It is my understanding that Chinese does not employ tenses, but does rely on grammatical aspect in order to convey meaning.

I'm still trying to fully grasp what exactly an aspect is, but viewing the Wikipedia page for Chinese Grammar provides some clarity. This page provides examples such as 了, 過, 在, 正在, and 著. I'm unclear if this is strictly a complete list or not given the formal definition of grammatical aspect and how grammatical aspect operates in Chinese.

Similar to how 了 describes a completed action, my understanding is that 會 can be used to describe an action that hasn't begun but will happen afterwards. Would this also count as a grammatical aspect? Or something else? If so, are there any other aspect markers to add to Wikipedia's list?

Example: 每天我回家,然後我會學習中文。 Every day, I would go home, and then I would study Chinese.

  • It's more usually considered a verb in its own right, but I can see how someone could potentially make an argument that it's marking a prospective aspect.
    – user20347
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 23:01
  • I think it's more like a modal verb... BTW, it should be placed in the first clause: 每天我会回家,然后学习中文。 Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 9:52
  • 我每天回家(後)會學習中文 is one of the more natural ways of expressing this.
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 14:31

2 Answers 2


會 is a modal verb.

From the classic Li & Thompson (1981) Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar:

Most languages have morphemes for signaling the of a reported event relative to the time of speaking (tense) or the duration or completion of a reported event relative to other events (aspect)...

會 and 要 are on the other hand examples of the last portion of the T-A-M trinity for verb morphology: M for mood or modality. The standard moods in Western European verb morphology are: indicative, subjunctive, conditional and imperative. Other examples are optative, jussive, hortative, interrogative and volitional.

In Mandarin Chinese, 會 can act as an epistemic modal, i.e. with the idea of ways of knowing and confidence in the knowledge. These are of the same category as 可能 and 應該. As well as being like a "potential" mode, it is can act as a "conditional":


Tā rúguǒ qù kàn yákē jiù huì chí dào.

If she has gone to see the dentist, then she'll be late.

These words are definitely in a different category to the aspect particles 了、過、著, because 會 can be combined with them, under certain circumstances:


Tā bù huì qù-le Zhōngguó!

He can't have gone to China!

On the other hand, 要 is a deontic modal, expressing shades of obligation / permission, and is in the same category as 可以 and 得 (děi).

These are actually very similar to English will, which derived from the modal verb meaning "want" (compare its noun form e.g. God's will, the will of the people, which retains that older meaning), and English shall deriving from a modal verb meaning "should" or "ought to" (compare its German cognate sollen). The future tense meaning is naturally implied.

Also, there are restrictions for both languages on which modal can combine with which aspect marker. Only a select set of verbs can take both "future"-orientated modal markers and perfective 了 at the same time, e.g. 饒 ráo:


Nǐ yào ráo-le tā ma?

Are you going to spare/forgive him?

Nonetheless, perfective 了 and experiential 過 aspect markers can appear with the future-orientated modal 會 or others when occurring in a non-final event clause in a sequence:


Wǒ huì cí-le xíng zài dòngshēn.

I will say goodbye / take leave then get up and go.


"but does rely on grammatical aspect in order to convey meaning. "

Chinese uses words to convey meaning, much like any other language.

"I'm still trying to fully grasp what exactly an aspect is,"


late 14c., an astrological term, "relative position of the planets as they appear from earth" (i.e., how they "look at" one another); also "one of the ways of viewing something," from Latin aspectus "a seeing, looking at, sight, view; countenance; appearance," from past participle of aspicere "to look at, look upon, behold; observe, examine," figuratively "consider, ponder," from ad "to" (see ad-) + specere "to look" (from PIE root *spek- "to observe"). Meanings "the look one wears; the appearance of things" are attested by early 15c. Sense of "a facing in a given direction" is from 1660s

So, aspect is "one of the ways of viewing something,". The sentence below is actually just a flat statement:

我每天回到家的第一件事就是学习中文。(No need for 会. What, no cup of tea first?)

If you wish to say what 'aspect' this sentence has, well, that comes from 每天 which indicates that this is repetitive.

The concept of aspect in grammar is not helpful in understanding how language works. My advice: don't try to understand aspect, forget it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.