Expressing Duration using Time Duration Phrases

Abstract

The following explains how to describe the duration of an action using Time Duration Phrases . It presupposes students have at least a basic familiarity with the 了 particle and knowledge of various Time Duration Phrases (e.g. 一个小时,两天,很长时间,四十年多).

多久Contents

Introduction
Three Common Sentence Patterns using Time Duration Phrases
Asking About Duration with 吗,多长时间 and 多久
Key Points to Remember
Grammar Table with Examples
Two Further Sentence Patterns using Time Duration Phrases
Using 已经…了 to Emphasise Duration
Summary
References and Further Reading


Introduction

In English, we usually describe the duration of an action by saying [ for + Time-Duration-Phrase ] at the end of the sentence. We usually use [ “how long” or “how many” + minutes/hours/days etc. ] to ask about the duration of an action.

He ran for 20 minutes.
I study French for two hours every night.
How long have you been living in London?


The Three Most Common Sentence Patterns Expressing Time Duration Phrases

In Chinese, there are three main sentences patterns to remember. Which pattern to use depends on whether the verb is transitive (taking an object) or intransitive (not taking an object).

The two most commonly used patterns are:

Pattern 1: Subject + Verb-Intransitive (+ 了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 了)


他休息了半个小时。
He rested for half an hour.

我考虑了四个星期了。
I have been thinking about it for 4 weeks.

Pattern 2: Subject + Verb-Transitive (+ 了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 的) + Object (+ 了)

我要跑一个小时的步。
I’m going to go running for an hour.

我在北京住了三年多了。
I have lived in Beijing for more than 3 years.

This third pattern is less commonly used, although it is grammatically correct:

Pattern 3: Subject + Verb-Transitive + Object + Verb-Transitive (+ 了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 了)

他跑步跑了四十分钟。
He ran for forty minutes.

我做作业做了半天啦。
I have been doing my homework for ages!


Asking About During with 吗,多长时间 and 多久

These first three patterns can be all turned into yes-no questions by using 吗 at the end of sentence.

你每天上八个小时的班吗?
Do you work eight hours everyday?

Alternatively, by using the question words 多长时间 (“how much time”),多久 (“how long”) and 几+Time-Word (“how many” + minutes/hours/days etc.) in place of the Time Duration Phrase, the sentences can be turned into open-ended questions.

你想在中国住多久?
How long do you plan to live in China?

你的老婆做饭做了多长时间了?
How long has your wife been cooking the meal so far?


Key Points to Remember

1. The 了 particle can be used immediately after the verb to show the past aspect of the verb (i.e. “did”).

2. If 了 is used immediately after the verb and also at the end of the sentence, it indicates the present perfect continuous aspect (i.e. “have been doing”).

3. Modal verbs (such as 应该,必须,要 etc.) should be placed before the first verb of the sentence only.

4. In the second sentence pattern, 的 often can be omitted.

5. If the object is a personal pronoun, it cannot be used in the second sentence. In other words, you can’t say 我等了一个小时的他, but you can say 我等了他等了一个小时.


Grammar Tables with Examples

Pattern 1: Intransitive Verbs: Subject + Verb-Intransitive (+ 了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 了)
(Note: In this example, the double character 学习 can be shortened to the single character 学 when followed immediately by 了.)

Simple Now Past Aspect Present Perfect Continuous Aspect Imminent Future Aspect
Statement (一般)学习一个小时。I (usually) study for an hour. 我学习了一个小时。I studied for an hour. 我(已经)学习了一个小时了。I have been studying for an hour. 我要学习一个小时。I am going to study for an hour.
Open Question with 多久 (一般)学习多久?How long do you (usually) study for? 你学习了多久?How long did you study for? 你(已经)学习了多久了?
How long have you been studying?
你要学习多久?
How long are you going to study for?
Open Question with (一般)学习几个小时?How much hours do you usually study? 你学习了几个小时?How many hours did you study? 你(已经)学习了几个小时了?How many hours have you been studying? 你要学习几个小时?How many hours are you going to study for?

Pattern 2: Transitive Verbs: Subject + Verb-Transitive (+ 了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 的) + Object (+ 了)

Simple Now Past Aspect Present Perfect Continuous Aspect Imminent Future Aspect
Statement (每天)看一个小时()电视。I watch TV for an hour (everyday.) 我看了一个小时()电视。I watched TV for an hour. 我(已经)看了一个小时()电视了。I have been watching TV for an hour. 我要看一个小时()电视。I’m going to watch TV for an hour.
Open Question with 多久 (每天)看多久()电视?How long do you watch TV for (everyday)? 你看了多久()电视?How long did you watch TV? 你(已经)看了多久()电视了?How long have you been watching TV? 你要看多久()电视?How long are you going watch TV for?
Open Question with (每天)看几个小时()电视?How many hours of TV do you watch (everyday)? 你看了几个小时()电视?How many hours of TV did you watch? 你(已经)看了几个小时()电视了?How many hours have you been TV? 你要看几个小时()电视?How many hours are you going to watch TV for?

Two Further Sentence Patterns using Time During Phrases

The following two sentence patterns are much less common. I don’t see them very often and they don’t provide any additional meaning to the sentence, so whilst you should be aware of them, it isn’t worth spending a lot of time learning the grammar pattern. The Chinese Grammar Wiki, for instance, does not feature the following phrases.

Pattern 4: Subject + Verb + Object + 有 + Time-Duration-Phrase

This sentence is distinctive from the patterns described above insofar as 有 is used before the time duration phrase.

她跟她男朋友谈恋爱有六个月了。
She has been dating her boyfriend for six months.

Pattern 5: Object + Subject + Verb-Transitive (+了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 了)

If the verb is transitive, then you could use this pattern as well. It is a variation on the second pattern with the Object used at the start of the sentence. Again, it’s not so common.

中文,他学了十年多了。
He has studied Chinese for more than 10 years.


Using 已经…了 to Emphasise Duration

The construction 已经…了 can be used in all five aforementioned sentence patterns to emphasise the duration of an action. 已经 is mostly translated as “already”, and when expressing a time duration it usually implies the Present Perfect Continuous aspect of the verb (i.e. the Double 了 sentence, or “have been doing” tense in English.)

他已经在那家公司做了好几年了的工作。
He has already been working at that company for many years.


Summary

The two most commonly used sentences expressing a Time Duration Phrase are:

1. Subject + Verb-Intransitive (+ 了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 了)
2. Subject + Verb-Transitive (+ 了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 的) + Object (+ 了)

Three less commonly used sentences expressing a Time Duration Phrase are:

3. Subject + Verb-Transitive + Object + Verb-Transitive (+ 了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 了)
4. Subject + Verb + Object + 有 + Time-Duration-Phrase
5. Object + Subject + Verb-Transitive (+了) + Time-Duration-Phrase (+ 了)


References and Further Reading

1. New Practical Chinese Reader: Textbook 2, p.109.
2. Modern Mandarin Practical Grammar: A Practical Guide, p. 243-245.
3. Chinese Grammar Wiki, http://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/Expressing_duration

Advertisements