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Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday

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Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday

Welcome to Lesson 7 of your Chinese language journey! Now you can introduce your family and talk about them a little bit. Soon we’ll be moving on to add some more verbs to our vocabulary, but first let’s consider some basic time reference words. After this lesson you’ll be able to:

  • Describe when something occurred, or will occur, using "today", "tomorrow" and "yesterday"
  • Use greetings specific to the time of day
  • Use 会 to show something will happen in the future
  • Begin to understand how to use 了 to indicate a completed action
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Complete Lesson (PDF)
Printable PDF version of this lesson

Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday

Be sure to spend time studying the roots of the character, its composition and making associations so you can easily remember it.

天 ( tiān ): day, sky, heaven
Radical: 一(one)
Component: 一 (one) and 大 (big)
Often followed by or preceding other characters to create words, this is an important word to know. This lesson includes 3 words that use 天 and you'll retain them best by becoming familiar with 天 first. The sky is present every day, so you’ll find 天 as part of the words for today, tomorrow, and yesterday. If you are talking about a day or a number of days, unlike other words where you must use a measure word, 天 does not. So, to talk about 3 days, simply say 三天. This will be further discussed when we introduce periods of time.
Memorization Hint: 大 means "big". If you think of our big earth, and can imagine 一 above the earth, you’ll remember that 天 means "sky" or "heaven". You might also notice that 天 looks sort of like the letter "T" — this can remind you of the initial pronunciation.

今天 ( jīn tiān ): today
Radicals: 人 (person) and 一 (one)
Sub-Word : 今 - today, now
天 - day, sky, heaven
Components for 1st Character: 人 (person), 丶 (dot) and 乛 (horizontal right angle)
Components for 2nd Character: 一 (one) and 大 (big)
Combining the characters 今 and 天 makes the word for "today".
Memorization Hint: A person lives in the present. Remember the person component in the initial character and you’ll know that it means today.

明天 ( míng tiān ): tomorrow
Radicals: 日 (sun) and 一 (one)
Sub-Word : 明 - bright
天 - day, sky, heaven
Components for 1st Character: 日 (sun) and 月 (moon, month)
Components for 2nd Character: 一 (one) and 大 (big)
Combining the characters 明 and 天 makes the word for "tomorrow".
Memorization Hint: Keep in mind that the word for "today", "tomorrow" and "yesterday" all conclude with the word 天. You can remember 明天 means tomorrow because there’s always a "brighter tomorrow"!

昨天 ( zuó tiān ): yesterday
Radicals: 日 (sun) and 一 (one)
Sub-Word : 昨 - yesterday, past
天 - day, sky, heaven
Components for 1st Character: 日 (sun) and 乍 (for the first time)
Components for 2nd Character: 一 (one) and 大 (big)
Combining the characters 昨 and 天 makes the word for "yesterday".
Memorization Hint: 昨 can be easily remembered if you look closely. 日 can look like the letter B and 乍 can look like the letter F. Now you’ll remember that this day (天) is the day BeFore.

晚安 ( wǎn ān ): good night
Radicals: 日 (sun) and 宀 (to cover)
Sub-Word : 晚 - night, late
安 - peaceful, quiet, safe
Components for 1st Character: 日 (sun) and 免 (to exempt)
Components for 2nd Character: 宀 (to cover) and 女 (female)
Use 晚安 as you part with someone at night time, just as you would use Good Night in English.
Memorization Hint: Certainly a wish for a peaceful night is a nice way to part ways. But, you can extend your imagination and see 宀 (to cover) as a blanket or comforter... A girl (女 - female) feels quite safe sleeping in her house with thick comforter at night and is certain to have a good night.

会 ( huì ): will
Radical: 人 (people)
Component: 人 (people) and 云 (cloud)
会 has two meanings — the second is introduced in Lesson 10. Here, 会 is used to indicate that something will occur in the future and acts as a helping verb: 我会看我的朋友 (I will visit my friend).
Memorization Hint: A person looking at the clouds can realize all of the possibilities—what they will do in the future.

了 ( le ): modal particle, completed action marker
Radical: 了 (hook)
Component: 了 (hook)
了 has a few different uses in Chinese, but in this lesson we’ll just focus on one of them. To show that an action has been completed, place 了 after the verb.
Memorization Hint: Once you hook a fish, you’ve completed your fishing!

早上 ( zǎo shàng ): early morning
Radicals: 日 (sun) and 上 (on, above, previous)
Sub-Word : 早 - early
上 - upon, above
Components for 1st Character: 日 (sun) and 十 (ten)
Components for 2nd Character: 上 (on, above, previous)
早 means "early" when it stands alone, but it can also be used alone to say Good Morning if you meet someone in the early hours of the morning. Follow it with上 to indicate "early morning". You can specify which morning you are talking about by placing 今天/昨天/明天 before 早上. (昨天早上—yesterday morning.)
Memorization Hint: 日, the sun, is coming up over the horizon in the early morning.

晚上 ( wǎn shàng ): evening
Radicals: 日 (sun) and 一 (one)
Sub-Word : 晚 - evening, late
上 - upon, above
Components for 1st Character: 日 (sun) and 免 (to excuse, exempt)
Components for 2nd Character: 一 (one) and 丨 (vertical)
While one doesn't use 晚 alone to say "evening", when it's followed by 上, these two characters together create the word used for evening. You can specify which evening you are talking about by placing 今天/昨天/明天 before 晚上. (今天晚上—this evening.)
Memorization Hint: When you are "upon" the evening, it means it’s evening right now.

