了 for completed actions
Other terminology: aspectual particle "了"
1. When should I use it? When you want to express that an action is completed.
Normally 了 should be placed after main verbs or at the end of sentences.
m?i le 买 了
zhāng pià o 张 票
THREE ZHANG TICKETS
He has bought 3 tickets.
b? ji? 把酒
ná lá i 拿来
BA WINE TAKE (TOWARDS) LE
She has brought the wine. 2. When should I place the 了 at the end of a sentence, and when should I place it after the main verb of a sentence?
1. If the object of a sentence is a simple one i.e. a noun, which is not attached to a number and measure word, and not attached to a descriptive clause (的 clause), 了 can be placed at the end of the sentence. In this case the particle 了 has many functions: it may indicate the completed action, or a change of situation, it may also indicate an imminent action.
s. v. o. le w?men chī fà n le 我们 吃 饭
EAT MEAL LE
We have eaten.. [Completed action] Now we are eating. (We didn't eat before.) [Change of situation] We are about to eat. (我 们 要 吃 饭 了.)
3. Is it incorrect if I place 了 after the verb in a simple-object sentence?
No, it is not incorrect, but it seems as if the sentence is not yet finished. It may look like the first clause of the verb 了... 就...construction. For example (Also see pattern 5.),
tā chī le fà n... 他 吃 了 饭 ...
HE EAT LE MEAL...
(jiùqùkà n diàny?ng) (就 去 看 电 影.)
(JIU GO SEE FILM)
After he finishes the meal...(he'll go to see a film.) 4. Can I place 了 at the end of a sentence that has a complex object? No. If the object of a sentence is a complicated one, i.e. it is preceded by a number word and measure word, or a descriptive clause, 了 is placed after the main verb of the sentence.
s. v. le num. mw. tā chī le li?ng w?n 他吃了 两 碗 饭.
o. fà n
HE EAT LE TWO BOWLS RICE
He has eaten two bowls of rice. 5. Where should I place 了 if a sentence has a time measure?
If an action is attached to a time measure (e.g., duration , length of time) or an action measure (e.g., many times), 了 is placed after the main verb. The following three alternative patterns share the same feature, that is, they have 了 after the main verbs.
s. tā 他
le tm.(am.) de o.
xué le li?ng niá n de zhōngwén (le) 学
年 的中 文
YEAR DE CHINESE
He studied Chinese for 2 years.
s. tā 他 o.
v. 学 中 s.
o. 文 v.
tm.(am.) (了) (le)
xué le li?ng ni?n (le) 学 了两 年 le tm.(am.) (了)
zhōngwén 中 文
xué le li?ng ni?n (le) 学 了 两 年
nà ge diàny?ng w? 那个 电 影 我
kà n le li?ng biàn (le) 看了 两 遍 (了**)
I have watched that film twice. nà 那 shì w? nián qián de shì 是五 年 前 的 事 了.
w?men shì duō 我们 是 多 年
de l?o péngyou le
的 老 朋 友 了.
THAT IS FIVE YEAR AGO DE MATTER LE
ARE MANY YEARS DE OLD FRIEND LE
That incident happened 5 years ago We have been old friend for many years. 6. Is a time measure placed after 了 in a negative sentence?
No, negative sentences of this kind are normally in a different word order. The time-measure should be placed before the negation 没. For instance, if you want to say: "I haven't eaten Chinese food for ages." It should be in the following word order:
s. w? 我
tm. h?o ji? 好久
NOT LONG TIME
neg. mé i 没 chī 吃
v. 中 国
o. zhōngguó cài 菜 了 le
CHINESE FOOD LE
I haven’t eaten Chinese food for a long time. 7. Do I have to put the time-measures before 没 in all negative sentences?
No. If you want to deny an affirmative statement which has a time-measure, then the time-measure should be placed after the main verb. s. neg. v. tm. o. w? méi xué sān nián zhōngwén, 我 没 学 三 年 中 文,
I NOT LEARN 3 YEAR CHINESE,
w? zh? xué
le li?ng nián
了 两 年.
