The Distinction Between 了le And 过guò

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了 le denotes the “completion of an action”.

我买了水果。Wǒ mǎile shuǐguǒ. (I bought fruit.)

我洗了衣服。Wǒ xǐle yīfú. (I did the laundry.)

我听了音乐。Wǒ tīngle yīnyuè. (I listened to music.)


The object of a verb with 了 le is usually specified or defined, as in these three examples. The sentence is considered incomplete if the object is a single, unmodified noun:

*我喝了水。Wǒ hēle shuǐ. (I drank water.)

If the object is specified or the sentence is extended, the problem is solved:

我喝了两杯水。Wǒ hēle liǎng bēi shuǐ. (I drank two glasses of water.)

我喝了两杯水就饱了。Wǒ hēle liǎng bēi shuǐ jiù bǎole. (I drank two glasses of water and was full.)


Aspect markers do not indicate tension. It should be emphasized. Time expressions in Chinese indicate when a verb’s action occurs. Changes in the form of the verb mean tense in English.

我昨天看电影,今天上班。Wǒ zuótiān kàn diànyǐng, jīntiān shàngbān. (I watched a movie yesterday and went to work today. )

我明天放假。Wǒ míngtiān fàngjià. (I’m off tomorrow.)


了le completed actions may have occurred in the past or the future.

我昨天下了班去逛街。Wǒ zuótiān xiàle bān qù guàngjiē. (I went shopping after work yesterday.)

我明天下了班去看电影。Wǒ míngtiān xiàle bān qù kàn diànyǐng. (I will go to the movies after work tomorrow.)

Without the use of 了 le, the character 没(有) méi(yǒu) is used to describe the lack of a completed action, that is, what did not happen in the past or has not happened:

我没有吃午饭。Wǒ méiyǒu chī wǔfàn. (I didn’t have lunch.)

他没有上班。Tā méiyǒu shàngbān. (He didn’t go to work.)

我没有看电影。Wǒ méiyǒu kàn diànyǐng. (I didn’t watch the movie.)


不 bù describes a recurring action that occurs in the past, present, or future.

我不看电影。Wǒ bù kàn diànyǐng. (I don’t watch movies.)

他不抽烟。Tā bù chōuyān. (He doesn’t smoke.)

我不喝酒。Wǒ bù hējiǔ. (I do not drink.)

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过 guò points to a particular action as a previous experience.

我去过广州。Wǒ qùguò guǎngzhōu. (I have been to Guangzhou.)

我吃过挪威菜。Wǒ chīguò nuówēi cài. (I have eaten Norwegian food.)

我学过中文。Wǒ xuéguò zhōngwén. (I have studied Chinese.)

Consider the following examples to demonstrate how 了 le and 过 guo differ from one another:

我们去过广州。Wǒmen qùguò guǎngzhōu. (We have been to Guangzhou.)

今年我们去了广州。Jīnnián wǒmen qùle guǎngzhōu. (This year, we went to Guangzhou.)

我们今年去过台湾。 Wǒmen jīnnián qùguò táiwān. (We have been to Taiwan this year.)


过guò is kept in this form even though 没(有) Méi(yǒu) In an experience sentence, it also serves as the negative.

他没有去过中国。Tā méiyǒu qùguò zhōngguó. (He has never been to China.)

我没有去过挪威。Wǒ méiyǒu qùguò nuówēi. (I have not been to Norway.)

我没有吃过挪威菜。Wǒ méiyǒu chīguò nuówēi cài. (I have never had Norwegian food.)


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