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Lesson Transcript


Hi, everybody! Olivia here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Cantonese questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: What is the way to express tenses in Cantonese?
Cantonese verbs don't change form according to the tense. Rather, we use time words to indicate whether something will happen tomorrow, is happening now, or happened yesterday. The Cantonese language relies heavily on the use of adverbs to communicate what English and many other languages do with different verb tenses.
Let's see this in more detail.
First, let's see how to express the past tense.
In Cantonese, we don't conjugate verbs as in English. Rather, we place a specific character after a verb to show that the action took place in the past. To indicate that you have already done an action, simply use this formula: verb + 咗 = past tense. For example, 學咗 (hok6 zo2) "studied", 食咗 (sik6 zo2) "ate".
So, what is the difference between 食過(sik6 gwo3) and 食咗(sik6 zo2)?
Generally speaking, we use 咗 (zo2) for a completed action, while we use 過 (gwo3) to indicate previous experience. For example, 我去咗。(ngo5 heoi3 zo2.) "I went." 我去過。(ngo5 heoi3 gwo3.) "I have been (before)." 過 (gwo3) is the major alternate particle used to communicate aspect completion, as with the sentence 我去過香港 (ngo5 heoi3 gwo3 hoeng1 gong2) "I've been to Hong Kong.”
While both 咗 (zo2) and 過 (gwo3) are indicators of past tense, 咗 (zo2) stresses the neutral completion of the action while 過 (gwo3) emphasizes that the action has taken place in the past.
Finally, let’s see how to express the future tense.
To express future tense in Cantonese, we usually place the character 會 (wui5) "will" in front of the verb. For example, 會去(wui5 heoi3) "will go", 會食(wui5 sik6) "will eat".


How was it? Pretty easy right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
"See you next time!", 下次見! (haa6 ci3 gin3!)