Expressing completion with "le"

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Level A2
Is similar to
Is used for Expressing result, Describing actions, Referring to the past
Keywords
Also known as: verb 了, completed action 了 and perfective aspect 了.

The particle 了 (le) has a lot of uses. One of the most common is to express the completion of an action. This is called aspect, which is not the same as tense. Tense is about when an action happens - past, present or future. Aspect is about whether the action is complete in whatever time frame we're talking about.

The Basic Pattern

To indicate completeness with 了 (le), the structure is:

Subject + Verb + 了 + Object

Notice that 了 (le) goes directly after the verb. This 了 (le) is called verb 了 (le).

Example Sentences

Some basic examples:

  • 我 喝 五 瓶 啤酒 。 Wǒ hē le wǔ píng píjiǔ. I drank five bottles of beer.
  • 我 吃 两 个 苹果 。 Wǒ chī le liǎng gè píngguǒ. I ate two apples.
  • 我 看 一 本 书 。 Wǒ kān le yī běn shū. I read a book.
  • 今天 我 做 很 多 事 。 Jīntiān wǒ zuò le hěn duō shì. Today I did a lot of things.
  • 他 买 一 个 三明治 。 Tā mǎi le yī gè sān míng zhì. He bought one sandwich.
  • 我 看见 UFO 。 Wǒ kànjiàn le UFO. I saw a UFO.
  • 老板 说 一 个 小时 。 Lǎobǎn shuō le yī gè xiǎoshí. The boss spoke an hour.
  • 我 学 两 年 中文 。 Wǒ xué le liǎng nián Zhōngwén. I studied two years of Chinese.
  • 他 做 一 个 蛋糕 。 Tā zuò le yī gè dàngāo. He made a cake.
  • 他 去 台湾 。 Tā qù le táiwān. He went to Taiwan.

The examples above indicate a completed action, but they might also seem very similar to a "past tense" in English. To illustrate that 了 (le) can also indicate that one action is completed before another, see the following examples:

  • 你 吃 完 以后 , 给 我 打 电话 。 Nǐ chī wán le yǐhòu, gěi wǒ dǎ diànhuà. After you've finished eating, give me a call. (future action)
  • 你 到 以后 , 告诉 我 。 Nǐ dào le yǐhòu, gàosu wǒ. After you have arrived, tell me. (future action)
  • 明天 我 吃 晚 饭 以后 去 酒吧 。 Míngtiān wǒ chī le wǎn fàn yǐhòu qù jiǔbā. Tomorrow after I've eaten dinner, I'll go to bar. (future action)

As you can see, 了 (le) can appear in sentences about the future as well as the past. What's important is whether or not the action has been completed, no matter what time we're talking about. This also means that the verbal 了 (le) can't be used with habitual or continuous actions.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books

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