过 Guo in Chinese – The Particle To Express Past Experiences

过 (guò) is a fascinating character. It has so many different uses that we made two videos about it a few years back  (Video 1Video 2). This post will focus on the ‘helper’ version of 过 (guo in Chinese), which covers past experience.

Reminder About “Helpers”

The term “Helper” derives from the Chinese word for ‘particle’ 助词 zhù cí – ‘help + word.’ These ‘helpers’ are rarely grammatically required, but they ‘help’ the sentence by clarifying things like possession (的), change (了), present actions (着), or, in this case, experiences (过).

Sentence 1:

我骂过我的儿子。 – Level 13
Wǒ màguo wǒde érzi
I’ve scolded my son before. 

The point that 过 (guo in Chinese) expresses in this sentence is that ‘scolding 骂’ has happened before. However, it’s NOT indicating any particular instance of scolding. Therefore, you should use ‘了 le’ if you want to refer to one specific time that you “scolded” your son.

So how would you answer the question:

你骂过你的儿子吗?

Yes: 骂过。
No: 没骂过。(You use 没 méi because that’s how you negate things in the past.)


Sentence 2 – 过 (guo in Chinese): 

我常常想起来她说过的话。 – Level 14
Wǒ chángcháng xiángqǐlái tā shuōguo de huà
I often recall what she has said

In this sentence, the use of 过 is a bit more subtle. Yes, the 话 is something that 她 has ‘spoken before 说过,’ but the 过 indicates a generality about it. For example, I had a fourth-grade teacher named Mr. Oates, who was filled with pearls of wisdom that he would share with us. I often think of what he has said, but what I remember him saying isn’t one thing, but many things he’s said before. So, that’s the function of 过 (guo in Chinese) here.


Sentence 3:

公司从来没有办过活动。 – Level 19
Gōngsī cónglái méiyǒu bànguo huódòng
(My) company has never held an event

So, you use 没 méi or 没有 méiyǒu to negate things in the past. Since 过 refers to past experience, you’ll always use “没有” to indicate that you’ve not ever experienced some action. 


Sentence 4:

中国有一句话,不知道你听没听说过。 – Level 23
Zhōngguó yǒu yíjù huà, bùzhīdào nǐ tīngméitīngshuōguo
There’s a saying in Chinese, don’t know if you’ve heard it before

This sentence does an excellent job of showing how you might propose whether or not you’ve experienced something before.

听说 – to hear of
听说过 – to have heard of
没听说过 – to never have heard of

Therefore, to say 听没听说过 is a structure that proposes both possibilities.


Comparing 了 le – 过 guo – 过了 guòle

A: 你吃饭了吗?
A: Nǐ chīfàn le ma?
A: Have you eaten? (How are you doing?)

B: 吃了。
B:Chī le.
B: Yes. (I’m good.)

Here’s an example of ‘了 le’ used by itself. Speaker A is asking about a specific instance of eating, and Speaker B responds about it. Use this as your framework for the next few examples:

A: 你吃过饭了吗?
A: Nǐ chī guo fàn le ma?
A: Have you eaten (already)?

B: 我吃过了。
B:Wǒ chī guo le.
B: I’ve eaten already.

For instance, people will sometimes use ‘过了guòle’ for everyday activities like eating, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, etc. It indicates that the action is completely finished and doesn’t need to happen again. For example, if a kid just brushed his teeth and his mom is pestering him about it, he could say “妈妈,我刷过牙了 Māma, wǒ shuā guo yá le – Mom, I already brushed my teeth!” 

It’s as if the 过 is saying, “not only is it completed 了, but it’s passed 过 and won’t come back for now.” 

她已经吃过饭了。
Tā yǐjīng chī guo fàn le.
She has already eaten.

Also, by adding “已经,” you’re adding a final bit of emphasis. It’s not necessary to add, but if you say “她已经吃过饭了,” then there’s no doubt about whether or not she needs to eat; she doesn’t.

To learn more about particles, go ahead and browse through our posts about Chinese particles by clicking the tag “Chinese Particles” at the bottom of this post.

Chinese Particles
13 July , 2020
Sign Up Now To Start Learning Mandarin