The use of 了 as a modal particle
Alternative terminology: modal particle 了.
了 may also be used in the following situations.
1. To emphasize an action which has already taken place.
2. To indicate excessiveness.
3. To indicate change.
4. To indicate imminent action.
5. As a resultative complement of 完 (completion) or 掉 (to get rid of something).
The use of 了 to emphasize actions that have already taken place
了 can be used for emphasizing an action that has been completed.
1. To emphasize a single action, two 了 can be used: one after the verb and the other at the end of the sentence.
我 已经 放 了 糖 了.
I ALREADY PUT LE SUGAR LE
I've already PUT the sugar in.
我 已经 吃 [过] 了饭 了.
I ALREADY EAT [GUO] LE MEAL LE
I've already EATEN.
Without emphasis, it would be 我已经放了糖 or 我已经放糖了. 我已经吃(饭)了, 我已经吃了饭 or 我已经吃过饭了.
2. To emphasize direct or indirect speech, 了 can be placed after the verb 说, 问, 请 and 告诉.
我 已经 跟 他 说 了学 汉语 应该 用 功.
I ALREADY TO HIM SAY LE STUDY CHINESE SHOULD DILIGENT.
I've already SAID to him that he should work hard on (his) Chinese.
了 is not normally used for completed direct and indirect speech. Without the emphasis it would be: 我已经跟他说学汉语应该用功.
3. To emphasize a sequence of actions, an additional 了 is placed after the emphasized verb.
去 年 他 请 了 我 吃 了 五 顿 饭 .
LAST YEAR HE INVITE LE ME EAT LE FIVE DUN MEALS
Last year he INVITED me to eat five Chinese meals.
昨 天 他 去 了小 王 家 拿 来 了 那 本 书.
YESTERDAY, HE GO LE XIAO WANG'S HOME BRING BACK LE THAT BEN BOOK
Yesterday he WENT Xiao Wang's place and brought that book back.
Without the emphasis, 了 for completed action should be placed after the last verb of the sentence: 去年 他 请 我 吃了五顿 饭 . 昨天他去小王家拿来了那本书.
了 cannot be used to emphasize negation. The adverb 并 is placed before the negatives 不 or 没 to emphasize the negation.
我 并 没 跟 她 说 学 中文 得 用 功.
I BING NOT TO HER SAY LEARN CHINESE MUST DILIGENT
I did not (at all) say to her that one must work hard at Chinese.
No, 了 cannot be used to emphasize stative verbs or the complement of degree construction. However, it can be used with the stative verb 对, and with 得多( in the comparative construction).
对 了, 她 的 中 文 比我 好 多 了.
CORRECT LE SHE DE CHINESE BI I GOOD VERY MUCH LE
That’s right, her Chinese is very much better than mine.
The use of 了 to express excessiveness
了 is often placed at the end of expressions which indicate excessiveness, such as 太冷了it’s too cold, 难极了it’s extremely difficult, 可热了it’s really hot. See the following patterns:
太 stative verb 了
stative verb 极了
可 stative verb了
Sometimes there is no 了 in a 太 expression. Why is that?
Among the above expressions, 太 is the only one which can be used without 了. But if 了 is omitted, the tone of voice can be rather rough. In colloquial Chinese, 太 can be omitted to show that the situation is slightly different from the one which the speaker expected.
一点儿 or 一 些 (a little) are placed after 了, in a (太)...了 sentence.
这 件 衣服 (太) 大 了(一点儿). 那 个 问题 (太) 难 了一点儿.
THIS JIAN CLOTHING (TOO) BIG LE A LITTLE THAT GE QUESTION (TOO) HARD LE A LITTLE
This jacket is a little too big. That question is a little too difficult.
No, they cannot be used as adjectives in sentences. 了 also gives a sense of the end of a sentence, so the above expressions are only used as stative verbs or complements of degree in sentences. In other words they cannot be placed before 的, but should be placed at end of sentences or clauses. One cannot say 太冷了的饭. 难极了的书. 可热了的天气. One should say: 饭太冷了 the rice is too cold, 那本书叫他写得难极了 that book he wrote is too difficult, 天气可热了 it’s extremely hot.
The negation 不 can be placed before 太 and after 可, but 极 cannot take the negative form. If the negation 不 is used, 了 should be left out.
饭 不 太 冷 天气 可 不 热.
RICE NOT TOO COLD WEATHER REALLY NOT HOT
The rice is not too cold. The weather is not really hot.
