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Change of state with "le"

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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.

Used with Adjectives

When an adjective indicates a change to the subject, 了 (le) is placed at the end of the sentence to indicate a change of state.

Structure

Subj. + Adj. + 了

Examples

  • 我 饿 Wǒ è le.I'm hungry.
  • 孩子们 都 累 Háizi men dōu lèi le.The kids are all tired.
  • 妈妈 老 We aren't used to thinking of her as old, but she is now.Māma lǎo le.Mom has gotten old.
  • 你 胖 You used to not be fat.Nǐ pàng le.You've gotten fat.
  • 你 是不是 生气 Nǐ shì bu shì shēngqì le?Are you mad?

Used with Verbs

When following a verb or verb phrase, the 了 (le) indicates a change in an overall situation. For these sentences, sometimes you can translate this 了 (le) as "now."

Structure

Subj. + Verb + 了

Examples

  • 下雨 It wasn't raining, but now it is.Xià yǔ le.It's raining.
  • 宝宝 会 说话 He couldn't before.Bǎobao huì shuōhuà le.The baby can speak now.
  • 他 当 经理 He wasn't a manager before.Tā dāng jīnglǐ le.He became a manager.
  • 你 有 女朋友 He didn't have one before.Nǐ yǒu nǚpéngyou le?You have a girlfriend now?
  • 我 男朋友 找到 新 工作 A big change for sure.Wǒ nánpéngyou zhǎodào xīn gōngzuò le.My boyfriend has found a new job.

Change of Situation in the Negative

When you take the same "change of situation" pattern and put a 不 (bù) before the verb, you're indicating that something already decided has changed. What had once been green-lit is now getting a red light. What was once "on" is now "off." The "change of situation" indicated by 了 (le) is still the same, although the change is often simply mental: it's a change of plans, or a change of intent.

Structure

Subj. + 不 + Verb + 了

Examples

  • I had previously decided to buy it. mǎi le.I'm not buying it now.
  • 回家 吃 晚饭 I had previously decided to go home for dinner. huí jiā chī wǎnfàn le.I'm not going to go home for dinner tonight.
  • 去 看电影 I had said I was going. qù kàn diànyǐng le.I decided not to go to the movies.
  • 结婚 I had previously planned to get married. jiéhūn le.I'm not getting married.

This pattern is somewhat similar to expressing "not anymore" with "le".

Too General?

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.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books

{{Source|40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册)|239)→buy

Websites