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I came across the following sentence:

我病了。

I know 了 has many functions, and I believe one of them is a completive marker (past tense). But this sentence is apparently in the present, based on the context.

I checked a grammar book about 了, and it seems that at the end of the sentence, it emphasizes a new situation; something that hadn't previously been, but now is. Is that how it functions here? So is the emphasis on the fact that the speaker is sick now, but wasn't previously, i.e., is suddenly sick?

I realize that it could also be that 病了 together means "sick," but I didn't find it in the dictionary. It seems that 病 is more illness, sickness, or disease, and is used as a noun, rather than an adjective.

So a few questions. How does 了 function in this sentence? Could you say "我很病。", or does 病 somehow idiomatically always have to be accompanied by 了? If 了 has a grammatical function here, could you give more examples of it in the same context?

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1. Yes, it's the "emphasizing a new situation" function. But not necessary "suddenly", it's just from one status to another, the interval time can last long. 2. 病 in 我病了 is the case that "an adjective working as a verb (predicate)", e.g., in 春天来了,叶子绿了。 绿 is the same case. 3. "我很病。" sounds wrong, but you can say "我病得很严重。". Anyway, it doesn't have to be accompanied by 了. –  Stan Sep 23 '13 at 15:52
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To me, it just means I fell ill, which could mean that I might still be ill. 了 is the past tense indicator. –  deutschZuid Sep 24 '13 at 21:48
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There really is no past tense marker in Chinese. There is a completed action marker. Chinese has aspectual grammar not tensed grammar. The particle 了 indicates a completed action. It often means "already completed" but can also mean "soon to be completed." To explicitly indicate the past Chinese languages use terms for past time: already, yesterday, last year, long ago, and so on. –  Colin McLarty Sep 27 '13 at 13:09
    
@ColinMcLarty Thanks for the correction. –  deutschZuid Oct 9 '13 at 23:40
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted
  1. 「我病了。」 can be a subtle expression which implies different meaning based its context. It can mean, but may not be limited to, these:

    • Present status that I'm not so well.

    • Past status that I was ill.

    • Completive sense that I've been ill for a while.

  2. 「病」 the word is a common one, which can imply from a minor ailment to a mortal blow. Again, this depends on the context.

  3. 「我很病。」is not often used as far as I know, if ever.

  4. I recommend that you learn 「病了」 as a whole expression and together with its context.

  5. Two common patterns are:

    • adjective + 了. Such as 「天亮了」, 「日子太平了」, 「孩子长大了」, 「这下好了」 though some may argue that in some examples, it's in fact "verb + adverb + 了", e.g. 「孩子长大了」.
    • verb + 了. Such as 「把书看了」, 「把家务做了」, 「啃了馒头」, 「溜了小狗」, 「洗了衣服」, 「种了菜」, 「玩儿了游戏」.
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verb + 了 is like 'have been being' or 'have done'.
example:
我吃了 means I have Eaten.
开始了 means it has started

adjective + 了 is like 'have been becoming adjective' or 'have become adjective'
example:
我病了means I have been becoming ill.
她红了: 'she have been becoming famous' or she have become famous' in different context.

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Thanks for your answer. I suggest you expand this answer to give some example sentences, as written it is not very clear what you are trying to say. –  xiaohouzi79 Sep 25 '13 at 3:53
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"我很病"

In Chinese, "病" is a noun but here it's used as a predicate. So you CANNOT use "很" (because it's used as a adverb without the function to describe your illness). So "我很病" is a wrong statement in Chinese.

“了”

This word is used as an auxiliary word meaning something or some verb/state is finished, ends. The verb is usually a non-persistance one. Please compare the two sentences:

他走 (He's leaving)

他走了 (He's left, now he isn't here)

他病了(He becomes ill, now he's ill——"become" is a non-persistance verb)

But sometimes for a persistance verb such as 工作(work), maybe it means "going to do something":

他工作(He's working)

他工作了(He's going to work)

"了"(2)

"了” can be also read as "liao" (Chinese prounciation), this word isn't used alone but with another word:

1)他了解了(He understands).

2)他了了(liao le)=他完蛋了

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No... (1) 他工作 is not grammatically correct. Say 他正在工作 for he's working. (2) 他工作了 means that he's now employed, not a student any more or not jobless any more. –  user58955 Sep 25 '13 at 5:49
    
@user58955:Sorry I should say that "他工作" means (He works) better. But “他工作了” can have two meanings: 1) He's employed. 2) He's coming to work (This means the speaker says that he'll work). –  CA55CE37 Sep 25 '13 at 6:58
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I really don't think that 他工作了 could mean he's coming to work. If you are referring to the status that he has found a job but hasn't started working yet, say 他就要工作了 –  user58955 Sep 25 '13 at 7:29
    
If 了 is the past tense marker and 他工作了 is more of a present tense meaning (he's now employed, or he's coming to work), how would you say he worked? Would that not use 了, like 他工作了? Or is it a matter of word order? –  nickcoxdotme Sep 25 '13 at 17:10
    
In that case you need an auxiliary word to indicate the event happened in the past, you can say, for instance 他以前工作. He worked for the company would be 他以前在那个公司工作. –  user58955 Sep 25 '13 at 22:51
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