past tense 了

87. Changes, Omissions & Wigwams in Chinese

Podcast Duration: 01:02:21

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The Mandarin Blueprint Podcast focuses primarily on The Mandarin Blueprint Method online curriculum. Creators Luke Neale & Phil Crimmins answer questions and comments, discuss topics related to China and Mandarin learning, and have special guests.

87. Changes, Omissions & Wigwams in Chinese

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0:17 Grammar Point 1


The following “Helper” grammar point is super simple to understand. We’ve already discussed how to use “的“ to indicate possession, and this grammar point merely notes that you can omit “的“ if the context is clear.

Sentence 1:

我太太不来了。- Level 15
Wǒ tàitai bù lái le.
My wife is not coming now.

Where was the 的 omitted? We bet it didn’t take you long to realize it was excluded from “我的太太.”

This goes to show that 的 often gets omitted when the relationship between the possessor and possessed is highly intimate. In this case, it’s a family relationship. Here are some other examples:

我妈 wǒ mā – My mom
你姐 nǐ jiě – Your older sister
她老公 tā lǎogōng – Her husband

Another intimate relationship is between someone and their home (家 jiā). That’s why you’ll hear people say “我家 wǒ jiā – My home” all the time.

Sentence 2:

你运气太好了! – Level 16
Nǐ yùnqì tài hǎo le!
You have such good luck!

If someone is commenting on how lucky you are, it’s understandable why they might omit 的 because the relationship between oneself and luck is highly intimate. You can only have your own luck, not someone else’s.

Sentence 3:

他内心很矛盾。 – Level 17
Tā nèixīn hěn máodùn.
He’s very conflicted internally.

内心 means “heart; innermost being.” Talk about an intimate relationship! 

We want to emphasize that with ANY of these sentences that omit 的, it is not wrong to add 的 when speaking. 我的妈妈,我的家,我的内心, etc., are all perfectly fine to use.

5:11 Grammar Point 2


In a previous lesson, we discussed how to use the “Helper” 了 to express completed actions. However, we also mentioned that that particular usage of 了 is nested in a broader context of CHANGE 变化 biànhuà.

This lesson will focus on how to use 了 to express changes that are not necessarily related to individual actions.

Reminder about “Helpers”

Linguists would call 了 a “Particle,” which is about the least useful term we can imagine for conceptualizing what this type of word does. However, the Chinese word for ‘particle’ is ‘助词 zhùcí – ‘help word.’ It’s for this reason that we refer to particles like “了,” “着,” or “的” as “Helpers.”

All sentences that contain a helper will have the tag “GW-Helper.” Let’s check out some example sentences.

Sentence 1:

我想你了。 – Level 13
Wǒ xiǎng nǐ le.
I miss you (now).

A simple (but not foolproof) trick to understanding 了 is to imagine adding “now” to the end of a statement. In English, if you say “I miss you now,” the implication is that you didn’t miss the person before, but NOW you do. A change has occurred.

Whenever you see a sentence that contains 了, ask yourself, ‘Where is the change?’ To say 我想你 without 了 is fine, but by adding 了, you see the sentence in a different context.

Sentence 2:

你可以说话了。 – Level 17
Nǐ kěyǐ shuōhuà le
You can speak (now).

Imagine that you walk into your supervisor’s office. You start to speak, but your supervisor is on the phone and puts a single finger up to indicate “wait a moment.” She finishes her call, hangs up the phone, and says, “你可以说话了.” You weren’t allowed to speak a moment ago, NOW you are. There’s the change.

Sentence 3:

我太太不来了。 – Level 15
Wǒ tàitai bù lái le.
My wife is not coming (now).

You’re at a party. The host of the party comes over with a smile, but then a look of confusion. “Where’s your wife?” he says, to which you respond, “She’s sick in bed, she’s not coming now.” Before your wife planned to come to the party, NOW she isn’t coming. There’s the change.

Sentence 4:

我在他家里住了一年了。 – Level 15
Wǒ zài tā jiālǐ zhù le yīnián le.
I’ve been living at his house for a year.