看 ( kàn ): look at, see, visit
Radical: 目(eye)
Component: 丿 (slash), 一 (one) and 目 (eye)
Like English, there are often cases when a word has a literal and non-literal meaning. The sentence "我看我的朋友" literally means "I am looking at my friend", but it can also indicate that you are visiting your friend as well.
Memorization Hint: Be sure not to mix this character up with 有 - they can look quite similar at a glance. Remember that 有 contains the 月 (moon) radical, and 看 contains 目 (eye). Of course, noticing the eye radical gives an obvious hint if you forget the meaning of this word.


So, we know how to say Hello in the general form from Lesson 1: 你好. Now let’s take a look at more formal greetings for specific times of the day. Once you’ve memorized the words for "evening", "afternoon" and "morning" it will be a piece of cake to remember how to say Good Evening and Good Morning.

Start with the word "evening", or 晚上. Just like saying Hello, we can add the character for "good" (好) to form Good Evening: 晚上好. Of course, 你好 can be used any time of day, but it’s nice to use more formal phrases in more formal situations. Think of when you use Hello and Good Evening in English to help you determine which one to use in Chinese.

If you're a teacher in a classroom, or giving a formal speech, be sure to use the more formal greetings. But, if you bump into an old friend, or meet your sister in a café, definitely go for the simple 你好. Meeting your boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents for the first time? Well, hopefully you grow a close relationship with them eventually, but at first it's surely best to say 晚上好.

Good Morning can be said by adding 好 as well: 早上好. It's very common to omit the last two characters. So, the next time you're out taking a walk in the early morning hours, or joining the locals practicing tai chi in the park, share a 早 or two along the way.

When greeting someone for the first time in China, it's quite normal to shake hands with them. Remember, as we learned in Lesson 3, that a Chinese name will be said with the Family Name first, followed by the Given Name.


Time Words

  • A word that specifies “when” should be placed either before or after the subject of the sentence. 我今天会看我的妈妈 and 今天我会看我的妈妈 both mean "Today I will visit my mother". Time words should never be placed at the end of a sentence.
  • When using 会as an auxiliary verb (明天你会看你的姐姐吗 - Will you visit your sister tomorrow?), consider 会看(will visit) as the verb. So, your answer in a complete sentence will be either 我会看我的姐姐 or 我不会看我的姐姐. If you want to answer just Yes or No, the second part of the verb phrase can be dropped to just say: 会 or 不会.

  • When placed after a verb, 了 indicates that an action has been completed in the past.
  • To be further explored as we go along, when 了is placed at the end of a sentence it can indicate a new situation, or add emphasis to the overall meaning.
Vocabulary Review:
  1. 天 tiān day, sky, heaven
  2. 今天 jīn tiān today
  3. 明天 míng tiān tomorrow
  4. 昨天 zuó tiān yesterday
  5. 晚安 wǎn ān good night
  6. 会 huì will
  7. 了 le modal particle, completed action marker
  8. 早上 zǎo shàng early morning
  9. 晚上 wǎn shàng evening
  10. 看 kàn look at, see, visit
Some of Xiao Yuan’s family and friends live in Guangzhou. She and Pierce discuss her plans during her time there and try to find a time when they can see each other again.
Xiao Yuan: 
 昨天早上, 我看了我的朋友.
 Zuó tiān zǎo shàng, wŏ kàn le wŏ de péng yǒu.
 Yesterday morning, I visited my friend.
 Jīn tiān ne?
 And today?
Xiao Yuan: 
 今天... 我看了你.
 Jīn tiān… wŏ kàn le nĭ.
 Today… I visited you.
 Míng tiān ne? Nĭ huì kàn sheí?
 And tomorrow? Who will you visit tomorrow?
Xiao Yuan: 
 明天, 我会看我的哥哥.
 Míng tiān, wŏ huì kàn wŏ de gē ge.
 Tomorrow, I’ll visit my older brother.
 我也看你的哥哥, 好不好?
 Wŏ yě kàn nĭ de gē ge, hǎo bù hǎo?
 I’ll also visit your brother, is that okay?
Xiao Yuan: 
 Hǎo! Míng tiān wǎn shàng hǎo ma?
 Yes! How’s tomorrow evening?
 Hěn hǎo.
Xiao Yuan: 
 Míng tiān jiàn!
 See you tomorrow!
 Wǎn ān!
 Good night!
Fill in the Blank:

____,我的姐姐会看我. (this evening)
____, wŏ de jiě jiě huì kàn wŏ.
This evening my sister will visit me.

____,我会看我的妈妈. (today)
____, wŏ huì kàn wŏ de mā ma.
Today, I’ll visit my mother.

昨天晚上,我的弟弟____我. (visited—visit + completed action marker)
Zuó tiān wǎn shàng wŏ de dì dì ____ wŏ.
Yesterday evening my brother visited me.

____好! (evening)
____ hǎo!
Good evening!

____,你会看你的家人吗? (tomorrow)
____, nĭ huì kàn nĭ de jiā rén ma?
Will you visit your family tomorrow?

____, 你的妈妈好吗? (today)
____, nĭ de mā ma hǎo ma?
How is your mother today?

很晚了!____!(Good night)
Hěn wǎn le! ____!
It’s (become)very late! Good night!

明天早上,我____我的爸爸. (will visit)
Míng tiān zǎo shàng , wŏ ____ wŏ de bà ba.
Tomorrow morning, I will visit my father.

____, 我们会看一个朋友. (tomorrow evening)
____, wŏ mén huì kàn yí gè péng yŏu.
Tomorrow evening, we’ll visit a friend.

___好! 你好吗? (morning)
___ hǎo, nĭ hǎo ma?
Good morning! How are you?

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