Cantonese - Verbal Aspect

For those of you that already know some Mandarin, or languages like Vietnamese, Thai, etc., you most likely already know about the concept of verbal aspect. These languages, unlike most Indo-European languages, do not “conjugate” their verbs based on tense, mood, number, person, etc., but use the concept of “aspect” or “time references” to express verbal actions. 

Technically, as long as the context is clear from adverbs of time such as “yesterday”, “today”, “tomorrow”, then the “tense” can be determined (whether it occurred in the past, present, or future), without having to add anything around the verb. 

我今日去香港 [ngo5 gam1 jat6 heoi3 hoeng1 gong2]
I go/am going to Hong Kong today. 

我尋日去香港 [ngo5 cam4 jat6 heoi3 hoeng1 gong2]
I went to Hong Kong yesterday. 

我聽日去香港 [ngo5 ting1 jat6 heoi3 hoeng1 gong2]
I will go to Hong Kong tomorrow. 

However, that being said, oftentimes, these neutral-sounding sentences can sound very stunted and awkward. To make speech more natural, we use aspect markers, which make things clearer and more specific as to when an action occurred.

Past Aspect Markers

zo2 - Perfective Marker

  • a common variant of this is 左
  • directly equivalent to the perfective function of 了 in Mandarin
  • goes after the verb
  • shows that an action has been completed in the past, but may be applicable to the present 

ex: 我尋晚睇兩集。[ngo5 cam4 maan5 tai2 zo2 loeng5 zaap6]

Mandarin: 我昨晚看了兩集。
Literal: I yesterday night watch-perf. two episode. 
Translation: I watched two episodes last night. 

ex: 佢已經喺香港住兩年。[keoi5 ji5 ging1 hai2 hoeng1 gong2 zyu6 zo2 loeng5 nin4]

Mandarin: 他/她已經在香港住了兩年。
Literal: He/she already in/at Hong Kong live-perf. two year(s).
Translation: He/she has already lived in Hong Kong for two years. (and is still living there now) 

gwo3 - Experiential Past Marker

  • used exactly the same as in Mandarin 
  • goes after the verb
  • shows that something has occurred sometime in the past, and is no longer applicable to the present

ex: 小明曾經去呢間學校。[siu2 ming4 cang4 ging1 heoi3 gwo3 ni1 gaan1 hok6 haau6]

Mandarin: 小明曾經去過這間學校。
Literal: Siu Ming at one point go-exp.past this school. 
Translation: Siu Ming had gone to this school at one point. (he no longer goes to this school)

ex: 你食菠蘿包未呀? [nei5 sik6 gwo3 bo1 lo4 baau1 mei6 aa3] 

Mandarin: 你吃過菠蘿包了沒有?
Literal: You eat-exp.past pineapple bun (not) yet + statement particle
Translation: Have you ever eaten pineapple buns? 

Present Aspect Markers

The simple present is often expressed using just the verb, without the addition of any aspect markers. However, present aspect markers exist to mark time points more clearly. 

gan2 - Progressive Marker

  • equivalent to (正)在 + V in Mandarin, except 緊 goes after the verb
  • functions as the imperfective, or the present progressive; an action is incomplete and/or in progress.

ex: 當時佢仲寫本書,所以冇時間陪我。[dong1 si4 keoi5 zung6 se2 gan2 bun2 syu1, so2 ji3 mou5 si4 gaan3 pui4 ngo5] 

Mandarin: 當時他/她還在寫 (那本) 書,所以沒有時間陪我。
Literal: At that time he still write-prog. classifier book, so/that’s why not have time accompany me.
Translation: At that time he was still writing the book; that’s why he didn’t have time to spend with me.

ex: 我食飯嘅時候唔好同我傾偈。[ngo5 sik6 gan2 faan6 ge3 si4 hau6 m4 hou2 tung4 ngo5 king1 gai2]

Mandarin: 我在吃飯的時候不要跟我聊天。
Literal: I eat-prog. genitive (duration of) time not good* with me chat.
Translation: When I’m (busy) eating (a meal), don’t chit chat with me.  

*唔好 m4 hou2 (lit. not good) = an imperative form, equivalent to don’t in English and 不要 in Mandarin

zyu6 - Durative Marker 

  1. expresses an action that continues and remains in the same state
  2. connects two verbal phrases where actions are being done simultaneously
  • Function 1: equivalent to 着 in Mandarin; goes after the verb
  • Function 2: equivalent to 邊…邊… in Mandarin; goes after the verb

Function 1

ex: 佢孭一個好重嘅書包。[keoi5 me1 zyu6 jat1 go3 hou2 cung5 ge3 syu1 baau1]

Mandarin: 他/她背着一個很重的書包。
Literal: He/she carry (on one’s back)-dur. one classifier very heavy backpack. 
Translation: He/she is carrying a very heavy backpack. 

ex: 家姐間房對個海。[gaa1 ze1 gaan1 fong2 deoi3 zyu6 go3 hoi2]

Mandarin: 姐姐的房子對着海。
Literal: Older sister-gen. room face-dur. classifier ocean
Translation: [Older] sis’ room faces the ocean. (it is always going to be facing the ocean). 

