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Hi, everyone! Welcome to Chinese whiteboard lessons. I’m Yinru. In this lesson, we're going to talk about different uses of the particle 了 (le). 了 (le) is actually one of the most difficult grammar points in Chinese, but don't worry, in this lesson I'm going to give you a lot of examples and explanations to help you better understand the uses of 了 (le). Okay.
The first use I'd like to introduce is that 了 (le) can indicate a change of status. What does that mean? Let's look at some examples.
The first one, very simple…
下雨了 (Xià yǔle), 下雨了 (Xià yǔle). 下雨 (xià yǔ) is a verb meaning “to rain” and when you put a 了 (le) after 下雨 (xià yǔ), it means it's raining now. Because there's a 了 (le) here which indicates a change of status, it means it wasn't raining a second ago, but now it is raining. Even though you don't see 现在 (xiànzài), now, the word meaning now here, you don’t see 现在 (xiànzài) in this sentence, but it indicates that now it is raining. It wasn't raining, now it is raining - 下雨了 (Xià yǔle).
The second one…
我今天十八岁了 (Wǒ jīntiān shíbā suìle), 我今天十八岁了 (Wǒ jīntiān shíbā suìle). 了 (le) is at the end of the sentence and 我 (wǒ) is the subject. 今天 (jīntiān) “Today”, 十八 (shíbā) is a number 18, 十八 (shíbā) “18”and 岁 (suì), we put 岁 (suì) after the number to express how many years old. So 岁 (suì) can mean “years”. “I’m 18 years old today.”, and because there’s a 了 (le) here, it means that I wasn’t 18, I was 17 years old yesterday, but today - 今天,我十八岁了 (Jīntiān, wǒ shíbā suìle.) “Today, I’m 18 years old.”, so there's a change here.
我今天十八岁了。 (Wǒ jīntiān shíbā suìle.) “I'm 18 years old today.”
第三个 (dì sān gè) the third one…
我不怕蟑螂了 (Wǒ bùpà zhānglángle), 我不怕蟑螂了 (Wǒ bùpà zhānglángle). So what does that mean? 怕 (pà) is a verb here meaning “to be scared of / to be afraid of”. So 不怕 (bùpà) is the negative form, “I’m not afraid of / I'm not scared of what” 什么呢 (shénme ne). 蟑螂 (zhāngláng), 蟑螂 (zhāngláng) is “cockroach” so “I'm not scared of cockroaches.” Is that all? No. Because there's a 了 (le) here, so the whole sentence means “I'm not afraid of cockroaches anymore.”, anymore. I was afraid of cockroaches 我以前 (wǒ yǐqián) “before”, 我害怕蟑螂 (wǒ hàipà zhāngláng), 我怕蟑螂 (wǒ pà zhāngláng), 但是 (dànshì), but 现在 (xiànzài) “now”, 我不怕蟑螂了 (wǒ bùpà zhānglángle). So compared to this, 我不怕蟑螂 (Wǒ bùpà zhāngláng) without 了 (le), this simply means “I'm not afraid of cockroaches.”, but with 了 (le), it means I'm not afraid of cockroaches anymore. Okay.
Now, the second use of 了 (le) is that it indicates completed action or in other words, it means something that happened in the past. Example…
你吃了吗 (Nǐ chīle ma), 你吃了吗 (Nǐ chīle ma) the verb here is 吃 (chī) and there is a 了 (le) after the verb means “ate”, “Have you eaten? / Did you eat?”. The literal translation is “Have you eaten?”, but this sentence or this expression can also be used as a greeting around meal time. You know, eating is a very, very big culture in China. We're always talking about food and eating. Even in my lessons, you hear a lot of examples about food or eating.
So 你吃了吗 (Nǐ chīle ma), you can use it to greet people that you're very familiar with.
你吃了吗? (Nǐ chīle ma?) “Have you eaten? / Did you eat?”
Next one, 下一个 (xià yīgè)...
新同事送了我一个小礼物。 (Xīn tóngshì sòngle wǒ yīgè xiǎo lǐwù.)
新同事 (xīn tóngshì) is the subject here, 新 (xīn) “new”, 同事 (tóngshì) “colleague”, and the verb 送 (sòng). 送 (sòng) means to give or to be more exact, “to give a gift”, like here - 送我一个小礼物 (sòng wǒ yīgè xiǎo lǐwù). 一个小礼物 (yīgè xiǎo lǐwù) the object here is one little or small gift, 一个小礼物 (yīgè xiǎo lǐwù).
送了我一个小礼物 (sòngle wǒ yīgè xiǎo lǐwù), it’s done, it’s in the past. “My new colleague gave me a little present.”
