“了(le)” is one of the most frequently used function words in Chinese. It has no specific meaning, but it is widely used to express grammatical features in both spoken and written Chinese. Many foreign students are confused about how to use “了(le)”. Considering the complex usage of “了(le)”, here we summarize 4 common usages of “了(le)” in Mandarin Chinese.
1. Expressing the completion of an action with 了 (le)
The structure “Verb + 了(le)” indicates that an action is completed or realized. The action can be not only in the past, but also in the present and the future.
I bought a book.
I ate a lot of food.
I went to the library yesterday.
I’ll tell you when he comes.
He stayed in my house for three days.
(1) “了(le)” can not be used with the multiple, repetitive or habitual actions.
I used to go to the library.
I have been learning Chinese in China last year.
I go to school by subway every day.
(2) When “了(le)” indicates that an action is completed or realized, the negative form of the sentence is “没(méi)+ verb”. “了(le)” should be omitted.
I didn’t go to the library yesterday.
He didn’t buy any clothes.
I didn’t see teacher Wang.
He didn’t come to school.
I didn’t eat.
(3) When “了 (le)” is used in the future tense, there are usually two actions. “了(le)” is usually placed after the first action, indicating to do the second action when the first action is completed.
I’ll call you when I get to America.
I’ll see you after class.
They are going to get married as soon as they graduate.
2. Indicating a change of state with 了 (le)
“了(le)” is used at the end of a sentence to indicate that a situation changes or a new situation occurs.
I’m 20 years old this year.
(I wasn’t 20 years old before, but now I’m 20 years old.)
I don’t like to eat apples anymore.
(I liked to eat apples before, but now I don’t like anymore.)
I want to go home.
(I didn’t want to go home before, but now I changed my mind.)
She can speak Chinese now.
(She couldn’t speak Chinese before, but now she can.)
It’s raining outside.
(It wasn’t raining before, but that is the situation now.)
3. Expressing duration with 了 (le)
“了(le)” is used at the end of a sentence and after the verb to indicate that an action is completed and to describe the completion of the action till now.
He has been in China three years.
I have been learning Chinese four months.
He has gone to the hospital.
I have sung a song.
4. 了(le) used in common sentence patterns.
“了(le)” can also go with other words in set structures.
(1) 就要(jiùyào)……了(le): be about to
They are about to get married.
I’m about to go abroad.
(2) 已经(yǐjīng)……了(le): already
I already have a boyfriend.
It’s already really late. Let’s go.
I have already been studying Chinese for a year.
(3) 太(tài)……了(le): too, excessively, so, very
The boss is too busy.
This girl is so pretty.
(4) 别(bié)……了(le): stop doing somthing
Stop doing it. Do it tomorrow.
It’s raining. Don’t go out.
Well, these are four common uses of Chinese particle “了(le)”. They are not difficult to understand. But to fully master how to use “了(le)” in Chinese, you need to understand them in practice. I hope this helps you with your studies. For more questions, please let us know in the comment section.