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.

Basic expression


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 (le) 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 大学 学 了 一 年 中文。 Tā zài dàxué xué le yī nián Zhōngwén. In the university he studied Chinese for one year.
  • 昨天 我 上 了 八 个 小时 课。 Zuótiān wǒ shàng le bā ge xiǎoshí kè. I gave classes for eight hours yesterday.
  • 他 在 Google 做 了 八 年 经理。 Tā zài Google zuò le bā nián jīnglǐ. He worked as a manager at Google for eight years.
  • 老板 跟 客户 开 了 一 天 会 。 Lǎobǎn gēn kèhù kāi le yī tiān huì. The boss attended a full day of meetings with clients.
  • 我们 坐 了 十 几 个 小时 飞机 去 美国。 Wǒmen zuò le shíjǐge xiǎoshí fēijī qù měiguó. We rode the metro for one hour to the airport.

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


  • 你 刚才 上 了 半 个 小时 厕所。 Nǐ gāngcái shàng le bàn ge xiǎoshí cèsuǒ. You just went to the bathroom for half an hour.
  • 上 个 周末 我 和 老公 开 了 三 个 小时 车 回 老家。 Shàng ge zhōumò wǒ hé lǎogōng kāi le sān ge xiǎoshí chē huí lǎojiā. My husband and I drove back home for three hours last weekend.
  • 这 个 星期 我 加 了 三天 班。 Nǐ gāngcái shàng le bàn ge xiǎoshí cèsuǒ. You just went to the bathroom for half an hour.
  • 他 今天 上 了一天 网。 Tā jīntiān shàng le yītiān wǎng. He went online all day today.
  • 昨天 爸爸 跟 妈妈 吵 了 一 晚上 架。 Zuótiān bàba gēn māma chǎo le yī wǎnshang jià. Dad was quarreling with mom all evening yesterday .

To indicate that the action is definitely still in progress, use a slightly different pattern.

See also

Sources and further reading