Advanced "le" after an object

You may have learned that 了 (le) follows immediately after a verb to indicate completion (AKA 了1), and comes at the end of a sentence when it indicates a "change of state" (AKA 了2). But 了1 also frequently follows not the verb, but the object after the verb. What are the rules for this? When is it natural and when is it not? That's what this grammar point is about: bringing a bit more depth to your understanding of expressing completion with "le".

Two Possible Structures

Both of these basic structures are possible (and correct), even when 了 is only indicating completion.

Subj. + Verb + 了 + Obj.

Subj. + Verb + Obj. + 了

If it's a rather short and simple sentence, putting 了 directly after the verb, while not technically incorrect, can make the sentence feel incomplete. For example:

  • 我 上 课 。Wǒ shàng le kè.I had class....
  • 老师 问 问题。Lǎoshī wèn le wèntí.The teacher asked questions....

So for these short sentences, it would be more natural to put 了 after the object. So what are the rules for when to put 了 directly after the verb, and when to put it after the object? That is the point of this article.

When 了 Goes After the Object

So the question now is when it's OK to move the 了 to after the object. It often is. Let's look more closely at the circumstances. Unfortunately, 了 is notorious for evading nice clear rules, but we'll do our best here to provide reliable guidelines for usage.


Subj. + Verb + Obj. + 了

When the Object is Short, Put 了 After the Object

For these examples where the object is short, it sounds better to put 了 after the object. It's not wrong to put the 了 after the verb, but it sounds a little strange to do so. (It may sound stranger for some examples than others, and native speakers will have varying opinions about which sound the strangest. Ask them!)

  • 我 上 课 。Wǒ shàng le kè.
  • 我 上 课 Wǒ shàng kè le.I had class.
  • 老师 问 问题 。Lǎoshī wèn le wèntí.
  • 老师 问 问题 Lǎoshī wèn wèntí le.The teacher asked questions.
  • 丽丽 到 火车站 。 Lìlì dào le huǒchēzhàn.
  • 丽丽 到 火车站 Lìlì dào huǒchēzhàn le.Lili has arrived at the train station.

When the Object is Medium-Length, Put 了 After the Verb or Object

Once the object gets a bit longer, it starts to sound OK again to put the 了 immediately after the verb, but it also sounds good to put it after the (not too long) object.

  • 他 提交 那些 报告 。Tā tíjiāo le nàxiē bàogào.
  • 他 提交 那些 报告 Tā tíjiāo nàxiē bàogào le.He filed those reports.
  • 我 今天 见 老 朋友 。Wǒ jīntiān jiàn le lǎo péngyou.
  • 我 今天 见 老朋友 Wǒ jīntiān jiàn lǎopéngyou le.I met my old friend today.
  • 我 发现 那个 秘密 。Wǒ fāxiàn le nàge mìmì.
  • 我 发现 那个 秘密 Wǒ fāxiàn nàge mìmì le.I discovered the secret.

When the Object is Long, Put 了 After the Verb

Once the object gets long enough, it gets awkward to put 了 at the end. The listener has to wait too long to find out if the verb already spoken has been completed or not. So save your listener the suspense; for long objects, it sounds more natural to put the 了 directly after the verb.

  • 他 提交 今天 所有 的 报告。Tā tíjiāo le jīntiān suǒyǒu de bàogào.
  • 他 提交 今天 所有 的 报告 Tā tíjiāo jīntiān suǒyǒu de bàogào le.He has submitted all the reports for today.
  • 我 今天 见 我 二十 年 没 见 的 老 朋友。Wǒ jīntiān jiàn le wǒ èrshí nián méi jiàn de lǎo péngyou.
  • 我 今天 见 我 二十 年 没 见 的 老 朋友 Wǒ jīntiān jiàn wǒ èrshí nián méi jiàn de lǎo péngyou le.I met my old friend today whom I haven't seen for 20 years.
  • 我 听说 昨天 在 地铁站 发生 的 事情。Wǒ tīngshuō le zuótiān zài dìtiězhàn fāshēng de shìqing.
  • 我 听说 昨天 在 地铁站 发生的 事情 Wǒ tīngshuō zuótiān zài dìtiězhàn fāshēng de shìqing le.I heard about what happened yesterday at the subway station.