I ONLY LEARN LE 2 YEAR)
I didn't learn Chinese for 3 years, I only did for 2 years. 8. Do I have to put 了 after every verb in a sentence, if the sentence has a sequence of actions?
If a sequence of actions in the sentence are completed, 了 is usually placed after the last verb of the sentence.
s. tā 他
v.1 o.1 qù zhōngguó
v.2 去中 国 xué 学
le (tm. 了四年
le sì niá n
STUDY LE FOUR YEAR PEKING OPERA
He went to China to study Peking opera for 4 years.
le cí qì
BUY LE CHINA
He went to China and bought some China. If you leave 了 at the end of sentences, it normally indicates a change of the situation. Let's compare the following two sentences:
1. (Completed action)
tā qù zhōngguó xué 他去中 国
HE GO CHINA
le zhōngwén 了中 文.
STUDY LE CHINESE
He went to China and studied Chinese.
2. (Change of situation)
tā qù zhōngguóxuézhōngwén le 他去中 国 学中 文 了.
HE GO CHINA
STUDY CHINESE LE
He has gone to China to study Chinese. (He's not here) 9. Do I always have to place 了 after the last verb of a sentence when describing a sequence of actions?
No. There is another sentence pattern, which indicates sequence of actions, but the first sequence in the sentence is conditional. In this sentence pattern 了 is placed after the first verb which is in the conditional clause, and the adverb 就 is placed before the second verb of the sentence. This kind of construction has a sense of urgency, which means that the action in the 就 clause takes place immediately after the completion of the first action.
s. v.1 le o.1 jiu v.2 tā dà o le zhōngguó jiù zh?o 他到 了中国就找
o.2 pé ngyou. 朋友.
HE ARRIVE LE CHINA JIU LOOK FOR FRIEND
He'll look for friend immediately after he arrives in China. As you can see, that sentence describes the action in future, but if you place another 了 at the end of the sentence, then it means that both actions have taken place. 10. Do I always have to use 了 to indicate a completed action?
No, not always. First of all, the particle 了 for completed action is not used in negative sentences. Instead 没 should be placed before the main verb of the sentence.
s. mei v. o. tā mé i chī fàn.
他 没 吃 饭.
HE NOT EAT MEAL
He didn't eat the meal. 11. Apart from the negation, are there any circumstances in which 了 is not used?
In the following situations the particle 了 for completed actions is not used. 1.了 is not used for prolonged and regular actions in the past. In other words, if the sentence contains words such as 每天,年年,常 常... the particle 了 for the completed action is not used.
w? y?qián 我以 前
zài zhōngguó jiāoshū 在中 国 教 书.
I IN THE PAST IN CHINA
I taught in China in the past.
qù niá n 去年
w? chángcháng gēn w? nǚ pé ngyou qù kàn diàny?ng 我 常 常 跟 我女朋友 去 看 电 影.
WITH MY GIRLFRIEND
GO SEE FILMS
Last year I often went to see films with my girlfriend. 2. 了 is not used in sentences which have modal verbs such as 应该, 得(dei), 可以, 能, 会, 要, 想, or for verbs which indicate feelings such as 爱,喜欢, 觉得, 知道, 愿意, 肯.
yīnggāi qùkà n tā
你 应该 去 看 他.
YESTERDAY YOU SHOULD GO SEE HIM
You should've gone to see him yesterday.
shí nián y?qián tā 十年 以前 她
h?n x?ihuān chī f?guó 很 喜 欢 吃 法国 菜.
TEN YEAR AGO SHE VERY LIKE
EAT FRENCH FOOD
Ten years ago she liked eating French food very much.
3. 了 is not used when 是, 在, 有* are the main verbs of sentences.
shàng xīnqī tā zà i 上 星期 他 在
b?ijīng 北 京.
