- Chinese is an non-inflected language. It means that Chinese verbs have no conjugation. Chinese verbs do not indicate tense. Whether they are used in the past, present or future, the form of the verb remains the same.
- In Chinese, particles is used heavily to modify the meaning of words and sentences. Some of them are used to show the past, present or future of the verb in a sentence. The mastery of particles is important if one wants to fully comprehend both written and spoken Chinese.
- Today we are going to learn one of the most common particles in Chinese, 了 （le）.
1. 了 as Aspect Particle （动态助词）
- When the particle 了 (le) is added after a verb, it is known as “aspect particle”.
- The aspect particle 了 expresses the completion of an action. A completed action may take place in the past, present, or future and a time word or phrase is used to express this.
1. He drank two cups of tea. tā hē le liǎng bēi chá 。 他 喝 了 两 杯 茶 。
* The 了 here is used to modify 喝 (drink) into an action which has already been completed.
2. I bought a bicycle. wǒ mǎi le yī liàng zì xíng chē 。 我 买 了 一 辆 自 行 车 。
* The 了 here is used to modify 买 (buy) into an action which has already been completed.
3. I bought the plane tickets. wǒ mǎi dào le jī piào 。 我 买 到 了 机 票 。
* The aspect particle 了 should be placed after the complement of result 到.
4. Did you buy some? nǐ mǎi dào le méi yǒu ？ 你 买 到 了 没 有 ？
* 没有 can be added to raise a question.
- The aspect particle 了 can also be used to indicate sequential actions.
1. I’ll pick you up after I finish my dinner. děng wǒ chī le fàn zài qù jiē nǐ 。 等 我 吃 了 饭 再 去 接 你 。
In this sentence there were two actions taking place: action 1 吃 (eat) and action 2 接 (pick up). Action 1 吃 takes place before action 2 接, so it has an aspect particle 了 right after the verb 吃 to indicate that the action 2 接 takes place only after action 1 吃 is accomplished.
2. 了 as Modal Particle （语气助词）
- When the particle 了 is added at the end of a sentence, it is known as modal particle (Wiki).
- The modal particle 了can be used to express various different shade of meaning.
- In common circumstances, the modal particle 了 at the end of a sentence denotes that the situation has changed.
1. Now he has a girlfriend. xiàn zài tā yǒu nǚ péng yǒu le 。 现 在 他 有 女 朋 友 了 。
* Previously, he doesn’t have a girlfriend.
- If the modal particle了 works with the adverb 太, it indicates excessiveness.
1. This book is too expensive. zhè běn shū tài guì le 。 这 本 书 太 贵 了 。
- If the modal particle 了 works the adverb 要 / 快要 / 将要, it describes an action that will happen in the future.
1. He is going to retire soon. tā kuài yào tuì xiū le 。 他 快 要 退 休 了 。
- 了 can exists as an aspect particle as well as modal particle in one sentence.
1. The place looks quite different now. zhè dì fāng biàn le yàng le 。 这 地 方 变 了 样 了 。
* The first 了 is a aspect particle, while the 了 at the end of the sentence is a modal particle.