Chinese grammar rules #4: Aspect, not tense
Another big difference between European languages and Chinese is aspect and tense. European languages usually indicate both of these things in a sentence, whereas Chinese tends to only indicates aspect.
Again, you might not be aware of what these terms mean. Tense is about when an action took place relative to now, when we’re speaking. Aspect is about the completeness of an action relative to when it took place. Have a look at these two sentences in English to see the difference:
I will set off to Beijing.
I will have set off to Beijing.
Both of these sentences are in the future tense. But the aspect is different, because the completeness of the action (setting off to Beijing) is different in the time frame of each sentence. The speaker hasn’t yet set off to Beijing in either sentence. In the time frame they’re speaking about in the second sentence, though, they will have. So the aspect is different (the action is complete in that time frame).
How Chinese marks for aspect is difficult and quite complex. It revolves around a few particles, most importantly 了 (le), but we won’t go into details of that here. The lesson here is to bear in mind that Chinese doesn’t mark for tense, but it does mark for aspect. This will take some getting used to, but you will get there eventually!