Expressing duration with "le"

Revision as of 05:50, 15 June 2012 by Yangrenjun (talk | contribs)


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.

Some examples:

  • 他 在 北京 住 了 两 年
  • 我 上 了 半 个 小时 网。
  • 我 做 了 三 个 小时 作业。

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

Some examples:

  • 以前 在 北京 住 了 两 年
  • 昨天了 半 个 小时 网。
  • 上个 星期了 三 个 小时 作业。

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

See also

Sources and further reading