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"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):

Verb + Obj. + 了

Verb + 了 + Obj.

The point of this article is to determine when to use one, and when to use the other. Note that there maybe be other words and phrases slipped into the general patterns above.

了 directly followed by Object

Structure

Verb + 了 + Obj.

  • 我 吃 早饭 。I had breakfast.
  • 妈妈 找到 新 工作 。Mom found a new job.
  • 他 买 iPhone 。He bought an iPhone.

注:以上几个句子的宾语“早饭、新工作、iPhone”要么有限定,要么是特指。但是,动词后的宾语如果只是一个简单的宾语,句子不能自足。一般来说,宾语都要略带说明性成分(数量短语、形容词、限定性短语或者句中有说明时间、地点、原因及方式的状语)。没有的话,听起来语气就会不完整。

If the object placed after the verb is very simple, it is typical to have something modifying the object, such as a number and measure word, an adjective, or 限定性短语, or the sentence should specify a time, place, reason, or method for the action. (If this paragraph gets included, it probably should go somewhere below)

Examples

  • 我 上 课 。 I took the class (and I finished it).
  • 她 看 电视.She watched TV.
  • 老师 问 问题。The teacher asked questions.

如果句末再加一个“了”,则表示加强肯定语气,这时宾语因为是特指的,所以可能就是非常简单的。

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."

Examples

  • 我 做 作业 , 你 要 看 吗?I did finish my homework. Do you want to see it?
  • 我们 吃 ,你 不用 给 我们 做 吃的。We did eat.You don't need to cook for us.
  • 他 问 经理 , 经理 说 行。He did ask the manager, and he said yes.

Object with a Number and Measure Word

当宾语前面有数量短语修饰时,“了”一般都紧跟在动词后面。既表示动作的完成,又表示事态有所变化。此时的宾语其实是特指的对象。

When the object is preceded by a number and measure word, the 了 is usually placed directly after the verb. It indicates the completion of the action, and shows that the object directly following it is receiving the action of the verb.

Structure

Verb + 了 + Number + Measure Word + Obj.

Examples

  • 他们 昨天 看 两 场 电影 。 They went to see two movies yesterday .
  • 这顿饭 花 两 千 多 块 。This dinner cost more than two thousand kuai.
  • 你 请 几 个 朋友 ?How many friends have you invited?

如果在句末再加一个“了”则有两层含义:一是强调或暗示数量多;二是表示“还有可能继续”。

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.

  • 我 给 他 打 十 几 个 电话I've made more than ten phone calls to him.
  • 我 哥哥 换 三 个 女朋友 My older brother has had three girlfriends.

如果宾语前既有数量短语限定,也有定语形容词,则不太适用于这种情况。

If the object has both a number-measure-word pair and a general adjective associated with it, then it is not very suitable to use an extra 了 in the emphatic way described above.

  • 我 买 五 本 有意思的I‘ve bought five interesting books.
  • 我 买 五 本 有意思的 书 。I‘ve bought five interesting books.
  • 他 做 几 件 重要的He's done a few important things.
  • 他 做 几 件 重要的 事 。He's done a few important things.

动宾结构的动词作谓语时,需注意。如“结婚”,“结婚了”表示动作或者状态的完成;“结了婚”表示句子还没说完,还有后续的分句补充。

A verb-object structured word, such as "看书," "吃饭," or "结婚," a phrase like "结婚了" would simply indicate that the action or state has been completed, whereas "结了婚" would, in addition, indicate that the speaker has more to say or comment on after the phrase.

  • 我 已经 下班 I‘m off work now.
  • 我 下 班 就 去 见 你。I‘ll see you as soon as I get off work.
  • 他 离婚He got a divorce.
  • 他 离 婚 以后 又 找 了 一 个 女人。After the divorce he found another woman.

在一连串的事件中,“了”的位置起到标志主要事件的作用。

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

  • 他 上周 帮 我 搬 家 。He helped me move last week.
  • 老板 请 我 吃 一 顿 大餐。My boss invited me to a big dinner.

Sources and further reading

Books