Okay, moving on to the third one…
昨晚我打了一晚上的游戏。 (Zuó wǎn wǒ dǎle yī wǎnshàng de yóuxì.) Okay first, 昨晚 (zuó wǎn) is a time, “last night, 我怎么样呢 (wǒ zěnme yàng ne) “What did I do last night?”. 打游戏 (dǎ yóuxì) means “to play a game”, 游戏 (yóuxì) “game” and 打 (dǎ) is “to play”. How did I play the game? 打了一晚上的游戏 (dǎle yī wǎnshàng de yóuxì), 一晚上 (yī wǎnshàng) “one night” or one whole night. So I played a game whole night, one whole night, all night long I was playing a game. So this is also talking about something that happened in the past.
It seems that with the verb + 了 (le), you’re definitely talking about something that happened in the past, but that is not true. In most cases, that is true but there are some exceptions. Look at these two examples please.
明天下了班我们去吃韩国菜吧。 (Míngtiān xiàle bān wǒmen qù chī Hánguó cài ba.) Okay, the second half means 我们 (wǒmen) “we go eat”, 吃 (chī) “eat”, 韩国菜 (Hánguó cài). 韩国 (Hánguó) is a country, South Korea, 韩国 (Hánguó) and 菜 (cài) is “a dish / vegetables”. So let’s go have Korean food. 吧 (ba), at the end of sentence, it indicates a suggestion. So let's go have Korean food. Let's go eat Korean food. When 明天 (míngtiān) “tomorrow” and 下了班 (xiàle bān) is a verb of a phrase meaning “to get off work”.
下了班 (xiàle bān) “After we get off work tomorrow…”, you see, there's a 了 (le) here but it's not talking about yesterday or the past. We’re talking about 明天 (míngtiān) “tomorrow”. So after we get off tomorrow, let’s go have Korean food. 明天下了班我们去吃韩国菜吧 (Míngtiān xiàle bān wǒmen qù chī Hánguó cài ba.)
Okay, 这是第一个例子 (zhè shì dì yī gè lìzi) that was the first example. 第二个 (dì èr gè) the second one…
你要走了吗? (Nǐ yào zǒule ma?) It can be translated as, “Are you going to leave now? / Are you leaving now? / Are you going to go?”. See, there's a 了 (le) after 走 (zǒu). 走 (zǒu) is to go, but it's not talking about past. It's talking about right now or even in the future in a little bit - 你要走了吗? (Nǐ yào zǒule ma?)
So 了 (le), it indicates completed action, but it's not a marker for past tense. It is actions that happened in the past. You don't have to use 了 (le) all the time. There are times or there are cases we don't want to use 了 (le) like in here.
The first case, when you see frequency words or frequency words about time such as 总是 (zǒng shì) “always”, 经常 (jīngcháng) “often”, 偶尔 (ǒu'ěr) “occasionally”. So words like that, that talks about the frequency of time, when you see that and when this whole sentence is describing something that happened in the past, you don't want to use 了 (le) after the verb.
For example…
我以前总是叫错她的名字。 (Wǒ yǐqián zǒng shì jiào cuò tā de míngzì.) 我以前 (Wǒ yǐqián), 以前 (yǐqián) means “in the past”. So 总是 (zǒng shì) is the frequency word here - 总是 (zǒng shì) “always”, 叫 (jiào) is verb, 叫错 (jiào cuò), 错 (cuò) is “wrong” so I called something wrong, 她的名字 (tā de míngzì) means “her name”. So in the past, I always called her name wrong. It is in the past, but we don't say 叫了错 (jiàole cuò) or 叫错了 (jiào cuòle). We just say like it's in the present tense - 我以前总是叫错她的名字 (Wǒ yǐqián zǒng shì jiào cuò tā de míngzì). No 了 (le) in the sentence because there is 总是 (zǒng shì) here.
Okay, the second example…
小时候他经常来这里买书。 (Xiǎoshíhòu tā jīngcháng lái zhèlǐ mǎishū.) 小时候 (Xiǎoshíhòu), 小时候 (xiǎoshíhòu) is when someone was young or in someone's childhood - 小时候 (xiǎoshíhòu). 他经常 (tā jīngcháng) so 经常 (jīngcháng) is the word you need to pay attention here. It means “often”. 来这里 (lái zhèlǐ) “to come here”, 买书 (mǎishū) “to buy books”. When he was young, he often came here to buy books. There is no 了 (le) here. We don't have to say 来了这里买书 (láile zhèlǐ mǎishū) because there is 经常 (jīngcháng) here.