OMG, there are TWO 了’s in this sentence *brain explodes*. Not to worry, it’s easy to understand. Gather up your brain matter and check this out: Two 了’s in a sentence indicates that an action has happened and continues to happen.

Both 了’s are necessary, because if you take one of them away, the meaning of the sentence changes:

I lived in his house for a year.

Omitting the second 了 creates an entirely different meaning because the speaker is no longer living in his friend’s house. By adding the second 了, we know that the “living” is still in progress.

It’s been a year that I’ve been living in his house.

If you omit the first 了, the meaning is almost the same as the original sentence, but the emphasis is different. The focus is on the “one year” part, as opposed to the “living” part. You’d say the original sentence in response to someone asking where you live, whereas this sentence could be a comment with a tone of surprise that it’s been so long.


Whether it’s a completed action or a change of state, 了 always indicates transformation. Keep asking, “where’s the change” every time you see 了, and you’ll be a 了 master before long.

11:53 Comments & Emails

Tevyn Gov by Community

I have a quick question I’d like to ask about the Grammar Review sentences. If I forget the initial word at the front of the card for example “I like to […] books.” and I don’t know the hidden word but on the next side understand the meaning “I like to read books.”, do I have to click ‘Again’ on Anki? Or if I’ve comprehended the meaning of the full sentence I can click ‘Good/Easy’?



John McCann on YOU DID IT!!!

excellent content, and you have re-inforced tbe importance of
starting with pronunciation as the FOUNDATION. I had a Beijing
born (in 1910, last year of Qing dynasty) father who attened PKU
before migrating to Harvard, he grew up speaking Mandarin. I was
a late starter. After several years as Director of Development
for Japan Society, which included global relations, a first rate
gallery, performing arts, education, I took twice weekly Japanese
lessons at the highly regarded Languge school. And worked with a
staff that was half Japanese, so I picked up a lot. Got into
trouble when we hit the Chinese “kanji” alphabet, and had decided
to move on to take a Masters of East Asian Art course at the
prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at
University of London. In preparation I was advised to take a
Mandarin course, so I signed up for a summer immersion course in
Mandarin at China Institute in New York, where I am based. bad
idea!!!! I was preparing to move to London for at least two
years, and in addition to the five hours of daily class time, did
not have the 4 hours additional time for homework, plus the
teacher was impatient. AT SOAS, which has a renowned languge
school (they teach over 300 languages, many obscure Asian
languages),. I took weekly Mandarin courses. Upon return to New
York, I made the mistake of trying Rosetta Stone- not worth the
cost, and all of the additional material you need to buy, Fast
forward to “lockdown”, as I am a scholar of Chinese and Japanese
ceramics and paintings, I am a collector and sometimes private
dealer. Your course has been a joy, and I not only review the
Anki cards, but go back and review certain sessions on
pronunciation. I attend a summer schoool at Christ Church
College, Oxford University every year in philosophy and theology.
Last summer I remarked on the large number of Mainland Chinese
tourists. I was told by someone in authority, that if I learned
enough basic Mandarin, to pass the HSK3 or 4 exam, that I could
get a teaching visa, to give tours in Oxford and London in
Mandarin- and of course in New York. My other main goal, is to be
able to read scholarly art history texts in Chinese. This is a
great start! I want to continue studying with you.


Christopher Dolman on YOU DID IT!!!

Thanks very much for a great course Luke and Phil. I really
enjoyed the lessons themselves, your love and enthusiasm for the
language, the motivational videos, the tips for the acquisition
path ahead, the Anki deck, and just your initiative and teamwork
to bring it all together. Plus I can even pronounce some pinyin!
Looking forward now to continuing with that plus makin’ some
movies to get those characters sorted.


James Steel on Rapid Acquisition Crash Course post 9. How to Integrate Chinese Characters, Vocabulary, and Grammar

Excellent video series. You started to learn Mandarin EXACTLY
the same way I started to learn Spanish. Tutors were expensive,
and seemed to focus on compound tenses and the subjunctive. Since
you two have that experience, I will embark on learning Mandarin
with you. Xie Xie!


Barry Hill on YOU DID IT!!!

