Advanced "le" after an object

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You may have learned that 了 (le) follows immediately after a verb to indicate completion (AKA 了1), and comes at the end of a sentence when it indicates a "change of state" (AKA 了2). But what's the explanation for how it frequently follows not the verb, but the object after the verb? That's what this grammar point is about: bringing a bit more depth to your understanding of expressing completion with "le".

Two Possible Structures

Both of these basic structures are possible (and correct), even when 了 is merely indicating completion.

Subj. + Verb + 了 + Obj.

Subj. + Verb + Obj. + 了

If it's a rather short and simple sentence, putting 了 directly after the verb, while not technically incorrect, can make the sentence feel incomplete. For example:

  • 我 上 课 。Wǒ shàng le kè. I took the class....
  • 老师 问 问题。Lǎoshī wèn le wèntí.The teacher asked questions....

So what are the rules for when to put 了 directly after verb, and when to put it after the object? That is the point of this article.

了 After a Verb with an Object

Verb + 了 + Obj.

The tone of the sentence above is not sufficient, but when the following conditions are met, “了” is typically placed before the object, which completes the sentence and gives it an accomplished tone. Verb + 了 + Obj.语气上往往不能自足,但满足以下几种条件时,“了”通常在宾语前,句子的语气才完整。

Specifying the Object

宾语有修饰限定的成分,如数量短语、形容词,或者宾语本身即专有名词。When the Object's Quantity is Specified

Some examples:

  • 他 买 一辆 车 。Tā mǎi le yī liàng chē.He bought a car.
  • 妈妈 做 很多 菜 。Māmā zuò le hěnduō cài.Mom made many dishes.
  • 我们 吃 印度 菜Wǒmen chī le Yìndù cài.We ate Indian food.
  • 她 穿 最漂亮 的 裙子 。Tā chuān le zuì piàoliang de qúnzi.She wore her most beautiful dress.

Specifying the Time, Place, Purpose, etc.

When time, place, and purpose are specified in a sentence, 了 can be used to indicate completion. 句中有时间、地点、目的、方式等状语。When Time is Specified

  • 昨天 电影 。zuótiān kàn le diànyǐng.I saw a movie yesterday.
  • 和 同事 一起 饭 。hé tóngshì yīqǐ chī le fàn.I had dinner together with my colleagues.
  • 我们 在 动物园 和 熊猫 照 。Wǒmen zài dòngwùyuán hé xióngmāo pāi le zhào.We took photos with pandas in the zoo.
  • 他 女朋友 为了 他 工作 。Tā nǚ péngyou wèile tāle gōngzuò.His girlfriend quit her job for him.
  • 他们 顺利 地 南极 。Tāmen shùnlì de dào le nánjí.They arrived at the South Pole successfully.

Used as An Answer to A Question

In a conversation, 了 can be used to respond or answer. Within context, it can create a sufficient reply. 在对话中作为答句,因为语境充分,可以成句。

  • A:你 带 电脑 吗?Nǐ dài diànnǎo le ma? Did you bring your computer?
  • B: 我 带 电脑 。Wǒ dài le diànnǎo.Yes, I've had it.

Completion in the Future

In this case , 了 is often placed after a Verb with an Object. To illustrate that 了 (le) can also indicate that one action is completed before another in the future, see the following examples:

Some examples:

  • 你 到 给 我 打 电话 。future actionNǐ dào le gěi wǒ dǎ diànhuà.After you have arrived, call me.
  • 我 下 课 去 找 你 。future actionWǒ xià le kè qù zhǎo nǐ.I will go find you after I finish class.
  • 她 想 毕 业 就 结婚 。future actionTā xiǎng bì le yè jiù jiéhūn.She wants to get married after she graduates.
  • 我 打算 生 孩子 就 回去 工作future actionWǒ dǎsuàn shēng le háizi jiù huíqù gōngzuò.I plan to get back to work after childbirth.

Do Not Need “了” to Indicate Completion of an Action or Situation 不需要“了”表完成的情况

Cannot use together with a psychological verb. 不能和“心理动词”连用。

Can be used together in the middle of a sentence with “以前”. 句中有“以前”连用。

“了” cannot be used together with “会” to indicate future completion of an action. “了”不能和“会”连用表示将来完成。

When a verb is just an attributive of an adverbial attributive of a specific or certain time, “了” is generally not added. 动词只是做某个时间状语的定语时,一般不加“了”。

我刚来了中国的时候,不会说中文。 我上大学了的时候,认识了我女朋友。

Putting 了 After Consecutive Actions


In a list of consecutive events, the position of 了 serves to signal the purpose of the events.

  • 他 坐 高铁 去 广州 。Tā zuò gāotiě qùle Guǎngzhōu.He took the high speed train and went to Guangzhou.
  • 我 的 一个 男 同事 帮 我 搬 家 。Wǒ de yīgè nán tóngshì bāng wǒ bān le jiā.A male coworker helped me move.
  • 老板 请 我们 吃 一 顿 大餐 。Lǎobǎn qǐng wǒmen chī le yī dùn dà cān.My boss invited me to eat a big dinner.
  • 他 站起来 ,走过去 ,打 他 一下 。Tā zhàn qǐlái, zǒu guòqù, dǎ le tā yīxià.He stood up and walked to him and hit him.

Usage of Double 了

Emphasizing "big quantity"


If another 了 is added at the end of the sentence, it indicates two things. One is to emphasize or imply that the number in front of the object is already a big number, and the other is to indicate that this number could continue to grow.

  • 他们 生 四 个 孩子 Tāmen shēng le sì gè háizi le.They've had four children already.
  • 你 吃 五 个 包子 Nǐ chī le wǔ gè bāozile.You've eaten five baozi already.
  • 她 一年 换 三 个 工作 Tā yī nián huàn le sān gōngzuò le.She had three different jobs within one year.

Giving a tone of strong confirmation


If there is another 了 placed at the end of the sentence, it can add a stronger emphasis that the action was completed, in the same way we might say we "did finish the work" instead of just saying we "finished the work."

  • 我 做 作业 ,你 要 检查 吗 ?Wǒ zuò le zuòyè le, nǐ yào jiǎnchá ma?I did finish my homework. Do you want to check it?
  • 不用 给 我们 盛饭 ,我们 吃 Bùyòng gěi wǒmen chéng fàn, wǒmen chī le fàn le.You don't need to serve rice for us. We did eat.
  • 他 问 经理 ,经理 说 行 。Tā wèn le jīnglǐ le, jīnglǐ shuō xíng.He did ask the manager, and he said yes.

Sources and further reading