Unlike other languages such as English, Mandarin does not change the form of its verbs to express past, present, and future tenses. Instead, there are other ways to say how something will happen soon or the near future. Below, we have described some of those ways, and they are quite useful and can help you become better at both written and oral Chinese.
Way 1: Use“要(yào)……了”; and “就”(jiù) or “快”(kuài) can be placed before “要” to constitute “就要……了” or “快要……了”.
电影要开始了，你快点儿！(Diànyǐnɡ yào kāishǐ le, nǐ kuài diánr！)
The movie will soon start, be quick!
飞机就要起飞了。(Fēijī jiùyào qǐfēi le.)
The flight will take off.
船快要开了。(Chuán kuàiyào kāi le.)
The ship will depart.
Way 2： use “快……了”which is similar to “要……了”.
饭快煮好了。(Fàn kuài zhǔ hǎo le.)
The rice will be ready.
经理快来了。(Jīnɡlǐ kuài lái le.)
The manager is coming.
To form the interrogative form of these sentences, one can add the word “吗” at the end of the sentence, followed by a question mark. The Negative Adverb “没有” is its negative answer.
— 老师要开始上课了吗？（Lǎoshī yào kāishǐ shànɡkè le mɑ?）
Will the teacher begin our class?
— 没有。(Méi yǒu.)
— 会议快结束了吗？(Huìyì kuài jiéshù le mɑ？)
Will the meeting be finished soon?
1. “快……了” VS “（快）要……了”
Generally speaking, “快……了” and “要……了” can be substituted for each other,
but there are still some differences, as shown below:
快+V./Adj./ time words/quantifiers+了
车快/要开了。(Chē kuài/yào kāi le.)
The car will leave.
粥快/要冷了。(Zhōu kuài/yào lěnɡ le.)
The porridge will get cold.
(Kuài chūnjié le, tā zhǔnbèi hǎo huíjiā ɡuò chūnjié le.)
The Spring Festival is coming, and he is ready to go home and spend Spring Festival there.
我快十岁了，我不小了。(Wǒ kuài shísuì le，wǒ bù xiǎo le.)
I’ll be ten years old, so I’m old enough.
2. “快要……了” VS “就要……了”
Generally speaking, “快要……了” and “就要……了” can substitute for each other, but the important difference between them is that when there is a specific time adverbial in the sentence, we can only use “就要……了”，and not “快要……了”.
他们明天就要出发了。(Tāmen mínɡtiān jiù yào chūfā le.)
They will set out tomorrow.
爸爸后天就要出差了。(Bàbɑ hòutiān jiùyào chūchāi le.)
My father will be in business the day after tomorrow.
If your native language involves changing the form of the verb to indicate past, present or future tenses, it may take some time for you to adjust and adapt to how the Chinese express how something will happen “Soon”. But with practice, and in grasping the context of when such sentences are used, it is actually quite easy to understand. Once you get the hang of it, it will add to your growing skill with the Mandarin language.