Function 2

This function cannot stand on its own with just a verbal phrase, and requires the addition of 先 sin1 “first, before anything else”, or another verb/verbal phrase. The structure 一路…一路… can also be used, and is used in almost exactly the same way as (一)邊…(一)邊… in Mandarin. 

ex: 你食飯先。[nei5 sik6 zyu6 faan6 sin1] (simply saying 你食住飯 would be grammatically incorrect)

Mandarin: 你先吃飯。
Literal: You eat-dur. meal first. 
Translation: Eat first. (implies that the speaker might be doing an action other than eating, and asks the listener to eat first) 

ex: 我食雪條行街。[ngo5 sik6 zyu6 syut3 tiu2 haang4 gaai1] or

一路雪條(一路)行街。[ngo5 jat1 lou6 sik6 zyu6 syut3 tiu2 (jat1 lou6) haang4 gaai1]

Mandarin: 我邊吃冰棒邊逛街。
Literal: I eat-dur. popsicle stroll. or I (as) eat-dur. popsicle (as) stroll. 
Translation: I am (or I was) eating a popsicle as I stroll (or was strolling) around. 

Difference between 緊 gan2 and 住 zyu6

The words present progressive and durative sound very technical and also sound pretty similar in meaning, but here’s a good example illustrating the difference between the two markers: 

我著衫 [ngo5 zoek3 gan2 saam1] - I am putting on clothes. (lit. in the process of wearing/putting on clothes) 

我著衫 [ngo5 zoek3 zyu6 saam1] - I am wearing clothes. (I am in a state where I am wearing clothes)

著 [zoek3] - to wear sth; 衫 [saam1] - clothes

Keep reading

Negation in Cantonese

I’ll be going over three ways to negate things in Cantonese, since I haven’t seen very many Cantonese grammar posts out there.

1) [m4] - goes before all verbs to indicate a simple “not”, before the word 喺 [hai2] “to/at”, and before adjectives.

想同你講嘢呀。[ngo5 m4 soeng2 tung4 nei5 gong2 je5 aa3] - I don’t want speak/talk to you. 

食肉架咩?[keoi5 m4 sik6 juk6 gaa3 me1] - He doesn’t eat meat? (I thought he did)

我哋係學生。[ngo5 dei6 m4 hai6 hok6 saang1] - We aren’t students.

陳生而家喺度喎… [can4 saang1 ji4 gaa1 m4 hai2 dou6 wo3] - Mr. Chan isn’t here at the moment though…

佢食得開心。[keoi5 sik6 dak1 m4 hoi1 sam1] - He ate unhappily (lit. not happy)

2) [mou5] - actually the negative form of 有 [jau5] “to have”, and is used with nouns (including pronouns). When used before a verb, it creates a sort of past tense negation “didn’t”. 

呢本書。[ngo5 mou5 ni1 bun2 syu1] - I don’t have this book.

人支持我唔緊要。[mou5 jan4 zi1 ci4 ngo5 m4 gan2 jiu3] - It’s no big deal, even if no one supports me.

小明今朝食早餐。[siu2 ming4 gam1 ziu1 mou5 sik6 zou2 caan1] - Siu Ming didn’t eat breakfast this morning. 

3) [mei6] - means “not yet”, and is often used with “(從來)〜過” (have never…before) or “仲〜” (still haven’t…yet)

我今日好忙,所以仲未食飯。 [ngo5 gam1 jat6 hou2 mong4, so2 ji5 zung6 mei6 sik6 faan6] - I was really busy today, so I haven’t eaten yet. 

我(從來)榴槤。 [ngo5 (cung4 loi4) mei6 si3 gwo3 lau4 lin4] - (experiential past) I have not tried durian before. OR I have never tried durian (in my life). 

你一日寫完,你唔使旨意走。 [nei5 jat1 jat6 mei6 se2 jyun4, nei5 m4 sai2 zi2 ji3 zau2] - Unless you’re finished writing it, don’t even think about leaving/going. 

Bonus Round: We also have the word 無 which is found only in certain contexts (especially in words coming from Classical Chinese I believe). To my knowledge, all of these words are found in Mandarin as well. 

