了 for completed actions
Other terminology: aspectual particle "了"
When you want to express that an action is completed. Normally 了 should be placed after main verbs or at the end of sentences.
He has bought 3 tickets.
She has brought the wine.
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
wŏmen chī fàn le
我 们 吃 饭 了.
WE 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.)
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 fàn... (jiù qù kàn diànyĭng)
他 吃 了 饭 ... (就 去 看 电 影.)
HE EAT LE MEAL... (JIU GO SEE FILM)
After he finishes the meal...(he'll go to see a film.)
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. o.
tā chī le liăng wăn fàn
他 吃 了 两 碗 饭.
HE EAT LE TWO BOWLS RICE
He has eaten two bowls of rice.
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. v. le tm.(am.) de o. (le)
He studied Chinese for 2 years.
s. v. o. v. le tm.(am.) (le)
o. s. v. le tm.(am.) (le)
have watched that film twice.
nà shì wŭ nián qián de shì le wŏmen shì duō nián de lăo péngyou le
那 是五 年 前 的 事 了. 我们 是 多 年 的 老 朋 友 了.
THAT IS FIVE YEAR AGO DE MATTER LE WE ARE MANY YEARS DE OLD FRIEND LE
That incident happened 5 years ago We have been old friend for many years.
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. tm. neg. v. o. le
I haven’t eaten Chinese food for a long time.
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.
wŏ méi xué sān nián zhōngwén, wŏ zhĭ xué le liăng nián
我 没 学 三 年 中 文, 我 只学 了 两 年.
I NOT LEARN 3 YEAR CHINESE, I ONLY LEARN LE 2 YEAR)
I didn't learn Chinese for 3 years, I only did for 2 years.
If a sequence of actions in the sentence are completed, 了 is usually placed after the last verb of the sentence.
s. v.1 o.1 v.2 le (tm. ) o.2
He went to China to study Peking opera for 4 years.
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 le zhōngwén
他去中 国 学 了中 文.
HE GO CHINA 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)
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 o.2
tā dào le zhōngguó jiù zhăo péngyou.
他 到 了 中 国 就 找 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.
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 méi chī fàn.
他 没 吃 饭.
HE NOT EAT MEAL
He didn't eat the meal.
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.
wŏ yĭqián zài zhōngguó jiāoshū
我以 前 在 中 国 教 书.
I IN THE PAST IN CHINA TEACH
I taught in China in the past.
qùnián wŏ chángcháng gēn wŏ nǚ péngyou qù kàn diànyĭng
去年 我 常 常 跟 我 女 朋 友 去 看 电 影.
LAST YEAR I OFTEN 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.
zuótiān nĭ yīnggāi qù kàn tā
昨天 你 应该 去 看 他.
YESTERDAY YOU SHOULD GO SEE HIM
You should've gone to see him yesterday.
shí nián yĭqián tā hĕn xĭihuān chī făguó cài
十年 以前 她 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 zài bĕijīng
上 星期 他 在 北 京.
LAST WEEK HE WAS (IN) BEIJING
He was in Beijing last week.
yĭqián tā yŏu hĕn duō qián
以前 他 有 很 多 钱.
BEFORE HE 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.
dir. speech zuótiān tā wèn wŏ: "nĭ yào qù zhōngguó ma"
昨天 他问 我: "你 要 去 中 国 吗?"
YESTERDAY HE ASK ME: "YOU WANT GO CHINA MA?"
Yesterday he asked me: "Would you like to go to China?"
indir. speech zuótiān tā wèn wŏ: yào qù zhōngguó ma
昨 天 他 问 我 要 去 中 国 吗.
YESTERDAY HE ASK ME WANT GO CHINA MA
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.
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.
zuótiān wŏ qù măi le liăng bĕn shū
昨 天 我 去买 了 两 本 书.
TESTERDAY I GO BUY LE TWO BEN BOOK
Yesterday I went out and bought two books.
You can't say:
zuótiān wŏ qù măi liăng bĕn 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?"
The completed action 了 is not applicable to the following constructions.
1. The V+得 construction (the complement of degree)
zuótiān tā fàn zuò de hĕn bú cuò
昨 天 他 饭 作 得 很 不 错
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.)
zuótiān wŏ măi de nà bĕn shū hĕn yŏu yìsi
昨天 我 买 的 那 本 书 很 有 意思.
YESTERDAY I BUY DE THAT BEN BOOK VERY INTERESTING
The book which I bought yesterday is very interesting.
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:
qùnián wŏ fēicháng máng.
去年 我 非 常 忙 .
LAST YEAR I VERY BUSY
Last year I was very busy.
The word busy acts as a stative verb which does not take the particle 了 of completed action.
A. Place "了" in the right in the following sentences, and give your reasons if 了 is not needed.
2. 我已经请____小王看____两次电影 ,可是他还是那么不客气____. 真气人____!
6. 十年前我在____中国住____ .
B. Translate the following sentences into Chinese.
1. Yesterday Xiao Wang asked me to borrow a Chinese newspaper from the library for him.
2. For three months Mr. Li has been teaching me how to sing Peking Opera.
3. I've been living in this country for more than four years.
4. We've gone through this lesson twice, but the teacher wants us to go through it once more.
5. She is unhappy. She hasn't eaten for two days.
6. He should have returned that tea-set a long time ago.
7. 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.
8. In the past I was the only one who did the cooking.
9. 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".