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Using "guo" with "le"

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You might be familiar with using 过 (guo) to indicate that an action has been experienced in the past, but then also see it used together with 了 (le). What's going on here? If you're already familiar with the basic usage of both 了 (le) and 过 (guo), then a special explanation of how they sometimes work together is now in order.

Basic Pattern

Structure

Verb + 过 + 了

You'll notice that this pattern is often used for everyday behaviors. It's used for actions like "eating" and "brushing one's teeth" and "taking a shower."

Examples

  • 她 吃 Tā chī guo le.She has eaten (already).
  • 牙 刷 Yá shuā guo le.I've brushed my teeth (already).
  • guo le.I've showered (already).
  • 我们 看 Wǒmen kàn guo le.We've seen it (already).
  • 他们 见 Tāmen jiàn guo le.They've met (already).

The Pattern with an Object

For the examples above, you could have inserted an object to modify the basic pattern, getting this:

Verb + 过 + Obj. + 了

The object has been inserted in the sentences below:

  • 你 吃 吗?Nǐ chī guo fàn le ma? Have you eaten (already)?
  • 我 刷 Wǒ shuā guo le.I have brushed my teeth (already).
  • 他 洗 Tā xǐ guo zǎo le.He has showered (already).
  • 我 给 他 打 电话 Wǒ gěi tā dǎ guo diànhuà le.I called him (already).
  • 客户 看 合同 吗?Kèhù kàn guo hétong le ma? Has the client read the contract (already)?

What 过 (guo) Does

You would be right to point out that 过 (guo) is mainly used to call attention to the fact that someone has had an experience. This is the basic pattern pointed out in the article on the basic usage of the aspectual particle 过 (guo). In the examples above, though, it's not any "once-in-a-lifetime" experiences being expressed, it's more just the information that these actions are done. Here, 过 (guo) and 了 (le) work together to emphasize that an action is already done. This is why the translations on the side add the word "already" in parentheses at the end; this is the feeling the sentences give you. In fact, to emphasize the idea of already done even further, you could add the word for "already," 已经 (yǐjīng), before the verbs in the examples below, and it also works just fine:

  • 已经yǐjīng chī guo fàn le.She has already eaten (a meal).
  • 已经yǐjīng shuā guole.I have already brushed my teeth.
  • 已经yǐjīng guo zǎo le.He has already had a shower.

When to Use 过 (guo) with 了 (le)

So when would you use the sentences above? You'd be emphasizing that the action has already occurred (so it doesn't need to be done again), so it would probably be something like this:

For the eating example:

  • A:她 想 吃饭 吗 ? Tā xiǎng chīfàn ma?Does she want to eat?
  • B:已经yǐjīng chī guo fàn le.She has already eaten.

For the tooth brushing example:

  • A:别 忘记 刷牙。 Bié wàngjì shuā yá.Don't forget to brush your teeth.
  • B:已经yǐjīng shuā guole.I have already brushed my teeth.

For the taking a shower example:

  • A:他 应该 洗澡 。 Tā yīnggāi xǐzǎo.He should take a shower.
  • B:已经过 了yǐjīngguo le.He has already showered.

See Also

Sources and further reading

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