無 [mou4] - not, there isn’t

無知 [mou4 zi1] - ignorant

無論 [mou4 leon6] - no matter what, regardless

無需 [mou4 seoi1] - no need

無奈 [mou4 noi6] - helpless, without an alternative

無辜 [mou4 gu1] - innocent

無限 [mou4 haan6] - unlimited

無聊 [mou4 liu4] - pointless, bored, tedious

無愧 [mou4 kwai5] - to have a clear conscience, to have no qualms

I hope this was useful to any of you learning/brushing up on your Cantonese! Let me know if there’s anything you want me to clarify (or if you have any other Cantonese grammar concepts you’d like me to cover)! Here are some other posts I’ve written in the past about Cantonese:

Cantonese Verbal Aspect | Cantonese Final Particles | Cantonese Music Masterpost | Cantonese in 300 Words

Cantonese Number Expressions

亂噏廿四 [lyun6 ngap1 jaa6 sei3] - talking nonsense, to say random/illogical things (lit. chaotic babbling twenty four) 

三唔識七 [saam1 m4 sik1 cat1] - strangers, random ppl you don’t know (lit. three doesn’t know seven)

九唔搭八 [gau2 m4 daap3 baat3] - off topic, random, to give an irrelevant answer (lit. nine doesn’t follow eight)

七七八八 [cat1 cat1 baat3 baat3] - pretty much finished sth, more or less finished sth. (lit. seven seven eight eight) 

Note: exists in Mandarin as well (qī qī bā bā)

唔理你三七廿一 [m4 lei5 lei5 saam1 cat1 jaa6 jat1] - to totally disregard one’s situation and do sth. anyways (lit. don’t care about you three seven twenty one)

三口六面 (講清楚) [saam1 hau2 luk6 min6 (gong2 cing1 co2)] - to sit everyone down and make a situation clear, to explain a situation clearly to everyone involved, to talk face-to-face (lit. three mouths six faces)

鬼五馬六 [gwai2 ng5 maa5 luk6] - mysterious, to act strangely (lit. ghost five horse six)

十問九唔應 [sap6 man6 gau2 m4 jing3] - unresponsive, uncooperative when being questioned (lit. ten asks and nine doesn’t respond)

兩三丁人 [loeng5 saam1 ding1 jan4] - only a few people, a couple people (lit. two three tiny bit people)

十個茶壺九個蓋 [sap6 go3 caa4 wu2 gau2 go3 goi3] - demand outnumbers the supply, to not have enough (lit. ten tea pots and nine lids)

anonymous asked:

Hi! Your post about SWC is really interesting! I don't know much about Chinese but it's nice to learn about other languages even if I'm not learning them (yet hahah) So, to be sure that I understood, everybody can read the characters of the SWC but in their dialect? PS: you are awesome! Favorite langblr by far. You always seem so nice to everybody and to genuinely care when people ask you something or need help. Your blog has a very positive vibe! Hahah ✌🏻️☺️

Yup, you understood it correctly!!! Just to give you a more concrete example, since it’s easier to see, here are the first 2 lines from this Cantonese song

得到一刻開心過後 不開心
怎麼都不開心 誰責任

Cantonese reading:

dak1 dou3 jat1 haak1 hoi1 sam1 gwo3 hau6 bat1 hoi1 sam1
zam2 mo1 dou1 bat1 hoi1 sam1 seoi4 zaak3 jam6

Mandarin reading (not what’s being sung, but hypothetically what it’d be): 

dé dào yī kè kāi xīn guò hòu bù kāi xīn
zěn me dōu bù kāi xīn shéi zé rèn

These are the only two I am 100% sure about in terms of using the proper pronunciation (because the Min and Wu branches often have literary and colloquial readings, which I am no expert in, so I won’t show those as examples). 

In spoken Cantonese, we wouldn’t use 不, 怎麼, or 誰 (we’d use 唔, 點 or 點解, and 邊個 instead). However, most (modern) Cantonese songs will use Mandarin vocabulary and syntax in their songs with Cantonese pronunciations (I guess bc it sounds more literary and poetic?). Confusing, I know ;; 

To look at it from the opposite perspective, let’s look at this Mandarin song:


Mandarin reading: 

yòu huí dào zuì chū de qǐ diǎn
jì yì zhōng nǐ qīng sè de liǎn
wǒ men zhōng yú lái dào le zhè yī tiān

Cantonese reading:

jau6 wui4 dou3 zeoi3 co1 dik1 hei2 dim2
gei3 jik1 zung1 nei5 cing1 gip3 dik1 lim5
ngo5 mun4 zung1 jyu1 loi4 dou3 liu5 ze2 jat1 tin1

My hobby is listening to Mandarin songs and singing the lyrics in Canto instead, and vice versa. ITS THE WEIRDEST THING AND USUALLY DOESN’T RHYME VERY WELL BUT IT’S FUN !!

I hope that makes sense! And awhhhhh that’s so sweet of you!!!! TYSM :’D I’m always happy to help~