Thank you so much Luke and Phil. At first I was swamped and
overwhelmed and now every day pronunciation gets easier. I am
looking forward to the next course. Unit 10 was inspiring and has
motivated me to go so much further, particularly in this time of
lockdown where I have the most precious resource – time and
motivation. You have made a difficult language so much easier. I
have tried other courses and my Chinese partner was not
interested in helping me. This time he is – he can see the value
and said ‘They are teaching you the correct pronunciation” and
now helps me with questions and my articulation! A first! Thank
you so much. I look forward to seeing my Chinese relatives (by
marriage) in Singapore next year and speaking to them to let them
know I value their language and culture. Thanks again!


Gregory Savage on BONUS: Build on What You ALREADY KNOW to Learn Chinese

I’m really enjoying the educational approach. I have been
teaching over 36 years now and I feel like this method is such a
revelation. Like yourselves, I am in China but I teach Science. I
am trying to think how I would apply this method to the teaching
and learning of Science and English. I am now stating to look at
signs and think, I know that character. I may not know the whole
thing but I can see the components and I wonder if that character
is not too far away.


Jiggy-Jay Diderich on MAKE A MOVIE 计

I am a bit confused about the meaing of 计 does it mean to plan?
if so isn’t it similair to 准备?


Dan Archer on Pick a Prop for 十

What about a shuriken throwing star, every ninja’s favourite
go-to weapon? The Sh sounds the same and they’re usually flying
at high speed towards some unwitting enemy. Loving the course so
far by the way.


Nicole Murphy on BONUS: Stroke Order (Rule 9 of 12)

Maybe I missed it somewhere, but is there a list of the 12
stroke order rules? I can only find a list of 8 rules on the


Charles Segal on MAKE A MOVIE 从

I’m a bit confused over the use of props. For example, Chuck
Norris is used as a prop on the flashcard for 人,but umbrellas
are used for both 从 and 个 as props。Is it that Chuck Norris is
only used as a prop when it contributes to the meaning of the
character, and umbrella is being as a prop in the movie for the
same shape? It’s confusing because they are both referred to as


Simon Mellor on Pick a Prop 人 亻

Is it right to assume that 人 & 亻are both characters to
represent rén, or is there a specific difference between the two


Ernesto Provencio on BONUS: SRS – The Frequency Game

Say a person went through their Pronunciation course and did
anki every day and completed the course… but then stopped. And
then about 8 months later started the MB Foundation course and
started doing their anki every day again. incorporating the
minimal pairs and the Pronunciation Mastery decks again. Did i
mess up the algorithms? I’m doing like 100-300 reviews to do a
day now! ack!


Heath Campbell on (BONUS) How to Develop Great Study Habits Part 4: Belief

Over the years I have learnt the importance of habits, studied
memory palaces and memory systems and also spent almost 18mths
hacking away at a Mandarin course (and other languages). What I
find exciting about this course is that it pulls all those things
together into a workable system. I knew all the elements worked.
I just didn’t know how to fit them together. Great work guys!


Phill Challinor on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 自动

That’s exactly what automatic means in Ancient Greek as well,
which is where we steal the English from.


Heath Campbell on (BONUS) How to Find & Fix Pronunciation Problems

I went to WeChat (probably a little too early in my learning)
and started meeting Chinese people who wanted to practice their
English. I had hoped to be able to practice conversational
Mandarin. My skills weren’t good enough though. But I found
someone in the same city as me who speaks Mandarin. We talk once
a week. Mainly just about language problems we encounter and
about the differences in our cultures. I will, however, start
checking more of my pronunciation with her in the future.


Abigail on Make a Movie 周

In this character the left stroke of 冂 curves outwards. How
important is this to remember? Should I alter my scene to
incorporate this?


Nore Eckerberg on Pick a Prop 日

So it has to be the sun? Looks like a drawer to me 🙂


Dom Thomson on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 回来

Cool to see characters/components we recognise in 上海.

