The Chinese variation known as Cantonese is an analytic language. This means that sentence structure and word order make an impact on the actual meaning of the sentence. Unlike in those languages referred to as “synthetic languages” in which words express plural, time, or gender attributes through particular inflection, the Cantonese language utilizes structure, adverbs, and other contextual clues to bestow these meanings to the words.
Cantonese verbs by themselves indicate no tense. Generally the timing of a particular event is expressed through the addition of time-establishing adverbs, though there are some situations when the timing is expressed largely through contextual clues and other indicators reliant on the interpretation of the meaning. By adding particles to the sentence it can be turned into a question or more clearly demonstrate the mood, attitude, and intention of the speaker.
Whereas most European languages generally modify verbs for the purpose of demonstrating tense, meaning when an event occurred (in the past, in the present, or in the future), Cantonese verbs are placed within sentences to offer aspect, or the state of the action (whether the event has been completed, has recently begun, or is continuing at the moment). The actual tense of the situation is conveyed through the use of adverbs.
When structuring a sentence the aspect particle is placed prior to the verb, and is bound to said verb. The aspects include:
Perfective—illustrating that the result of a completed activity is still applicable to what is occurring presently.
Experiential—illustrating that an activity that was completed at some point in the past is no longer applicable to what is occurring presently.
Progressive—illustrating a dynamic activity that may promote state of change within itself.
Durative—illustrating a continuous activity in which there is expected to be no change.
Delimitative—illustrating a brief, limited activity.
Habitual—illustrating an activity that is repeated to the point of being identified as habitual.
Inchoative—illustrating the point at which an activity is beginning.
Continuative—illustrating the consistent continuation of a particular activity.
Final particles are used to change the mood or meaning of Cantonese verbs and full sentences. These particles can be used to create the following situations:
• In neutral questions or to soften the impact of an affirmative statement so that it does not come across as so sharp or abrupt.
• To emphasize a portion of an assertion.
• To structure requests and gentle commands so that the statement does not sound rude or harsh.
• To indicate a recommendation or a final point that the speaker feels should be obvious to the listener.
• To minimize the significance of a particular situation.