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:

Subj. + Verb + 了 + Duration + Obj.

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 学 了 一 年 中文。Tā xué le yī nián Zhōngwén. He studied Chinese for a year.
  • 我 看 了 一 个 晚上 书。Wǒ kàn le yī gè wǎnshang shū. I read books all evening.
  • 妈妈 看 了 一 天 电视。Māma kàn le yī tiān diànshì. Mom watched TV all day.
  • 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.
  • 我们 坐 了 十 五 个 小时 飞机 去 美国。Wǒmen zuò le shí wǔ ge xiǎoshí fēijī qù Měiguó. We took a fifteen hour flight to the United States.

To express completed definitely


Note that the pattern before 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:

Subj. + [Time Word] + Verb + 了 + Duration + Obj.


  • 昨天 他 写 了 一 天 作业。Zuótiān tā xiě le yī tiān zuò yè. He did his homework all day yesterday.
  • 你 刚才 上 了 半 个 小时 厕所。 Nǐ gāngcái shàng le bàn ge xiǎoshí cèsuǒ. You were just in the bathroom for half an hour.
  • 他 今天 喝 了 一 个 晚上 酒。 Tā jīntiān hē le yī ge wǎnshang jiǔ. He drank alcohol all night.
  • 我 昨天 玩 了 一 个 下午 游戏。Wǒ zuótiān wán le yī ge xià wǔ yóu xì. Yesterday, I played games all afternoon.
  • 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. Last weekend, my husband and I drove three hours to our hometown.

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

See also

Sources and further reading