Expressing duration with "le"
After reading this primer on one of the many uses of 了(le), you will have gotten a good grasp on how to express the duration of something.
Saying how long you did something for in Chinese can seem tricky, as there is no preposition as in English. Instead it's all about word order:
Subject + Verb + 了 + Duration + Object
So 了 is placed after the verb (to indicate that the action is completed), followed by the duration. This is how you talk about the duration of completed actions.
- 他 在 北京 住 了 两 年。He lived in Beijing for two years.
- 我 上 了 半 个 小时 网。I went online for half an hour.
- 我 做 了 三 个 小时 作业。I did homework for three hours.
- 我 在 google 做 了 八 年 经理。I worked as a manager at Google for eight years.
- 我 看 了 两 个 小时 电影。I watched movies for two hours.
- 我 开 了 一 天 会。I attended a full day of meetings.
- 我 坐 了 一 个 小时 地铁。I rode the metro for one hour.
- 我 打 了 半 个 小时 电话。I talked on the phone for half an hour.
- 我 在 大学 学 了 一 年 中文。In the university I studied Chinese for one year.
- 我 和 朋友 喝 了 两 个 小时 酒。My friend and I drank alcohol for two hours.
To express completed definitely
Note that the pattern above can be used to express the duration of completed actions which are no longer in progress, although strictly speaking, it's not entirely clear if the actions are still ongoing or not. To indicate that the actions are definitely completed, a time word may be inserted into the sentence to indicate that you're talking about an event in the past:
Subject + Time Word + Verb + 了 + Duration + Object
- 他 以前 在 北京 住 了 两 年。Before, I lived in Beijing for two years.
- 我 昨天 上 了 半 个 小时 网。Yesterday I went online for half an hour.
- 我 上个 星期 做 了 三 个 小时 作业。Last week I did three hours of homework.
- 我 以前 在 Google 做 了 八 年 经理。Before, I worked as a manager at Google for eight years.
- 我 昨天 晚上 看 了 两 个 小时 电影。Yesterday, I watched movies for two hours.
- 我 今天 开 了 一 天 会。Today, I attended a full day of meetings.
- 我 今天 早上 坐 了 一 个 小时 地铁。This morning I rode the metro for an hour.
- 我 刚刚 打 了 半 个 小时 电话。I just talked on the phone for half an hour.
- 我 去年 在 大学 学 了 一 年 中文。Last year at college, I studied a year of Chinese.
- 我 和 朋友 上 个 星期五 晚上 喝 了 两 个 小时 酒。Last Friday night, a friend and I drank alcohol for two hours.
To indicate that the action is definitely still in progress, use a slightly different pattern.
Sources and further reading
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (3rd ed) (pp. 118-9) →buy
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 90-1) →buy
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课上册） (p. 173)→buy