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The bare verb in Chinese can communicate many different things, depending on context:

A habitual action: 在他家发生的事情,我没法了解 = I cannot understand the things that happen at his house.

An ongoing action: 正在发生的事情挺可怕 = The things happening right now are very scary

Future action: 未来发生的事情我没法知道 = I have no way of knowing what will happen in the future

Past action: 昨天发生的事情很可怜 = What happened yesterday is a shame.

What difference would there be in these sentences if the traditional "tense" words are added, whether they be auxiliary verbs (要,会), or verb suffixes (了,过):

未来发生的事情我没法知道 = ??? 昨天发生了/过的事情很可怜 = ???

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  • If you want really detailed semantics <-> syntax info, I'd recommend Allset grammar wiki or a book like Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide. These definitely explain the numerous uses of grammar particles, going beyond the obvious rules-of-thumb you'd learn in Chinese 101. Jul 11, 2022 at 20:41
  • Thanks! Actually, I'm a semi-native speaker (I grew up bilingual) and am designing a Chinese language curriculum. I'm asking this question to see if anyone has any interesting perspectives on these finer grammar points. The existing literature that you mention tends to fine for passing a test but I find it quite lacking when it comes to big picture stuff. In short: what I'm looking for is more about pragmatics than syntax or semantics.
    – Buddy L
    Jul 11, 2022 at 22:43

3 Answers 3

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No difference!

Tang Ho said, "Chinese has no tense."

Many people say, "Chinese has no grammar." I think what they mean is, no Western style grammar. You really should not try to impose the precepts, the dogma, of Western grammar on the Chinese language.

在他家发生的事情,我没法了解。
我没法了解在他家发生的事情。

正在发生的事情挺可怕的。

I wouldn't put 了or 过 in here, mainly because 'when' is set by 昨天:

昨天发生的事情很可悲。

An example of 发生了的 but it means : "(the thing) that happened"

“发生了的(事情),都发生了” 他回答道:“四个好人被杀害了。”
“What happened happened," he replied. "four good people were killed."

无神论者认为这些幽灵的大多数行为是可以通过物理或电的原理来解释的,但就和其他超常的事物一样,
有些发生了的事情实在古怪到无法解释。 (了 can be used for future: 我到了给你打电话。(将来))
some things that happen are really weird, unexplainable.

You can also find examples of 发生过的

已经发生过的事情, 就让它过去。
What happened in the past, just let it go.

几乎没有什么可继续进行的,我们只能猜测发生过的事。
There is almost nothing to go on, we can only speculate about what happened.

未来发生的事情我没法知道。

You could put 会 in here, but why would you? The meaning won't change.
未来会发生的事情我没法知道。

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What difference would there be in these sentences if the traditional "tense" words are added, whether they be auxiliary verbs (要,会), or verb suffixes (了,过)

Chinese verbs use no tense. You are correct that 要 and 会 are auxiliary verbs but 了 and 过 are verb particles

  • 要 = have to/ want to

  • 会 = would/ will

  • 了 indicates the verb (action) is 'completed'

  • 过 indicates the verb (action) is 'experienced'

All of the above can appear in different tenses

Example:

我十三岁就要出外工作 (工作 was in the past)

我到了八十岁仍会工作 (工作 is in the future)

昨天去看牙医/ 昨天去看牙医 ( indicates completed action; indicates an experienced event. In this case, it happened in the past)

明天看牙医才上班/ 明天看牙医才上班 ( indicates completed action; indicates an experienced event. In this case, it will happen in the future)

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在他家发生的事情,我没法了解. (I can't understand the thing happened at his home.)

正在发生的事情挺可怕 (suggest adding "的" to end the sentence)

未来发生的事情我没法知道 (you are correct, no correction)

昨天发生的事情很值得注意. It deserves quite a bit of attention to the thing that happened yesterday.

昨天发生的事情很值得同情. It deserves quite a bit of sympathy for the thing that happened yesterday.

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