined le. That is, the marker le which indicates a ‘completed action’ and a ‘new situation’.

Notice also that the question jīntiān hǎo le méiyou? is not formed with the question marker ma. Here it is formed with méiyou. This can be done with sentences in which the verb is marked with completed action.

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Pronunciation Practice