小时候他经常来这里买书。 (Xiǎoshíhòu tā jīngcháng lái zhèlǐ mǎishū.) “When he was young, he often came here to buy books.”
Okay, the next example…
过去的几年这里很少下雪。 (Guòqù de jǐ nián zhèlǐ hěn shǎo xià xuě.) 过去的 (guòqù de) or 过去 (guòqù) means “past” and 几年 (jǐ nián) “a few years”. In the past few years, 这里 (zhèlǐ) “here”, 很少 (hěn shǎo), 很少 (hěn shǎo) means “rarely” so that's the frequency word here - 很少 (hěn shǎo) “rarely”. 下雪 (xià xuě) “to snow”.
In the past few years, it rarely snowed here. See, this is talking about in the past few years. Still, we don't need to say 这里很少下雪了 (zhèlǐ hěn shǎo xià xuěle) or 这里很少下了雪 (zhèlǐ hěn shǎo xiàle xuě). We don't need to use the 了 (le) here.
Okay, the second case is when there is psychological action. What is psychological action? It is something that has something to do with your mind, how you think or your feeling, how you feel such as 希望 (xīwàng) “hope”, 决定 (juédìng) “decide”, 喜欢 (xǐhuān) “like” and etc.
Okay, examples…
五岁的时候我希望以后当一名医生。 (Wǔ suì de shíhòu wǒ xīwàng yǐhòu dāng yī míng yīshēng.) Okay, let's break this sentence down. 五岁的时候 (Wǔ suì de shíhòu) we just talked about 岁 (suì). We use it after a number to tell a year or age. 五岁的时候 (wǔ suì de shíhòu) “5 years old”, when someone was 5 years. 什么什么的时候 (shénme shénme de shíhòu) is “when”. So when at 5 years old, 我希望 (wǒ xīwàng), see 希望 (xīwàng) here, “I hope / I was hoping”, 以后 (yǐhòu) “in the future”, 当 (dāng) “to be”, 一名 (yī míng) “one”, 医生 (yīshēng), 医生 (yīshēng) is “doctor”.
When I was 5 years old, I hoped or I was hoping to be a doctor in the future. See 希望 (xīwàng) because there's 希望 (xīwàng) here, we don't need to say - 我希望了以后当一名医生 (wǒ xīwàngle yǐhòu dāng yī míng yīshēng). We just say - 我希望当一名医生 (wǒ xīwàng yǐhòu dāng yī míng yīshēng). We don’t have to say - 希望了 (xīwàngle). No need to use 了 (le).
So this is second one…
当时我决定试一试。 (Dāngshí wǒ juédìng shì yī shì.) 当时 (Dāngshí) “At that time / At that moment”, 当时我决定 (Dāngshí wǒ juédìng), 决定 (juédìng) is “to decide”. I decided to 试一试 (shì yī shì). 试一试 (shì yī shì) is to give something a try, give it a try. At that moment, I decided to give it a try but we don't say - 我决定了试一试 (wǒ juédìngle shì yī shì). 当时我决定试一试 (Dāngshí wǒ juédìng shì yī shì), 就可以了 (jiù kěyǐle) and that is good. No need 了 (le).
So the third example, the third example…
上高中的时候 (Shàng gāozhōng de shíhòu)... I just told you 什么什么的时候 (shénme shénme de shíhòu) means “when”. So when 上高中的时候 (shàng gāozhōng de shíhòu), 上高中 (shàng gāozhōng) when someone is at high school, 高中 (gāozhōng) “high school”. 我超级喜欢周杰伦 (wǒ chāojí xǐhuān Zhōujiélún) okay. 超级 (chāojí) means “super”, 超级 (chāojí) such as 超级英雄 (chāojí yīngxióng) “superhero”. 喜欢 (xǐhuān) like, and 喜欢 (xǐhuān) is the psychological action here. 周杰伦 (Zhōujiélún), he is the most iconic popstar in China or in the whole Asia probably. He is very, very famous, everybody knows him and I was even crazy about him when I was 上高中的时候 (shàng gāozhōng de shíhòu). So 上高中的时候我超级喜欢周杰伦 (Shàng gāozhōng de shíhòu wǒ chāojí xǐhuān Zhōujiélún), but we don't have to say - 上高中的时候我超级喜欢了周杰伦 (Shàng gāozhōng de shíhòu wǒ chāojí xǐhuānle Zhōujiélún) because 喜欢 (xǐhuān) because there is a 喜欢 (xǐhuān) here. When talking about something in the past, we don't have to say - 喜欢了 (xǐhuānle).
