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In the textbook, I saw both "现在几点?" and "现在几点了?"

I know they are both correct and "了" often indicates past tense, but what's the difference here?

I think it would be really good if I can look up the usage of "了". But I didn't find any good online dictionary. Could you please also recommend a good online dictionary? Thanks a lot.

  • basic grammar discussed repeatedly at this site (see answer), 了 functions as aspect particle (动态助词)and as modal (end of sentence) particle (语气助词), search web using e.g. "Chinese grammar : 了" get several relevant hits, e.g. resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/… "change of state with 了" for online dictionary consider bkrs: 1) m.p. indicating a new situation 好了。 It's OK now. – user6065 Mar 19 '18 at 2:36
  • there are more (than the 2 mentioned in one answer)previous posts about modal particle 了, esp. chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/10042/… chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/3169/… (Nov 14 users already referred new questions to previous posts) – user6065 Mar 19 '18 at 5:41
  • 了(merely as modal particle) is a very extensive subject, as far as 现在几点(了)is concerned the following quotations from 汉语800虚词用法词典 may be relevant: (change of state) 一、表示已经出现或将要出现某种新情况。1。 名词/数量词组+了 :(1)春天了,天气慢慢暖和了。(2)大学生了,思想认识确实提高了。(3)大经理了,你可得请我们大家吃一顿。(4)圣诞节了,商店里都是买圣诞礼物的。(5)我已经二十了,你们就别管了,让我自己决定吧。(6)七月了,这正是北京最热的时候。七、 特指疑问句(interrogative sentence using an interrogative pronoun)+了 ,表示疑问:(1)昨天咱们班谁去电视台录节目了?(2)A:前面出什么事了?B:可能出车祸了。(3)你到底怎么了?我看你好像有什么心事。(4)我已经两年没见过他了,他现在怎么样了?(5)你爸爸今年多大岁数了?(6)你去过几次中国了?(7)玛丽去哪儿了?(8)你汉语学了几年了?(9)你把我的自行车放哪儿了?(10)现在这个大学有多少外国六学生了? – user6065 Mar 19 '18 at 8:21
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http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/dictionary/characters/460/

[2] [final particle] indicating change of situation

  • "现在是下午五點" = "It is 5:00 pm now."

  • "现在是下午五點(了)" = "It is 5:00pm now" (final particle 了 indicates 'the current time has reached 5:00pm'. Situation changed from 'not yet 5:00pm' to 'is 5:00pm' )

Similarly:

  • "现在几点?" = "What time is it now?"

  • "现在几点了?" = "What time is it now?" (final particle 了 indicates 'what time the current time has reached'. Situation changed from 'not yet the current time' to 'is the current time' )

The final particle 了 is mostly used to soften the tone of a sentence to make it less blunt. Also it formally indicates the sentence is 'completed' (that's why it is called 'final particle').

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As a native speaker, I really can't tell the difference. You might add "了" to make you sound a little less rude, but I really can't feel any difference.

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As others have already said, adding 了 indicates a change of state. Here is an example of when you might want to add 了, and when its not necessary:

If you don't have a watch and are wanting to ask a friend what time it is, you can simply ask 现在几点?

Now imagine you are waiting for midnight on New Years eve. You ask your friend what time is it? 现在几点?Then 10 seconds later you ask again, but this time you ask 现在几点了? You can add 了 this time, as we know the time has changed but still don't know exactly what time it is. You can imagine it in English, "What time is it?" (10 seconds later) "What time is it now?" or "what about now?"

  • 1
    In this situation I'd just say 现在呢 – user2137196 Mar 19 '18 at 12:06
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了 does not indicate past tense, but perfect tense for action verbs.

A similar question was asked here: https://chinese.stackexchange.com/a/18075/13501

Grammatically, in your case, 了 indicates the change of state (English equivalent: become ...)
However, in daily use it only softens the tone of the sentence.

And an older post here fyi: https://chinese.stackexchange.com/a/18061/13501

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对于我来说,没有区别,加“了”更适合日常习惯,没有也可以。 我是一个普通的中国人。

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