Using "guo" with "le"
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.
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."
- 她 吃 过 了。 She has eaten (already).
- 牙 刷 过 了。I've brushed my teeth (already).
- 洗 过 了。I've showered (already).
- 我们 看 过 了。 We've seen it (already).
- 他们 见 过 了。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 过 饭 了 吗？Have you eaten (already)?
- 我 刷 过 牙 了。 I have brushed my teeth (already).
- 他 洗 过 澡 了。 He has showered (already).
- 我 给 他 打 过 电话 了。I called him (already).
- 客户 看 过 合同 了 吗？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:
- 她 已经 吃 过 饭 了。 She has already eaten (a meal).
- 我 已经 刷 过 牙 了。 I have already brushed my teeth.
- 他 已经 洗 过 澡 了。 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 ？ Does she want to eat?
- B:她 已经 吃 过 饭 了。 She has already eaten.
For the tooth brushing example:
- A:别 忘记 刷牙。 Don't forget to brush your teeth.
- B:我 已经 刷 过 牙 了。I have already brushed my teeth.
For the taking a shower example:
- A:他 应该 洗澡 。 He should take a shower.
- B:他 已经 洗 过 了 。 He has already showered.
Sources and further reading
- A Practical Chinese Grammar For Foreigners (外国人实用汉语语法) (pp. 138) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- Chinese Grammar Without Tears (简明汉语语法学习手册) (pp. 73-74) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 1 (pp. 345 - 347) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (pp. 76-77, 230-232) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 2 (新实用汉语课本2) (pp. 175 - 176) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- ChinesePod: Qing Wen - 过(guo) (free podcast content)