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There are some examples of sentence 了 that indicate future action which (seems to) have a 要 omitted:

我(要)走了,拜! - I am going to leave, bye!

I know context usually helps with the issue of time and, apart from that, 我走了 is a pretty common sentence that everyone knows it's an about-to-happen action.

My question is:
If I have any other sentence 了 without any context, for example, "我去中国了", is there a chance that a native listener can think it's a future action with an omitted 要 as in "我(要)去中国了" or does the listener definitely knows it's always a past action?

Thanks in advance!

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Strictly speaking to the questions,

我走了 is a pretty common sentence that everyone knows it's an about-to-happen action.

Everyone knows it can be an about-to-happen action in the right context. Without any context, however, it still strikes me as a past action as in "讲座你听完了么?""没有,我走了".

without any context, ... , is there a chance that a native listener can think it's a future action

If there is no context at all, there is no way a native listener think "我去中国了" is a future action.

  • Thank you for your answer! So for you 我去中国了 is definitely a past event? (just checking if I got what you mean) – Enrico Brasil Mar 6 '15 at 2:25
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    @EnricoBrasil Without any context, 我去中国了 is definitely a past event. However if there is a time adverb like 明年, it could be a future event, depending on the context. – NS.X. Mar 6 '15 at 4:20
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了 in "我去中国了" does not emphasize it is a past or future action in absent of context. Consider the following:

我去年去中国了 - I went to China last year
我明年去中国了 - I will go to China next year

Both are legit and 了 changes depend on the content, althought a native speaker will say:

我去年去了中国 - I have been to China last year
我明年(要)去中国了 - I have to go to China next year

  • please notice boldface part of question, 请注意问题中有一些黑体字 ,without context 脱离上下文 apparently 好像 means 意味着 without any phrase of locality indi cating time 没有方位词组表示时间 – user6065 Mar 5 '15 at 19:00
  • let me rephase the answer – Alex Mar 5 '15 at 20:04
  • Thank you for you answer! I always thought that that 了 was ambiguous too not indicating if it's a past or future action, just stating the happening of an event (either past or future). But I have been reading some material lately that guarantees a sentence 了 always indicate a past event and it seems that our fellow @NS.X. also thinks that. – Enrico Brasil Mar 6 '15 at 2:32
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For a future action, there must be 要, 就要. It means "it is the time to do it", not exactly future action.

For true future sense, say 将要.

The key is more in 要 than in 了. 他去中国了 verses 他要去中国了.

If you are the speaker, keep it for safety. Say, 他已经去中国了 versus 他就要去中国了.

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