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Expressing "once" with "cengjing"

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曾经 (céngjīng) is an adverb, and as such comes before verb phrases in a sentence. It adds the sense of "once" having happened (not the "one time" meaning of "once"), sometimes translated as "ever." It frequently pairs with 过.

Used with 过

When used with action verbs, 曾经 comes before the verb, and that same verb is followed by 过. For psychological verbs, the 过 is optional.

Structure

Subj. + 曾经 + Verb + 过 (+ Obj.)

Examples

  • 我们 曾经 一起 去 We've once been there together.
  • 他 说 他 曾经 很多 傻事 。He said that he once did a lot of stupid things.
  • 曾经 喜欢 我 ?You once liked me?
  • 曾经 当 演员 ,后来 成 了 全职太太 。She once wanted to become an actress. She became a full time wife afterwards.

Sometimes 曾经 is used with 了 rather than 过.

  • 为了 找 亲生 父母 ,她 曾经 很多钱 。In order to find her biological parents, she once spent lots of money.

曾经 can also be used with some adjectives. In these cases, 过 is usually also used.

  • 我们 都 曾经 年轻 We were all once young.
  • 他 的 音乐 曾经 流行 His musician was once popular.

Used without 过

When used with the verbs , , and (all related to existence rather than actions), 过 is generally not used.

Structure

曾经 + 是 / 在 / 有 ⋯⋯

Examples

  • 曾经 我 老板 。He was once my boss.
  • 这里 曾经 一个 学校 。It was once a school here.
  • 市政府 曾经 我们 家 旁边 。The city government was next to our house.
  • 他 的 墓 曾经 国外 。His tomb was once abroad.
  • 曾经 一个 西班牙 男朋友 。She once had a Spanish boyfriend.
  • 他们 家 曾经 很多钱 。Their family once has lots of money.

Negative Form

Because 过 is used to talk about past actions, it should be negated with 没 (méi). When you mean to say "I haven't done...ever" or "something hasn't happened ever," just say 没⋯⋯过. It is incorrect to use 没 or 不 to negate 曾经.

Try not to say:

  • 我们 不 曾经 架 。We've never fought.
  • 他们 一直 写信 ,没 曾经 面 。They've been writing to each other, but they've never met.

不曾 and 未曾, however, can also be used to express the above meaning, but they're more formal and thus used only in written language.

不曾/ 未曾 + Verb + 过 + Obj.

A few examples:

  • 他们 一直 写信 ,不曾 面 。They've been writing to each other, but they've never met.
  • 他 从小 就 没有 父母 ,未曾 感受 家庭 的 温暖 。He's lost his parents since his childhood. He's never experienced the warmth of a family.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books