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Grammar: 了 le for Completion

Chinese is my first language, so it’s reasonable for me to think that Chinese grammar is much easier than English! However, when I learned about the “past tense” in English, I found that it was pretty neat and convenient! For most of the verbs you simply just add “ed” when it becomes the past tense. In this article, we are going to talk about a similar usage word “了 le”, and how to use “了 le” to describe the completion of an action. 

了 can be used on many occasions in Chinese. This is one of them and probably the first 了 you are going to learn. In Chinese, we don’t really have a “past tense” like we have in English. But to place 了 le after the verb in a Chinese sentence can express a completed action.

了 le for Completion Sentence Structure

  • Basic:
    Subject + Verb +
  • Adding time and object: 
    Subject + Time + Verb + + Object

Examples

了 completion grammar 1

“到” means arrive.

“到了” means have arrived.

This is a very useful sentence. When you have an appointment with your friend at a location, when you get there, you can text him, “我到了.” It simply means, hey, I am here!

了 completion grammar 2

If you need to add “time” to this sentence structure, place “time” right before the verb. In this example, “刚” means just now, and is a time word. You can replace it with other time words, like yesterday, five minutes ago, last year, etc. It would make sense that the time word should refer to sometime in the past, since we are talking about the completion of an action.

If there is an object after a verb, it’s the OV format. You can see this from examples 2, 3, and 4. “吃饺子,” “买一辆车,” and “去美国.” Remember what we mentioned before, if the action is completed, you place “了” right after the verb. That means you squeeze “了” between the verb and the object, and that means the action is completed. 

了 completion grammar 3

If you need to add “time” to this sentence structure, place “time” right before the verb. In this example, “刚” means just now, and is a time word. You can replace it with other time words, like yesterday, five minutes ago, last year, etc. It would make sense that the time word should refer to sometime in the past, since we are talking about the completion of an action.

Students should think about it like this: since the verb represents the main part of an action, having “了” right after the verb means the action is completed. 

And if you would like to add more details about the object, the sentence structure becomes: 

Subject + Time + Verb + 了 + number + MW + Object

For example, 

“吃了饺子” means ate dumplings. If you would like to say: “I just ate 20 dumplings!” The sentence will become

我刚吃了二十颗饺子!
Wǒ gāng chīle èrshí kē jiǎozi!

You can find this sentence structure in the third example, “买了一辆车,” which means “bought A car.”

 

 

Simplified Chinese Infographic

了 completion grammar

Traditional Chinese Infographic

了 completion grammar

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