Expressing duration with "le"

Whether you need to express how long you lived somewhere, how long you studied astrophysics, or how long you worked as a mime, you'll need to use 了 (le) to express that time duration.

Basic Usage


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.

Also note that 的 can be used in this pattern, proceeding the object.


  • 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 。Wǒmen zuò le shíwǔ gè xiǎoshí fēijī.We took a fifteen hour flight.

To Express "Definitely Concluded"


Note that the previous pattern 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 concluded (not ongoing), 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.


  • 他 昨天 开 了 一 天 车 。Tā zuótiān kāi le yī tiān chē.He drove all day yesterday.
  • 我 刚才 打 了 半 个 小时 电话 。Wǒ gāngcái dǎ le bàn gè xiǎoshí diànhuà.I was on the phone for half an hour.
  • 我 昨天 玩 了 一 晚上 游戏 。Wǒ zuótiān wán le yī xiàwǔ yóuxì.Yesterday, I played games all evening.
  • 老板 今天 开 了 一 下午 的 会 。Lǎobǎn kai le yī xiàwǔ de huì .The boss had meetings all afternoon today.
  • 他 今天 看 了 一 天 的 书 。Tā jīntiān kàn le yī tiān de shū.He drank alcohol all night.

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

See also

Sources and further reading