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Chinese Grammar: Lesson: 了 Part 2 - Much to do about 了

Remember what we first learned about and what it means when placed right after the verb? Correct, it indicates completed actions - see lesson. It’s now time to tackle what means when it’s placed elsewhere in the sentence, and particularly at the end of the sentence. Ready?

, the change of state signaler

is also used to show that a situation has changed. It is then placed at the end of the sentence.

Structure

S + V (+O)+

When is placed at the end of a sentence, it indicates that the current state of someone or something is different or has changed now from what it used to be. , in this case, implies a comparison with how it was before since it’s there to highlight a change in the situation.

It also can emphasize somebody/something has a new situation, in which case, you could think of the structure as new situation +.

Let’s look at some examples so you can get a better idea of how this works.

Examples

现在 抽烟
He doesn’t smoke anymore.

已经 大学生
He is a college student now.

我们 已经
(urging) Let’ go, it’s already 8 o’clock!

现在 水果 已经 卖完
The fruits are all sold out.

See how this is always placed at the end of the sentence?

Change of state likes stative verbs and adjectives

We saw together that the that indicates completed actions couldn’t be used with verbs that describe states or are adjectives. Our Change of State doesn’t have such restrictions. Therefore, if you see following such a verb of state or an adjective, then you can be sure it’s there to indicate a change of state!

Examples with adjectives


He has become fat.


I have become tired.

Examples with verbs describing a state

.
I now love you (I grew to love you). 知道
Ok, I get it.

is used to indicate what the situation is like now. You’ll often see it paired with 现在, 已经 or both, to show time has passed. This , as it indicates change, is also used a lot to talk about the weather, seasons and time.

  • Weather:

天气
The weather has become hot.

天气 暖和
The weather has become nice and pleasant.

  • Seasons:

冬天
Winter has arrived.

  • Time:


It’s now 3:15.

已经 十一 啤酒
He has already drunk 11 beers.

Change of State in a negative sentence

Remember how we said in the previous lesson that couldn’t be used in a negative sentence? This is true in most cases: it makes no sense to use to talk about something that wasn’t completed or a situation that hasn’t changed. Still, you can and will run into sentences that contain with a negative verb or phrase. then takes on a special meaning: “not any more”.

Examples


I don’t want to go anymore.

喜欢
You don’t like cats anymore?

没有 卫生纸.
We’re out of toilet paper.

We told you had many uses, right? What you just saw was Change of State . is also used in some set phrases in Mandarin Chinese; which wouldn’t work without ’s action. Let’s see what set phrases we’re talking about!

Set phrases with

is used in different types of set phrases; the main ones being those that indicate imminent action, and those that form “excessive” sentences. Let’s start with imminent action.

Imminent action

When you want to indicate something is about to happen, you can be sure you’ll be using , usually paired with and / or . Here are the most common set phrases you’ll come across. They all convey a certain sense of urgency.

  • ()... This set phrase means “just about to”, “soon”, “almost”. You’ll sometimes see it as 快要....; it means the same. ... is chiefly used with adjectives. You can add when using this set phrase with verbs.

An example:

火车 .
The train will soon arrive.

  • ()... This set phrase means something is going to happen. It is mainly used with verbs. You might also run into ... which makes it sound a little more urgent.

An example:

春天 Spring is coming.

... usually implies something about to happen sooner than ...

  • 就要...; ... This set phrase is also often used to talk about things going to happen.

A difference between ()...and ()is that you can use ()with specific times, when you know something will happen very soon at an expected time, whereas you can’t with ().

For instance, to say I will be graduating next month

You can’t say 下个月 毕业 - that ‘s incorrect. The correct sentence is 下个月 就要毕业

Excessive

These set phrases are used to express the fact something is “very, really” something. They are used quite a lot in China and are often called “excessive”.

// +

When you want to express your “excessive” emotions, you can use this pattern: start with an adverb such as tài, ke_, add the adjective you wish to intensify, and finish off your excessiveness with and you’re done!

[/]+ adjective+

The only exception is _jí, which is placed after the adjective, like so: Adjective + [极了]. Adverbs like // are mainly used for “positive” adjectives.

Examples


It’s great!


Fantastic!

这个 苹果
This apple is very sweet!


He is very nice!


Very good!

这个 姑娘 漂亮
This girl is very beautiful!

is another structure that uses to intensify an adjective. means to die, so you can guess what kind of meaning it adds to the sentence! In English, we say “to death”, as in as you scared me to death. The Chinese say the exact same thing: ! You scared me to death. can be paired with a lot of adjectives, mainly negative ones, such as being hungry, being hot, being bored, being tired, etc...

One set phrase you might find yourself using a lot is 饿死 ! I’m starving (literally, I’m dying of hunger).

Cool, huh? As you see, in these set phrases, it’s simple: the is automatic; so just remember to add it in these types of sentences and you’ll be good to go!

Almost there! We’ve covered most uses of up to now. There’s one last thing we need to see together: what happens when you mix both s in a sentence. Yes, it happens: the that goes after a verb and the that concludes a sentence can both appear in the same sentence. What for, you wonder? What do they mean?

Mixing both

When both are mixed in a sentence, it is usually to bring emphasis to an action that has already taken place. It makes sense if you think about it: the first will be indicating a completed action; and the second at the end of the sentence, highlights the fact it has changed from previously. The double therefore describe what has been completed up to now.

Structure

Subject + V++ Object +

Examples

北京 已经
She’s already lived three years in Beijing [so far].

我们 小时
We’ve waited an hour[ so far; up to now].

已经
Oh my god! I’ve already spent so much money!

You’ll find that in sentences with double , an indication of an amount, whether a precise or a more imprecise amount (so much; too many) is present. 已经 is also often used in such sentences, as it also emphasizes the fact the action already happened.

Sometimes, it’s not entirely clear which you’re facing, as both can merge into one in cases when both would end up next to each other, especially in short sentences. For instance: can either be: I have arrived, or I’ve now arrived.

Usually, however, there’ll be other words in the sentence to clue you in, or context to help you figure it all out, so don’t worry!

Summary

OK, let’s sum up the uses of you’ve seen so far:

  • can indicate a Completed Action as you saw in the previous lesson when is placed right after the verb.

  • can signal a Change of State. is then placed at the end of the sentence.

  • can help be Extreme: when certain adverbs such as , , and frame adjectives, they become "excessive".

  • indicates imminent action when used with 快要, or 就要

  • You’ve seen what two in a sentence mean when one is placed right after the verb and the other is placed at the end of the sentence.

Good! You’ve seen the main uses of in this primer on the usage of .

How do you feel about ? A little dazzled? It may seem like a handful at first, but if you keep in mind these different meanings and uses can have, you’ll soon be using it like a pro. So don’t be afraid the next time you see a !Just remember these rules, and you’ll be able to handle all the situations that come up. We’ll help. Let's start by practicing!

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