In English, the verb is usually the key to show the different aspects of an action in English, such as be / be doing / was / was doing / are going to / have done / had done, etc. The Chinese language system differs from it in one important way: Mandarin Chinese often keeps the verb but uses auxiliaries and adverbs to help express the different aspects of an action.
There are generally 6 basic types of aspects of an action: those which complete or realize an action or event; the change of circumstances; the continuous aspect of an action or a state; the past experience; an action that is going to take place in a short time; and the progressive aspect of an action. Each of them are detailed, explained, and illustrated in the Step by Step Course 2 . Below is a brief summary.
1. Completion or realization of an action or event
It uses the auxiliary “了” to complete or realize an action or event, It is often put after the verb.
我去书店买了一本书。(Wǒ qù shūdiàn mǎile yī běn shū.)
I went to the bookstore and bought a book.
他借了我的钱。(Tā jièle wǒ de qián.)
He borrowed my money.
妈妈去上海了。(Māma qù Shànghǎi le.)
My mother went to Shanghai.
你吃了饭了吗？(Nǐ chī le fàn le ma?)
Have you eaten?
2. Changed circumstances
The other meaning of 了 is used to indicate a change of circumstances, and it is often put at the end of the sentence.
天气越来越冷了。(Tiānqì yuè lái yuè lěngle.)
The weather is getting cold.
气候越来越差了。(Qìhòu yuè lái yuè chàle.)
The climate is getting worse.
他有女朋友了。(Tā yǒu nǚ péngyǒule.)
He has a girlfriend.
老板今天不来了。(Lǎobǎn jīntiān bù láile.)
The boss is not coming today.
弟弟上大学了。(Dìdi shàng dàxué le.)
My brother went to college.
3. The continuous aspect of an action or a state
We often use the word “着” to express the continuous aspect of an action or a state. And this kind of sentence`s predicate can be an adjective or a verb.
我带着伞去学校。(Wǒ dàizhe sǎn qù xuéxiào.)
I went to school with my umbrella.
The door is open.
桌子上放着杯子。(Zhuōzi shàng fàngzhe bēizi.)
There is a cup on the table.
她穿着一条长裙子。(Tā chuānzhe yītiáo cháng qúnzi.)
She is wearing a long skirt.
4. Past experience
To express a past experience, “过” often appear in the sentence. If it`s a negative sentence, “没” is often put before the predicate.
我没这本书。(Wǒ méi zhè běn shū.)
I don’t have this book.
我从来没见过他。(Wǒ cónglái méi jiànguò tā.)
I have never seen him before.
你以前看过这部电影吗？(Nǐ yǐqián kànguò zhè bù diànyǐng ma?)
Have you seen this movie before?
我听过这首歌。(Wǒ tīngguò zhè shǒu gē.)
I have heard this song.
5. An action that is going to take place in a short time
Since “了” can be used to show changes of certain situations, when you add some future time words like “快”, “快要”, “就要”, the sentence then indicates that an action will take place in a short time.
The holiday is coming.
出租车快来了。(Chūzū chē kuài láile.)
The taxi is coming.
马上就要过春节了。(Mǎshàng jiù yàoguò chūnjiéle.)
It’s about time to celebrate the Spring Festival soon.
我明天就要搬家了。(Wǒ míngtiān jiù yào bānjiāle.)
I am going to move tomorrow.
6. The progressive aspect of an action
The words “在” ,“正在”, “正”, are often used to indicate the progressive aspect of an action.
你在做什么？(Nǐ zài zuò shénme?)
What are you doing?
我正在看书。(Wǒ zhèngzài kànshū.)
I am reading a book.
她在睡觉呢。(Tā zài shuìjiào ne.)
She is sleeping.
我打电话给她的时候，她正在睡觉。(Wǒ dǎ diànhuà gěi tā de shíhòu, tā zhèngzài shuìjiào.)
When I called her she was sleeping.
These six aspects of action expressions may seem like a lot to remember to be able to express actions well in Chinese. But in truth, if you can master the different subject-verb agreements in English, then it is just a simple matter of adjusting to the sentence structures in Chinese to be able to master the six aspects above. Once you do, you will find that expressing actions and verbs in Chinese will be as natural as in your own native language.