Chinese Calligraphy



Lesson 14

The particle 了 (le)

The particle 了 (le) has many different meanings. Depending on its position in the sentence and on the context, it indicates that:

1. The action took place in the past and was finished in the past

2. The action took place in the past, was finished in the past but has an influence on the present

3. The action took place in the past but is reaching into the present

4. The action was/is or will be followed by another action

5. The situation has changed

6. The action will occur in the near future

7. The speaker talks about excessiveness

1. The action took place in the past and was finished in the past

If you want to express that the action you are talking about was completed at a certain point of time in the past, you put the particle 了 (le) right after the verb.

了 (le)

2. The action took place in the past, was finished in the past but has an influence on the present

For describing such actions, the particle 了 (le) has to be put at the end of the sentence. Additionally you can put the word 已經 (already) after the pronoun and another particle 了 (le) after the verb, if the sentence consists of an object.

了 (le)

3. The action took place in the past but is reaching into the present

For describing such actions, the particle 了 (le) has to be put at the end of the sentence and after the verb.

了 (le)

4. The action was/is or will be followed by another action

For describing a sequence of concluded actions either in the past, present or future, you also need to use the particle 了 (le).

了 (le)

5. The situation has changed

When a new situation, condition or state of affair has appeared, we also indicate this by putting the particle 了 (le) at the end of the sentence.

了 (le)

6. The action will occur in the near future

When an action is going to occur or will occur in the near future, then we add the particle 了 (le) to the end of the sentence. Typical signal words for such situations are 快 (kuài), 要 (yào) and 就 (jiù).

了 (le)

7. The speaker talks about excessiveness

When you speak about excessiveness in a positive or negative sense or you want to change or end a situation, you also add the particle 了 (le) to the end of the sentence.

了 (le)

Differences in meaning with and without 了 (le)

To give you a better understanding of the particle 了 (le), we compare how the meaning changes in sentences with and without 了 (le). Sentences without 了 describe a particular situation. Sentences with 了 at the end, focus on a change within the situation.

了 (le)

Negating actions

For negating actions, we put 沒(有) before the verb to be negated. Since the action did not occur, the particle 了 (le) is not required. To express that we have not done something yet, we can add 還 (yet).

Negating actions

Question types for actions

When you ask for actions there are four different types of questions depending on whether the action is completed or the action has an influence on the present. Note that there is one more question type, namely 過 (guò). We will take a closer look at this question type in Lesson 15.

Question types for actions