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Mastering the Past Tense in Chinese: A Comprehensive Guide to Using the Particle 过

In the Chinese language, the particle 过(guò) serves as a linguistic bridge between the past and the present. This unassuming character wields remarkable power, allowing speakers to effortlessly convey past experiences and actions. The proper use of 过(guò) can significantly enhance your ability to express yourself accurately.

Similar to the English phrase “have done” used in contexts like “I have eaten” or “He has seen it,” the particle 过(guò) plays a pivotal role in indicating that an action has been performed or an experience has been lived through in the past. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the various facets of using 过(guò) in Chinese grammar and how you can make use of it to describe your own past experiences.

How to use 过 in Chinese grammar

1). The basic structure

The most basic structure for 过(guò)  simply places it immediately after the verb without an object.

For example:

我听说过。(Wǒ tīng shuōguò.) I’ve heard about that.

我试过。(Wǒ shìguò. ) I’ve tried it.

Both sentences describe we did something in the past. 过(guò) doesn’t indicate when it happened – it could be a while back or just a short while ago.

2). Using 过 with an object

You can also use 过(guò) in sentences with an object. The structure only gets slightly more complicated – you just put the object right after 过(guò).

For example:

我已经看过那部电影。(Wǒ yǐjīng kànguò nà bù diànyǐng.) I’ve already seen that movie.

你见过他吗?(Nǐ jiànguò tā ma?) Have you met him before?

You could think of the verb and 过 as combining into one unit: the action plus the aspect (aspect refers to whether or not the action was completed). Then the object just comes after this unit.

3). The Negative Form of 过

Since 过(guò) is about actions in the past, you need to use 没有 (méiyǒu) or 没 (méi) to negate it. As is common in Chinese grammar, the object is optional, and the subject is even more optional.

For example:

我没看过。(Wǒ méi kànguò.) I haven’t seen it.

他没去过美国。(Tā méi qùguò Měiguó. ) He hasn’t been to America.

Because 过(guò) is used to talk about past experiences, you can pair it with 从来没有(cónglái méiyǒu) to express that something has never happened before.

For example:

我从来没有这么生气过。(Wǒ cónglái méiyǒu zhème shēngqìguò.)
I’ve never been this angry before.

他从来没有见过如此大的狗。(Tā cónglái méiyǒu jiànguò rúcǐ dà de gǒu.)
He’d never seen such a big dog before.

Using the full 从来没有(cónglái méiyǒu) is quite strong. You can often shorten it to 从来没(cónglái méi).

4). Asking questions with 过

你有没有去过中国?(Nǐ yǒu méiyǒu qùguò Zhōngguó?)
Have you ever been to China?

你听说过吧?(Nǐ tīng shuōguò ba?)
You’ve heard about it, right?

你吃过中国菜吗?(Nǐ chīguò Zhōngguó cài ma?)
Have you ever eaten Chinese food?

你学过中文没有?(Nǐ xuéguò Zhōngwén méiyǒu?)
Have you ever studied Chinese before?

As you can see, 过(guò) can be used in combination with all the typical methods of forming questions in Chinese grammar.

The differences between 过 and 了

The two particles 过(guò) and 了 (le) might appear quite similar: both can be used to talk about actions that are finished. However, they have distinct differences:

了 indicates that an event took place.

For example:

昨天我去故宫了。(Zuótiān wǒ qù gùgōngle.)
I went to the Forbidden City yesterday.

了 placed after a verb signifies that the action is completed.

For example:

我买了一本汉语书。(Wǒ mǎile yī běn hànyǔ shū.)
I bought a Chinese book.

我到了北京就给你打电话。(Wǒ dàole Běijīng jiù gěi nǐ dǎ diànhuà. )
I will call you as soon as I arrive in Beijing.

了 can also describe changes of state.

For example:

现在是12点了,该睡觉了。(Xiànzài shì 12 diǎnle, gāi shuìjiàole.)
It is 12 o’clock now, it’s time to go to bed.

On the other hand, the particle 过(guò) indicates that an action has happened in the past. It’s used to emphasize experience. Compare the following sentences:

他来过我们家。(Tā láiguò wǒmen jiā.)
He’s been to our house (in the past – he has since left).

他来我们家了。(Tā lái wǒmen jiā le.)
He came to our house (and he’s still here – completed action 了).

Using 过(guò) and 了(le) together creates a ‘change of state 了’ phrase, also known as ‘了sentence ‘. It’s like saying “it is now the case that”. There’s a shift, new information, or a change:

When you combine 过(guò) with 了(le), you can express something like “it is now the case that something has been done.” Sentences combining 过(guò) and 了(le) are often about specific objects that both the speaker and listener are familiar with.

For example:

你洗过澡了吗?(Nǐ xǐguò zǎo le ma?) Have you taken a shower?

你吃过药了吗?(Nǐ chīguò yào le ma?) Have you taken your medicine?


As we conclude this exploration of the particle 过 (guò) in Chinese grammar, we stand at the crossroads of past and present, armed with a deeper understanding of how language can shape our narratives and experiences. Our journey to discover 过(guò) has taken us from basic structures to intricate applications, from simple sentences to complex expressions of change and experience. Now, it’s your turn to apply this knowledge and see how your ability to express yourself and talk about your experiences grows. Go forth with confidence and let this guide to using 过(guò) lead you to master the art of weaving past experiences into the fabric of your spoken words.

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