I tried to figure out the etymology. Shang meaning ‘up’ I thought
perhaps Shanghai was on a hill and it refers to that. Had a guess
at the meaning for 海 – water + the character for ‘beautiful’.
Something to do with the river? Up-water-beautiful? A waterfall

Eventually, I looked it up and 海 is ‘sea’ (which makes sense) so
the name for the city is just ‘on the sea’. Aha!

So I failed to crack this one (Shanghai is not the city of
waterfalls…) but it’s fun when you come across these puzzles!


Rick Angleland on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 吃饱

I can’t tell from a google image search – does 宝贝(儿) refer to an
infant, or it is the Chinese version of “baby” referring to a

42:06 Movies! 

This blog post explains the theory behind Movie Scenes and learning characters.

Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 全

The QUEEN is sat on the floor of the kitchen of the -an set,
wearing a giant CROWN and holding an UMBRELLA. She’s grumpy
because the ceiling is dripping on her.

A man is working above: “You can put your umbrella down now
ma’am. The plastering is COMPLETE!”

She tentatively peers out from under the umbrella and inspects
the newly plastered ceiling. She is protecting her crown with her
hand, very wary of getting it wet.

“Excellent! The plastering is COMPLETE!” She now happily puts
down the umbrella and her giant CROWN glints in the light.


Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 主

I don’t normally use lyrics as the keyword connection, because I
worry it could be just any song when I come to recall the scene.
However, this one came very naturally.

JIGGLYPUFF is jumping around the bedroom, wearing a giant golden
CROWN, singing ‘MASTER of the house’ from Les Mis.

It’s a very loud, raucous song and I’m trying to sleep, so I take
a large PIPETTE and put a drop of acid on top of the crown.

As Jigglypuff dissolves into a puddle of goo and molten gold, the
sound of ‘Maaaaaaster of the hooouuu….’ slowly fades out like a
broken record.


Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 国

GANDALF is about to fight a JADE BUDDHA. They’re in a BOXING
RING in the kitchen of my office.

“In the greeeeen cornerrrrr. Representing Chiiinnaaaaa, give it
up for the Jaaaaade Buddhaaaaaaa!! And facing him tonight. In the
greyyyy coorrrnnnnerr. Representing… wait what COUNTRY are you
from? Yes COUNTRY. I need a COUNTRY for the announcement. What do
you mean you don’t have a COUNTRY? Do you have a flag, some sort
of banner maybe? Look we can’t continue if you don’t give me a


Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 嗯

JACKIE CHAN lies lifeless in the backyard of -en set with a
wound in his chest. The ROLLING STONES MOUTH is weeping by his
side “No no no no noooooo!”

Then a BUTTERFLY flies in carrying a HUMAN HEART. IT drops the
heart into the wound and Jackie Chan miraculous springs to life.

The mouth floats about gleefully cheering “YES YES YES YES


Rebecca McCarthy on Make a Movie 东

I have Daniel Radcliffe at my dad’s house (related to birdsong
because it is in the woods) Anyways the windows of my dad’s house
face the east, so Daniel Radcliffe is on drugs watching the
sunrise in the east, and he suddenly sees seven Tyrion Lannisters
running over the hill towards him. LOL not the most detailed and
well-written story but it works for me.


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 东

David Bowie is outside Bilbo Baggins’s house (where the dwarves
had a throng) and he’s trying to play craps with two dice in the
rain. He’s facing to the right, east, and he has his umbrella
over his head. I’m asking him why on Earth he’s trying to play
craps outside in a rainstorm and he says that facing east is


Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 关

GANDALF knocks on the front door of the -an set.

The door is answered by a red BALLOON with an angry face and

The balloon shouts ‘You shall not pass!” at Gandalf and slams the

As the door slams, that cliche TV ‘sign in shop door flips to
CLOSED’ thing happens. Tricky to explain but I can picture it
clearly in my mind.


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 大

There’s a wigwam in the bathroom of my -a set and from the
inside a razor blade starts cutting a horizontal line across the
opening. Out comes an absolutely massive David Bowie and it
freaks the heck out of me!


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 太

I was quite lucky here because my t- actor is one of my mates
who’s 6ft5 and my 大 prop is the giant old english sheepdog, Digby
they’re in the bathroom of my -ai, which was comically tiny. I’m
telling them that one of them is going to have to do something
because it’s too cramped in there and my mate says he has a magic
shrinking ointment in a dropper, which he proceeds to apply to
digby’s paw.


