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Expressing ongoing duration with double "le"

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The 了 (le) particle is used in many different ways. In this article, we will explore how to use the double 了 (le) to express the duration of an activity that is ongoing.

Ongoing Duration with Simple Verbs

Expressing how long you did something in the past is one thing, but what if the action is still ongoing?

A clarifying example (in English) is appropriate:

  • I lived in Shanghai for 5 years. (concluded, not ongoing)
  • I have lived in Shanghai for 5 years. (mostly likely ongoing)
  • I have been living in Shanghai for 5 years. (definitely ongoing)

This article is about expressing the third situation above, the one which is definitely ongoing.

Structure

Subj. + Verb + 了 + Duration + 了

The first 了 (le) is placed after the verb (to indicate that the action is completed), followed by the duration, followed by an additional 了 (le) which tells us that the action has not concluded and is ongoing. You can think of the second 了 (le) as communicating the meaning of "up until now."

Examples

  • 你 睡 一 天 Nǐ shuì le yī tiān le.You have been sleeping for the whole day.
  • 他 在 北京 住 两 年 Tā zài Běijīng zhù le liǎng nián le.He has been living in Beijing for two years.
  • 这 个 会,他们 开 两 个 小时 Zhège huì, tāmen kāi le liǎng gè xiǎoshí le.They've been holding this meeting for the past two hours.
  • 我 在 这儿 等 半 个 小时 Wǒ zài zhèr děng le bàn gè xiǎoshí le.I have been waiting here for half an hour.
  • 他们 在 酒吧 待 一 个 晚上 Tāmen zài jiǔbā dāi le yī gè wǎnshang le.They have been staying at the bar for the whole evening.

When the Verb Takes an Object

Structure

Note that in the examples above, the verbs have no objects. When the verb has an object, the verb is often repeated:

Subj. + Verb + Obj. + Verb + 了 + Duration + 了

Examples

  • 我 学 中文 学 一 年 Wǒ xué Zhōngwén xué le yī nián le.I have been learning Chinese for a year.
  • 他 打 电话 打 一 个 多 小时 Tā dǎ diànhuà dǎ le yī gè duō xiǎoshí le.He has been on the phone for more than an hour.
  • 老板 打 游戏 打 一 个 上午 Lǎobǎn dǎ yóuxì dǎ le yī gè shàngwǔ le.The boss has been playing video games all morning.
  • 你 洗澡 洗 差不多 一 个 小时 Nǐ xǐzǎo xǐ le chàbuduō yī gè xiǎoshí le.You have been showering for almost an hour.
  • 妈妈 看电视 看 一 晚上 Māma kàn diànshì kàn le yī wǎnshang le.Mom has been watching TV all evening.

Sources and Further Reading

Books

Websites