Change of state with "le"
- Also known as: 了2, change-of-state 了, sentence 了 and modal 了.
了 (le) has many uses. You probably first learned 了 (le) as a particle that tells you an action is completed, which is also known as "了1." However, this article is not about that use of 了 (le); instead, it is about indicating a change of state (了2). In other words, there is now a new situation, or there is about to be a new situation. This whole "change of state" idea can take numerous forms, and this page includes some helpful examples.
When used in this way, 了(le) is placed at the end of the sentence to indicate a new situation.
[New Situation] + 了
- 下 雨 了。It wasn't raining, but now it is.It's raining.
- 妈妈 老 了。We aren't used to thinking of her as old, but she is now.Mom is old.
- 你 胖 了。You used to not be fat.You've gotten fat.
- 家里 没有 牛奶 了。We had milk before.We don't have any milk at home.
- 爸爸 今年 50 岁 了。Seems like just a year ago he was only 49!Dad is 50 years old this year.
- 手机 没 电 了。It was working fine until now.The cell phone ran out of power.
- 宝宝 会 说话 了。He couldn't before.The baby can speak.
- 你哥哥 有 女朋友 了 吗？He didn't have one before.Does your older brother have a girlfriend?
- 我 男朋友 找到 新 工作 了。A big change for sure.My boyfriend found a new job.
- 你 老婆 怀孕 了 吗？I know you guys have been trying...Is your wife pregnant?
The whole "change of state" concept might seem very general, and it is. It's vague, and it also takes some getting used to. You should expect it to take a while to get used to this use of 了 (le).
Because it's a little vague and confusing, most learners find it useful to break this "change of state" 了 (le) down into more specific usages, such as using it to mean "now", "already", or "not anymore". Although these are all "flavors" of the "change of state" 了 (le), identifying them as specific cases can make it much easier to get used to using 了 (le) in this way.
- Expressing "now" with "le"
- Expressing "already" with "le"
- Expressing "not anymore" with "le"
- Uses of "le"
Sources and further reading
- Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar (p. 68) →buy
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 126-9) →buy
- Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar (pp. 238-99) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 2 (新实用汉语课本2) (pp. 217-8) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 3 (新实用汉语课本3) (pp. 64-5) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (3rd ed) (p. 8) →buy
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） (p. 239)→buy
- Chinesegrammar.info: Chinese le grammar summary (了)