WEEK HE WAS (IN) BEIJING
He was in Beijing last week.
h?n duō 很 多
HAD VERY MUCH MONEY
In the past he had a lot of money. If 有 (to posses) is used as the main verb of a sentence, 了(for completed action) is not used. However, 了 can be used if the object of a sentence is an abstract one which has an implication of action, such as “development”, “improvement” 他的学习有了很大的进 步. He has improved greatly in his studies.
4. 了 is not used for direct and indirect speeches.
tā wèn w?: "n? yà o 他问 我: "你 要
qù zhōngguó ma" 去 中国 吗?"
HE ASK ME: "YOU WANT GO CHINA
Yesterday he asked me: "Would you like to go to China?"
tā wèn w?: yà o qù zhōngguó ma
去 中 国 吗.
HE ASK ME WANT GO CHINA
Yesterday he asked me if I would like to go to China. As you can see, in the situations when the completed action 了 is not used, time-words are used to indicate the actions happened in the past. 12. Is it true that if I use a time-word I don't have to use 了?
No. Time-words are needed when the completed action 了 cannot be used. But time-words have no effect on 了 when the completed action 了 is applicable.
w? qù m?i le li?ng b?n shū 我 去买 了 两
GO BUY LE TWO BEN BOOK
Yesterday I went out and bought two books. You can't say:
zuótiān w? qù m?i li?ng b?n shū 昨 天 我 去买 两 本 书.
The above sentence sounds uncompleted. The listener would expect more and would ask, "and then what?" 13. Are there any constructions that cannot take an aspectual particle 了?
The completed action 了 is not applicable to the following constructions.
1. The V+得 construction (the complement of degree)
tā fàn 他饭
zuò de h?n 作 得很
YESTERDAY HE MEAL COOK DE VERY NOTBAD
Yesterday he cooked meal very well. 2. Description+的 (The verbs in the descriptive clause don't take 了, as they are not the main verbs of sentences.)
w? m?i de nà b?n shū 我买 的 那 本 书 很
YESTERDAY I BUY DE
THAT BEN BOOK VERY INTERESTING
The book which I bought yesterday is very interesting. 14. Do I always have to consider the use of 了 when I see a past tense in an English sentence?
No, not always. Remember: the 了 in this section is for completed actions, which is different from the past tense. Here is another example of a past tense English sentence which does not use the completed action 了:
qù niá n 去年
w? fēicháng máng. 我 非常
Last year I was very busy. The word busy acts as a stative verb which does not take the particle 了 of completed action.
You can submit your work online here Click here for answers
A. Place "了" in the right in the following sentences, and give your reasons if 了 is not needed.
昨天我去____大使馆办____签证____. 我已经请____小王看____两次电影 ,可是他还是那么不客气____. 真气人____! 上星期我去____北京看____朋友____. 去年我常常在____路口的那家书店看____书.从来没有人管____我____. 前天晚上我在____你那儿吃____饭的时候,我听见____她拉____小提琴拉____得真好听____. 十年前我在____中国住____ . 我研究____计算机研究____四年____.
B. Translate the following sentences into Chinese. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Yesterday Xiao Wang asked me to borrow a Chinese newspaper from the library for him. For three months Mr. Li has been teaching me how to sing Peking Opera. I've been living in this country for more than four years. We've gone through this lesson twice, but the teacher wants us to go through it once more. She is unhappy. She hasn't eaten for two days. He should have returned that tea-set a long time ago. Last month he said that he wanted to go to China, but this month he said that he wanted to go to Japan. I really don't know where he wants to go. In the past I was the only one who did the cooking. Last year he often helped me to learn Chinese.
10. Should we go to the hospital to see Xiao Zhang immediately after finishing our work?
He has been learning Chinese for 2 years.
The 了 at the end of the sentence indicates that the action is still going on. In this usage, 了 brings the time "up to the present". This
usage of 了 only works when a time-measure or an implication of a time-measure is involved in the sentence. 了 in the following examples have the similar function, which brings the time "up to the present".