Master the Uses of Particle了(le) – Chinese Grammar

The Chinese particle “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)” and when to use it. Considering the complex usage of  “了(le)”, here we summarize 4 common uses 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.

For example:

我买一本书。

Wǒ mǎile yì běn shū.

I bought a book.


我吃很多东西。

Wǒ chīle hěn duō dōngxi.

I ate a lot of food.


昨天我去图书馆。

Zuótiān wǒ qùle túshūguǎn.

I went to the library yesterday.


他来我会告诉你。

Tā láile wǒ huì gàosu nǐ.

I’ll tell you when he comes.


他在我家住三天。

Tā zài wǒ jiā zhùle sān tiān.

He stayed in my house for three days.

Notes:

(1) “了(le)” can not be used with the multiple, repetitive or habitual actions.

For example:

以前我经常去图书馆。

Yǐqián wǒ jīngcháng qù túshūguǎn.

I used to go to the library.

*以前我经常去了图书馆

Yǐqián wǒ jīngcháng qùle túshūguǎn.


去年我一直在中国学汉语。

Qùnián wǒ yìzhí zài Zhōngguó xué Hànyǔ.

I have been learning Chinese in China last year.

*去年我一直在中国学了汉语。 ×

Qùnián wǒ yìzhí zài Zhōngguó xuéle Hànyǔ.


每天坐地铁去学校。

Wǒ měi tiān zuò dìtiě qù xuéxiào.

I go to school by subway every day.

*我每天坐地铁去了学校。 × 

Wǒ měi tiān zuò dìtiě qù xuéxiào.

(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.

For example:

昨天我去图书馆。

Zuótiān wǒ méi qù túshūguǎn.

I didn’t go to the library yesterday.

*昨天我没去了图书馆。×

Zuótiān wǒ méi qùle túshūguǎn.


买衣服。

Tā méi mǎi yīfu.

He didn’t buy any clothes.

*他没买了衣服。×

Tā méi mǎile yīfu.


看见王老师。

Wǒ méi kànjiàn Wáng lǎoshī.

I didn’t see teacher Wang.

*我没看见了王老师。×

Wǒ méi kànjiànle Wáng lǎoshī.


来学校。

Tā méi lái xuéxiào.

He didn’t come to school.

*他没来了学校。×

Tā méi láile xuéxiào.


吃饭。

Wǒ méi chī fàn.

I didn’t eat.

*我没吃了饭。×

Wǒ méi chīle fàn.

(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.

For example:

我到美国就给你打电话。

Wǒ dàole Měiguó jiù gěi nǐ dǎ diànhuà.

I’ll call you when I get to America.


我下课去找你。

Wǒ xiàle kè qù zhǎo nǐ.

I’ll see you after class.


他们准备毕业就结婚。

Tāmen zhǔnbèi bìyèle jiù jiéhūn.

They are going to get married as soon as they graduate.

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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.

For example:

我今年二十岁

Wǒ jīnnián èrshí suì le.

I’m 20 years old this year.

(I wasn’t 20 years old before, but now I’m 20 years old.)


我不喜欢吃苹果

Wǒ bù xǐhuan chī píngguǒ le.

I don’t like to eat apples anymore.

(I liked to eat apples before, but now I don’t like anymore.)


我想回家

Wǒ xiǎng huí jiā le.

I want to go home.

(I didn’t want to go home before, but now I changed my mind.)


她会说汉语

Tā huì shuō Hànyǔ le.

She can speak Chinese now.

(She couldn’t speak Chinese before, but now she can.)


外面下雨

Wàimiàn xià yǔ le.

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.

For example:

他来中国三年

Tā láile zhōngguó sān nián le.

He has been in China three years.


我学汉语学四个月

Wǒ xué Hànyǔ xuéle sì ge yuè le.

I have been learning Chinese four months.


他去医院

Tā qùle yīyuàn le.

He has gone to the hospital.


我唱一首歌

Wǒ chànɡle yì shǒu ɡē le.

I have sung a song.

 4. 了(le) used in common sentence patterns

“了(le)” can also go with other words in sentence structures. For more uses of 了(le), you can download and read the PDF transcript of this lesson.

(1) 就要(jiùyào)……了(le): be about to

他们就要结婚

Tāmen jiù yào jiéhūn le.

They are about to get married.


就要出国

Wǒ jiù yào chūguó le.

I’m about to go abroad.

(2) 已经(yǐjīng)……了(le): already

已经有男朋友

Wǒ yǐjīng yǒu nán péngyou le.

I already have a boyfriend.


已经很晚,我们走吧。

Yǐjīng hěn wǎn le, wǒmen zǒu ba.

It’s already really late. Let’s go.


我学习中文已经一年

Wǒ xuéxí Zhōngwén yǐjīng yī nián le.

I have already been studying Chinese for a year.

(3) 太(tài)……了(le): too, excessively, so, very

老板

Lǎobǎn tài máng le.

The boss is too busy.


这个女孩漂亮

Zhège nǚhái tài piàoliang le.

This girl is so pretty.

(4) 别(bié)……了(le): stop doing somthing

别做,明天做吧。

Bié zuò le, míngtiān zuò ba.

Stop doing it. Do it tomorrow.


下雨,别出去

Xià yǔ le, bié chūqu le.

It’s raining. Don’t go out.

5. Get the PDF transcript, mp3 and take the quiz

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. You can download the MP3 and PDF below for on-the-go learning. Don’t forget to take the quiz on this lesson to solidify your knowledge you’ve learnt today!  For more questions, please let us know in the comment section.

Quiz

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