If 了 appears at the end of a negative sentence 饭不太热了, it indicates change: the rice is not too hot any more.
The use of 了 to express a change of situation
If the modal particle 了 is used to indicate change it should always be placed at the end of a sentence. It can be used in the following situations.
1. To indicate a change in the weather, in seasons or in time.
春 天 了. 天 气 暖 和 了. 三 点 半 了.
SPRING LE. WEATHER WARM LE THREE O'CLOCK HALF LE
It's spring (now). The weather is getting warm. It's half past three.
As you can see from the above sentences, 了 can also be placed after a noun (for the weather, seasons or time), and after a stative verb.
2. To indicate a change of situation, 了 is placed at the end of a sentence.
现 在我 不 是 老 师 了. 现 在 人 多 了.
NOW I NOT BE TEACHER LE NOW PEOPLE MANY LE
I'm not a teacher any more. Now there are many people.
Yes, they should always be clear. But sometimes 了can have many implications, with the result that ambiguous meanings are then unavoidable. In particular, when 了 is placed at the end of a sentence there may be a grey area where it is hard to differentiate between the 了 for change of situation and the 了 for completed action.
小 王 来 了. 我们 吃 饭 了.
XIAOWANG COME LE WE EAT MEAL LE
Wang has come. We have eaten.
(Completed action.) (Completed action.)
Now Wang is coming. We're about to eat.
(Change of situation.) (Imminent action.)
Now we are eating the meal. [We were eating fruit before.]
It is important to add appropriate words to clarify what you want to say.
我们已经吃过饭了. We've eaten. 我们就要吃饭了. We're about to eat.
我们现在吃饭了. Now we are eating our meal.
The use of 了 to indicate an imminent action.
The following are the most commonly used "frame-patterns".
1. 要...了, (要快...了)
2. 快...了, 快要...了, 快就...了.
3. 就要...了, 就快...了.
The action which is about to happen is framed by these patterns. The possible elements which can be framed within these patterns are time words, verb-object phrases and verbs.
快要 十 点 了. 就要 下 课 了. 就快 哭 了.
NEARLY 10 O'CLOCK LE NEARLY FINISH CLASS LE NEARLY CRY LE
Nearly 10 o'clock. The class is about to finish. (Somebody) is about to cry.
Yes, they indicate the same degree of urgency.
The use of 了 as a resultative complement.
了 is not only used as a particle to indicate that an action has been completed, but can also imply 完 completion, and 掉 getting rid of something by acting as a resultative complement in a sentence. In this usage 了 has two functions: one is as a resultative complement; and the other is as a particle for completed action.
她把 东西 都 卖 了 他 把 酒 喝 了 他 把 书 扔 了
SHE BA THINGS ALL SELL LE HE BA WINE DRINK LE HE BA BOOK THROW LE
She has sold everything. He's drunk up all the wine. He's thrown away the book.
All the above sentences have a sense of getting rid of something, as with the resultative complement 掉.
他 把 碗 洗 了. 她 把 功 课 作 了.
HE BA BOWL WASH LE SHE BA HOMEWORK DO LE
He has done the washing up. She has done her homework.
Both the above sentences have a sense of completion, as with the resultative complement 完.
Translate the following sentences into Chinese.
1. Mr. Wang does Chinese paintings extremely well.
2. It's too difficult to learn Chinese. The most difficult thing is to remember it all.
3. The food she cooked yesterday was good, but she made too much.
4. It's too late today. Shall we do it tomorrow?
5. The book she bought yesterday was not too expensive, but the one I bought today was much too much.
6. It's almost news time. Shall we watch the news in a minute?
7. We are almost in Beijing. Now you can see the Great Wall of China in the distance.
8. A: This term will soon be over. Where are you going in the holidays?
B: What holiday? I don’t have holidays. I always work.
9. A: The exam results are coming out soon. Then we'll see who is the best student.
B: Just because a student has achieved a good result doesn't necessarily mean that student is the best one.
10. I have finished my exam. I don't have to read "Practical Chinese Reader" any more!
11. It's already 10:30. I’ll be late for my lesson.
12. Mr. Li is getting old, and can't see properly. Can you help him?
13. I have to fetch a friend from the airport. Can you tell Mr. Wang that I will not be able to attend his lesson?
14. I have already told him that I don't like his food. How many more times should I tell him?
15. Last night I did a great many grammar exercises. I'm not going to do any more tonight.