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 哭

Kung fu Panda is outside my childhood home and he’s crying
because he’s fat and can’t stop comfort-eating dumplings. A
bulldog comes up and starts licking him and then two rolling
stone mouths come out of the sky above and come down one on each
side of Kung fu panda’s head and they start kicking him like the
dog. This only makes him feel more pathetic and his crying gets


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 臭

Charlie Chuck is in the bathroom of my -ou set with a bulldog
and a giant nose. The nose is twitching so Charlie starts looking
around confused and sniffing his own armpits. Then the dog walks
under the nose and the nose starts making a fire alarm noise.
Charlie leans over to the dog and shouts disgustedly, ‘Poo!’ with
a contorted look in his face and his finger and thumb holding his


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 狗

Gary Oldman is in the bedroom of my -ou set with a hammer and
gavel (for pronouncing sentence) and to the left of him is Taz.
There is a sad looking dog in a cage and Taz is bidding for him.
Gary slams the hammer down and sells an excited Taz the dog. I’m
watching, horrified because I think Taz is going to eat the dog
but he throws his arms around him and starts cuddling and
stroking him as the dog wags it’s tail and licks his face.


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 羊

Yoko Ono is in the kitchen of my -ang set. She has Gandalf’s
staff and a Viking helmet on. The twins from the Shining are
there and Yoko’s playing ‘I’m a shepherd and you’re my sheep’
with them. They are following her round very straight faced and
sinister looking, making sheep noises. The whole scene is like
one of Yoko’s conceptual art performances.


Deborah Driscoll on Make a Movie 外

Winnie the Pooh enters the bathroom of my ai set, he sees a bat
夕 and a tortoise ( prop for 卜 as tortoise shells were used for
fortune telling ) He looks puzzled and says “Hmmm shouldn’t you
two live outside?” So he picks them both up and throws them out
of the bathroom window! Faintly the tortoise can be heard saying
“I’m outside!!!” as he falls air before hitting the outside
ground below. (Of course he survives, dusts himself off and lives
happily outside forever after !)


Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 女

Imagining Emmanuel Macron in the living room positioning himself
as the pictograph.

He’s crossing his legs daintily and holding out his arms as if to
say: “Look! I’m a WOMAN!”


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 加

Janis Joplin is at the entrance to my -a set. She is singing
with a fairly average sounding voice and she needs to find her
own style. She takes the Rolling Stones mouth and adds some power
to it by pressing her ‘power on’ button. Hey presto! She has
added mouth and power together to come up with Janis joplin’s
incredible voice!


Natalia Kovalenko on Make a Movie 支

Jet Li recently became a Christian and wants to mark the
occasion by making himself a wooden cross (prop 1). He spots a
suitable BRANCH on the tree right outside my childhood home
(location), but it’s too high. He steps on a drum (prop 2) to
reach up and cuts the BRANCH he wanted.


Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 慢

Muhammad Ali in the backyard punching a speed bag at lightning

Joy form Inside Out steps outside. “Ok, I can see you’re worked
up. Why don’t we SLOW you down a bit, ok?”

She puts a STRAIGHT JACKET on him. He continues to punch the bag
but is now hitting it once every few seconds in an ultra slow,
laboured motion.


Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 书

Sheldon Cooper is reading a book in the front garden.

He uses a nearby cricket bat as a bookmark and sets the book
down. As he gets up he notices dozens of other books with cricket
bats as bookmarks – how will he know which is his?

He takes off his two Spock ears (he’s the kind of guy to be
wearing these for fun) and skewers them onto the cricket bat like
a kebab. Now it’ll be obvious which book is his.

After admiring his handywork (and holding it up so I can see the
positioning of everything) he noticed that all the other cricket
bat bookmarks also have spock ears skewered onto them.

He takes a pipette and puts a drop on the corner of the top Spock
ear. The ear turn bright neon pink and it’s now clear which
book-with-cricket-bat-spock-ear-bookmark is his

12 May, 2020