Expressing "once" with "cengjing"
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.
Subj. + 曾经 + Verb + 过 (+ Obj.)
- 我们 曾经 一起 去 过 。We've once been there together.
- 他 说 他 曾经 做 过 很多 傻事 。He said that he once did a lot of stupid things.
- 我 曾经 喜欢 过 你 。I once liked you.
- 她 曾经 想 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 花 了 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 过 。We were all young once.
- 他 的 音乐 曾经 流行 过 。His music was once popular.
Used without 过
曾经 + 是 / 在 / 有 ⋯⋯
- 曾经 with 是
- 他 曾经 是 我 老板 。He was once my boss.
- 这里 曾经 是 一个 学校 。It was once a school here.
- 曾经 with 在
- 市政府 曾经 在 我们 家 旁边 。The city government was next to our house.
- 他 的 墓 曾经 在 国外 。His tomb was once abroad.
- 曾经 with 有
- 她 曾经 有 一个 西班牙 男朋友 。She once had a Spanish boyfriend.
- 他们 家 曾经 有 很多钱 。Their family once has lots of money.
Because 过 is used to talk about past actions, it should be negated with 没 (méi). When you mean to say "I haven't ever (done something)" 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 吵 过 架 。We've never fought.
- 他们 一直 写信 ，没 曾经 见 过 面 。They've been writing to each other, but they've never met.
不曾/ 未曾 + Verb + 过 + Obj.
A few examples:
- 他们 一直 写信 ，不曾 见 过 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 过 家庭 的 温暖 。He's lost his parents since his childhood. He's never experienced the warmth of a family.
- Taiwanese "you"
- Expressing experiences with "guo"
- Before a specific time with "yiqian"
- Expressing "before" in general with "yiqian"
Sources and further reading