了 (le) is one of those simple Chinese characters that tend to leave learners perplexed...
In this quick video we clear up the confusion to help you use "了" more accurately!
A summary of the main usages of "了le"
#1: Change of State = translated as "now"
"了le" can be used to show a change of state.
Structure: Sentence +“了le”
xià xuě le.
It's snowing now.
It wasn't snowing previously.
wǒ è le.
I'm hungry now.
I wasn't hungry previously.
tā bù shì wǒ nán péng you le.
He isn't my boyfriend now.
He was my boyfriend previously.
wǒ bù jié hūn le.
I'm not getting married now.
I had previously planned to get married.
#2: Action Complete in the PAST
"了 le" is placed after a verb to show that the action is complete.
Structure: Verb +“了le”
You can think of it as adding an “-ed” to a verb in English.
“arrived” , “watched”
Here are some examples:
wǒ men dào le.
We have arrived.
tā zuó tiān kàn le yī bù diàn yǐng.
He watched a movie yesterday.
mèi mei zuó wǎn kū le yī gè duō xiǎo shí.
My younger sister cried for over one hour last night.
wǒ jīn tiān zǎo shang yùn dòng le 20 fēn zhōng.
I exercised for 20 minutes this morning.
#3: Action Complete in the FUTURE
"了 le" is also used for action complete in the future. It shows the order in which two actions happen.
wǒ dào le jiǔ diàn， jiù gěi nǐ dǎ diàn huà.
When I arrive at the hotel, I'll call you.
Action 1: "到了酒店 dào le jiǔ diàn" arrive at the hotel
Action 2: "给你打电话 gěi nǐ dǎ diàn huà" call you
In this situation you can think of "了 le" as meaning “when” or “after”
When Action 1: "到了酒店 dào le jiǔ diàn" arrive at the hotel completes, then Action 2: "给你打电话 gěi nǐ dǎ diàn huà" call you will take place.
"When action 1 completes, then action 2 will take place."
Structure: Action 1 (Verb 1) +“了le”
Here are some more examples:
wǒ míng tiān xià le bān， jiù qù nǐ jiā.
When I finish work tomorrow, I'll go to your place.
Action 1: "下了班 xià le bān" finish work
Action 2: "去你家 qù nǐ jiā" go to your place
When Action 1: "下了班 xià le bān" finish work completes, then Action 2: "去你家 qù nǐ jiā" go to your place will take place.
zhè běn shū wǒ xià zhōu kàn le zài huán nǐ.
When I finish reading this book next week, I'll return it to you.
wǒ kàn le fáng zi yǐ hòu， cái néng jué dìng yào bù yào mǎi.
When I see the house, I can decide whether to buy it or not.
wǒ qiān shōu le bāo guǒ yǐ hòu jiù mǎ shàng tuì kuǎn gěi nǐ， nǐ fàng xīn ba.
When I sign for the package, I will refund it to you immediately, don't worry.
#4: Imminence of an action. To express something that is about to happen.
When we express that something is about to happen, we use "了 le" together with words like 快 (kuài) and 要 (yào).
wǒ men kuài dào le.
We're about to arrive. (We're almost there.)
快 (kuài) + VERB +“了le”
要 (yào) + VERB +“了le”
就要 (jiù yào) + VERB +“了le”
快要 (kuài yào) + VERB +“了le”
shèng dàn jié kuài dào le.
Christmas is about to arrive. (Christmas is around the corner.)
wǒ yào jié hūn le.
I'm about to get married.
tā yào dēng jī le.
He's about to board.
fēi jī jiù yào qǐ fēi le.
The plane is about to take off.
tā men de bǎo bǎo jiù yào chū shēng le.
Their baby is about to be born.
kuài yào xià yǔ le.
It’s about to rain.
wǒ men kuài yào chí dào le.
We're about to be late.
Sometimes "了 le" is simply used to add emotion to what you’re saying. Or to indicate that you’ve finished speaking.
Structure: Sentence +“了le”
Here’re some examples:
tài hǎo le！
tài má fan le！
That's so troublesome!
xiàn zài tài wǎn le!
Now it's too late.
nǐ zěn me hái zài gōng zuò le？！
Why are you still working?
nǐ yòu chí dào le！
You are late again!
tā bù kě néng dǒng de le！
She has no way of understanding.
tā hái zài shǒu shù zhōng， wǒ men zhǐ néng nài xīn děng hòu yī shēng de xiāo xī le.
He is still in surgery, we can only wait patiently for the doctor's update.
zhè lǐ de cài tài nán chī le， fú wù yuán de tài dù tài chà le， hái yǒu jià qián tài guì le， wǒ yǐ hòu dōu bù huì zài lái zhè lǐ chī fàn le.
The food here is so bad, the attitude of the waiter is so bad, and the price is so expensive, I will never eat here again.
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