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.
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.
Subj. + Adj. + 了
- 我 饿 了 。I'm hungry.
- 孩子们 都 累 了 。The kids are all tired.
- 妈妈 老 了 。We aren't used to thinking of her as old, but she is now.Mom has gotten old.
- 你 胖 了 。You used to not be fat.You've gotten fat.
- 你 是不是 生气 了 ？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."
Subj. + Verb + 了
- 下雨 了 。It wasn't raining, but now it is.It's raining.
- 宝宝 会 说话 了 。He couldn't before.The baby can speak now.
- 他 当 经理 了 。He wasn't a manager before.He became a manager.
- 你 有 女朋友 了 ？He didn't have one before.You have a girlfriend now?
- 我 男朋友 找到 新 工作 了 。A big change for sure.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.
Subj. + 不 + Verb + 了
- 我 不 买 了 。I had previously decided to buy it.I'm not buying it now.
- 我 不 回家 吃 晚饭 了 。I had previously decided to go home for dinner.I'm not going to go home for dinner tonight.
- 我 不 去 看电影 了 。I had said I was going.I decided not to go to the movies.
- 我 不 结婚 了 。I had previously planned to get married.I'm not getting married.
This pattern is somewhat similar to expressing "not anymore" with "le".
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
- HSK Standard Course 3 (pp. 40) →buy
- Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar (pp. 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) (pp. 8) →buy
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） (pp. 239) →buy