A student asks:
I am going over lesson 4 and a little confused about when to use ‘le’ or “mei” for past tense.
Could I say either ” Ni chi le ne?” or “Ni chi mei chi?” – both meaning “Did you eat?”
I’m also not sure about the use of “you” – Ni qu you qu? (Did you go?)
Ni you mei you – Do you have it? or is it Did you have it? (Ni you bu you? Is this – Do you have it?)
Ni qu bu qu – Are you going? and Do you want to go? (means both?)
Thank you for writing to us.
Your’ve raised some good questions and I completely understand your confusion – I was once there myself 🙂
So, first things first.
Let’s start with 了 ‘le’ (I’m going to simplify things here a little, so not to confuse you)
To indicate that an action is completed or past, we use 了 ‘le’
Tā Mǎi Le Don̄gXi.
He bought things.
To say that something has not taken place in the past we use 没有 ‘MéiYǒu’ or just 没 ‘Méi’
Tā Méi (Yǒu) Mǎi DōngXi.
He didn’t buy things. ( or better, He didn’t buy any thing).
If 没 ‘Méi’ is used to negate something that happened in the past it replaces 了 ‘le’ and does not occur with it at the same time.
IMPORTANT: Let’s not forget that 没 ‘Méi’ is also used to put the verb 有 ‘to have’ in negative (for other verbs, as you know, we use ‘Bù’ like 不是 ‘Bù Shì’).
Tā ZuóTiān Mǎi Le Shū.
She bought a book yesterday.
Tā ZuóTiān Méi Yǒu Mǎi Shū.
She didn’t buy books yesterday.
And as for your other questions:
你吃没吃？ Nǐ Chī Méi Chī? Did you eat?
你吃了呢？ Nǐ Chī Le Ne? And you, did you eat? Remember 你呢？ Nǐ Ne? And you?
你去有去？ Nǐ Qù Yǒu Qù? To negate a past action we can only use ‘Mei’ so: 你去没去？Nǐ Qù Méi Qù? is correct
你有没有？ Nǐ Yǒu Méi Yǒu? Means ‘do you have’, but it sounds incomplete, it actually means ‘do you have…’
Do you have three books? 你有没有三本书？Nǐ Yǒu Méi Yǒu Sān Běn Shū?
你有三本书吗？Nǐ Yǒu Sān Běn Shū Ma?
你有不有 ？ Nǐ Yǒu Bù Yǒu? ‘Bu’ never goes with ‘you’, so you should use the sentence above instead: Nǐ Yǒu Méi Yǒu?
你去不去？ Nǐ Qù Bù Qù? Are you going?
你想去吗？ Nǐ Xiǎng Qù Ma? Do you want to go? ‘Xiang’ means ‘to want’, ‘to consider’.
Wow, that’s a lot of explanations, but it’s all really important stuff that you need to really understand and be familiar with. Once you’ve be able to differentiate between all these different structures, you’ll have a better foundation for learning in the future and things will just start to make more sense.
You should take as much time as you need between each lesson, for me, once I understand all the core concepts, structures, grammar and vocabulary of a particular lesson I would move on to the next one. But remember, going back and reviewing things that you already know will help you consolidate that knowledge and will make sure that you never forget it!