Expressing ongoing duration with double "le"
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.
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."
- 你 睡 了 一 天 了。You have been sleeping for the whole day.
- 他 在 北京 住 了 两 年 了。He has been living in Beijing for two years.
- 这 个 会，他们 开 了 两 个 小时 了。They've been holding this meeting for the past two hours.
- 我 在 这儿 等 了 半 个 小时 了。I have been waiting here for half an hour.
- 他们 在 酒吧 待 了 一 个 晚上 了。They have been staying at the bar for the whole evening.
When the Verb Takes an Object
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
- 我 学 中文 学 了 一 年 了。I have been learning Chinese for a year.
- 他 打 电话 打 了 一 个 多 小时 了。He has been on the phone for more than an hour.
- 老板 打 游戏 打 了 一 个 上午 了。The boss has been playing video games all morning.
- 你 洗澡 洗 了 差不多 一 个 小时 了。You have been showering for almost an hour.
- 妈妈 看电视 看 了 一 晚上 了。Mom has been watching TV all evening.
Sources and Further Reading
- Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar (pp. 68) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (3rd ed) (pp. 203-4) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 1 (pp. 13-4) →buy