All right, so this is some points I'd like to introduce or tell you about the use of 了 (le). Now let's practice a little more. There are four sentences in English in the quiz part. Let's try to put them in Chinese, all right? Okay let's get started…
第一个 (dì yī gè) the first one…
Did you get a taxi? Did you get a taxi? Well, did you, past right, completed action and I talked about the uses of 叫 (jiào) in the previous lesson. So when you say to get a taxi or to hail a taxi, we can use 叫 (jiào). 叫出租车 (jiào chūzū chē). Okay.
Did you get a taxi? We can say - 你叫出租车了吗 (Nǐ jiào chūzū chēle ma), or you can say - 你叫了出租车 (Nǐ jiàole chūzū chē).
So we can put 了 (le) in here or in here. 你叫了出租车吗 (Nǐ jiàole chūzū chē ma), 你叫出租车了吗 (Nǐ jiào chūzū chēle ma).
Okay, 第二个 (dì èr gè) the second one…
Sorry to have you waited so long. Okay, to say sorry, to apologize in Chinese, there are a few ways. You can say - 不好意思 (bù hǎoyìsi) or you can say 对不起 (duìbùqǐ), 对不起 (duìbùqǐ). My marker just fell. I have to go pick it up, all right. We were talking about 对不起 (duìbùqǐ) and then to say sorry, we can also say - 抱歉 (bàoqiàn), 抱歉 (bàoqiàn). So from the weakest to the strongest is 不好意思 (bù hǎoyìsi),对不起 (duìbùqǐ),抱歉 (bàoqiàn), okay. Here, ...have you waited so long as I have you waited. It was in the past, you're done waiting for me, I'm here now, so it's in the past. So you can say - 对不起 (duìbùqǐ) or 抱歉 (bàoqiàn). 让你 (ràng nǐ) “let you”, 等了 (děngle), waited 这么久 (zhème jiǔ) “so long”. 抱歉让你等了这么久 (Bàoqiàn ràng nǐ děngle zhème jiǔ) or 对不起让你等了这么久 (Duìbùqǐ ràng nǐ děngle zhème jiǔ) or 不好意思让你等了这么久 (Bù hǎoyìsi ràng nǐ děngle zhème jiǔ.).
Okay, the third one…
She is a big girl now. She is a big girl now, see, now it indicates a change. She was a little girl, now she's a big girl. So we can say - 她现在是个大女孩了 (Tā xiànzài shìgè dà nǚháile), 她现在是个大女孩了 (Tā xiànzài shìgè dà nǚháile), okay.
Now, let’s move on to the last one.
When I was in the US, I loved playing basketball. Now, I don't. Okay, there are two parts here. First part is when I was in the US. So when is 什么什么的时候 (shénme shénme de shíhòu). 我在美国的时候 (wǒ zài Měiguó de shíhòu) “I loved playing basketball”. Loved; past, completed action. Playing basketball is 打篮球 (dǎ lánqiú). So 我在美国的时候,我很爱打篮球 (Wǒ zài Měiguó de shíhòu, wǒ hěn ài dǎ lánqiú), 我很喜欢打篮球 (wǒ hěn xǐhuān dǎ lánqiú). We don’t need 了 (le) even though it’s in the past, “When I was in the US…”, we don't need the 爱了 (àile) or 喜欢了 (xǐhuānle) because here, it’s some kind of a psychological action. You don't need the 了 (le).
So the first part, we can say - 我在美国的时候很喜欢打篮球 (Wǒ zài Měiguó de shíhòu hěn xǐhuān dǎ lánqiú) or 我在美国的时候很爱打篮球 (Wǒ zài Měiguó de shíhòu hěn ài dǎ lánqiú). Now I don’t. It’s changed. Now, it's a different case. So 现在我不喜欢了 (Xiànzài wǒ bù xǐhuānle), 现在我不爱了 (Xiànzài wǒ bù àile). You have to use the 了 (le) to say it's a different case. So the whole sentence, we can say - 在美国的时候我很喜欢打篮球,现在我不喜欢了。 (Zài Měiguó de shíhòu wǒ hěn xǐhuān dǎ lánqiú, xiànzài wǒ bù xǐhuānle.)
So that's it for this lesson. We talked about the uses of 了 (le). If you have more questions or if you like to share more examples, feel free to put them in the comments below and I'll see you in the next lesson. 我们下节课再见吧。 (Wǒmen xià jié kè zàijiàn ba.) Bye-bye everyone!


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robert groulx
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thanks for the lesson

my favorite words are 对不起让你等了这么久