了 After a Verb with an Object

You may remember these from your original studies of 了 to indicate completion, but it's worth revisiting them to remind you that there are cases when you shouldn't move 了 to after the object, even when your verbs and objects are relatively short.


Subj. + Verb + 了 + Obj.

When the following conditions are met, 了 is typically placed before the object, which completes the sentence and gives it a tone of completion.

Examples Specifying the Object

When the object has modifiers, such as an indication of quantity or an adjective, it's not weird to put 了 immediately after the verb.

  • 他 买 一辆 车 。Tā mǎi le yī liàng chē.He bought a car.
  • 妈妈 做 很 多 菜 。Māma zuò le hěn duō cài.Mom made many dishes.
  • 她 穿 最 漂亮 的 裙子 。Tā chuān le zuì piàoliang de qúnzi.She wore the most beautiful dress.

Examples Specifying the Time, Place, Purpose, etc.

When time, place, manner, or purpose are specified in a sentence, 了 can be used immediately after the verb to indicate completion.

  • 昨天 电影 。zuótiān kàn le diànyǐng.I saw a movie yesterday.
  • 和 同事 一起 饭 。hé tóngshì yīqǐ chī le fàn.I had dinner together with my colleagues.
  • 我们 在 动物园 和 熊猫 照 。Wǒmen zài dòngwùyuán hé xióngmāo pāi le zhào.We took photos with pandas in the zoo.
  • 他 女朋友 为了 他 工作 。Tā nǚpéngyou wèile tāle gōngzuò.His girlfriend quit her job for him.
  • 他们 顺利 地 南极 。Tāmen shùnlì de dào le Nánjí.They arrived at the South Pole without incident.

Examples Involving Result Complements

When the object has modifiers, such as an indication of quantity or an adjective, it's not weird to put 了 immediately after the verb.

  • 我 买到 票。
  • 我 做完 工作。
  • 小明 花光 钱。

Completion in the Future

了 (le) can also indicate that one action is completed before another in the future, and this type of 了 is often placed directly after a verb with an object.

  • 你 到 家 给 我 打 电话 。future actionNǐ dào le jiā gěi wǒ dǎ diànhuà.After you have arrived home, call me.
  • 我 下 课 去 找 你 。future actionWǒ xià le kè qù zhǎo nǐ.I will go find you after I get out of class.
  • 她 想 毕 业 就 结婚 。future actionTā xiǎng bì le yè jiù jiéhūn.She wants to get married after she graduates.
  • 我 打算 生 孩子 就 回去 工作future actionWǒ dǎsuàn shēng le háizi jiù huíqù gōngzuò.I plan to go back to work after having the baby.

Usage of Double 了

In this case, 了 follows both the verb and the object.

Emphasizing "Big Quantity"

If another 了 is added at the end of the sentence, implies that the number in front of the object is already a big number, and that this number could continue to grow.

  • 他们 生 四 个 孩子 Tāmen shēng le sì gè háizi le.They've had four children already.
  • 你 吃 五 个 包子 Nǐ chī le wǔ gè bāozi le.You've eaten five baozi already.

Giving a Tone of Strong Confirmation

If there is another 了 placed at the end of the sentence, it can add a stronger emphasis that the action was already completed, in the same way we might say we "did finish the work" or "already finished the work" instead of just saying we "finished the work."

  • 我 做 作业 ,你 要 检查 吗 ?Wǒ zuò le zuòyè le, nǐ yào jiǎnchá ma?I already finished my homework. Do you want to check it?
  • 他 问 经理 ,经理 说 行 。Tā wèn le jīnglǐ le, jīnglǐ shuō xíng.He already asked the manager, and the manager said yes.

Sources and further reading


  • 赵元任.汉语口语语法[M](吕叔湘译).商务印书馆,1979
  • 王媛.“了”的使用机制及教学策略[J].语言教学与研究,2011(03)
  • 祁晓倩.“了1”和“了2”的语义相似性及对外汉语教学[J].乐山师范学院学报,2007(11)