Translation:She was almost late!
In this sentence, how do I differentiate 了 meaning past tense ("was late") versus emphasis ("is late!!!")?
Chinese verbs has no tense. Therefore, when we read this Chinese sentence, we have no concept on whether it happened before or now.
But when this sentence is translated to English, you need to consider it's present or past. So, it depends on the context.
Thanks for the explanation. This particular sentence has no context, so both interpretations should be correct, right?
What do you mean by no context and so both interpretations should be correct?
When we read the sentence by itself in Chinese (i.e. no context), we don't know whether it is part of a conversation about the present or the past. Therefore, because 了 can indicate either 1) a past action, or 2) an intensification of a present action, we can't say one translation is right and the other is wrong.
I'm sorry, but I can't think of any situation in which this would be happening now. If she is almost late, as opposed to having been almost late, but arrived in the nick of time, then it'd be more of 她快要迟到了.
Imagine three people are supposed to greet a VIP at the company headquarters when she arrives at 11 in the morning. It is one minute to 11, and two of the three are there. One says to the other, "Oh no, Jane is almost late! I hope she gets here in the next few seconds!"
Yes, that is something like what I had in mind as well. In that situation it might be better to use the example I mentioned above.
You made the claim that it is not, so it is up to you to substantiate your claim.
It is not because it isn't grammatical to put almost before was and hence it isn't proper however it may be acceptable in the sense that it is colloquial to a certain group of speakers. I asked you to refute it because explaining using terms (even simple ones like verbs and adverbs and nouns) isn't my forte at all.
It seems we've reached the limit. I agree with what you sent in the link, and the usage of almost comes after "was", which is a verb form of the "be", hence it comes before the adverb "almost", which here is also used to modify the adjective "late". Therefore the given translation "She was almost late" is the best one, and seeing as it says nothing about switching the positions of "almost" and "was" perhaps we can just put this down as acceptable due to colloquial usage, although I don't know where it would be colloquial.