The particle“了Le”in Chinese and error analysis of using it by Pakistani students by Liu Yao,ArshadMahmood

国立现代语言大学中文系 liu yao(刘飖)
The particle“了Le”in Chinese and error analysis of using it by Pakistani students Liu Yao,ArshadMahmood

The particle“了Lein Chinese and error analysis of using it by Pakistani students

                                                          Liu Yao,ArshadMahmood

Abstract:The particle “了Le”in Chinese is very difficult for the student of Chinese as a foreign language. “了” as an aspect particle and “了” as a modal particle are actually two different grammatical usages, “了Le” as an aspect particle expresses a sense of completion,while“了” as a modal particle expresses a change that has taken place.According to these rules, Pakistani students error of using “了Le”will be reduced.

Unlike in English or Urdu language, the form of a Chinese verb never changes, regardless of whether it is present, past or future tense (Borong.H, Xudong.L,2010). For example, in English the verb ‘eat’ will become ‘ate’to express past tense, whereas the chinese verb 吃 (chī) stays the same in present, past or future tense. So how does someone know that you are referring to something that happened in the past? Or that you are talking about something that hasn’t happened?There are still some rules that need to be followed when constructing sentences that indicate past and future actions in Chinese. Chinese verbs will not change state or form, instead we add a time adverb or an aspect particle to the sentence to indicate past, present or future.This article will  distinguish the two ways in which the word “了Le”is used: (a) used as an aspect particle (时态助词shítàizhùcí), and (b) used as a modal particle (语气助词 yǔqìzhùcí). It will then proceed to explain how they are actually used as different types of particle.Non-native speakers find this distinction too subtle to be noticeable, and native speakers who have no training in linguistics find this distinction too intuitive to be worthy of an explanation. However, the student of Chinese as a foreign language is not to be intimidated by the illusory complexity. You only need to know the difference between an aspect particle and a modal particle – The former is a word which is immediately suffixed to a verb to mark the tense of the verb; and the latter is used at the end of a sentence to express an attitude towards what is said in the sentence. By implication, “了Le” as an aspect particle and “了Le” as a modal particle are actually two different usages, The fact that they look identical and sound identical is merely a coincident.the way each of these two particles is actually used in sentences – You need to pay special attention to two issues: (i) word order; and (ii) collocation. In other words, you need to take note of where in the sentence each of the two particles is used; and you need to pay attention to the question as to whether/how they should be collocated with other words to form a question, an affirmation or a negation.

Aspect particle“了Le

it expresses a sense of completion, within the context of the sentence;

(a) When the predicate consists in a verb-object phrase (VOP),  “了Le” is inserted between the verb and object, e.g.:

写字 xiězì(write the Chinese characters)写了字 xiěle zì(wrote the Chinese characters)

上课shāngkè(attend the class)上了课shāngle kè(attended the class)

唱歌chànggē(sing a song)唱了歌chàngle gē(sang a song)


(b)  As is often the case, if the noun in the VOP is countable, it is to be quantified by means of a measure word:

我写了一百个字 wǒ xiěle yībǎigè zì。

I have written down a hundred words.

我上了一堂课 wǒshàngle yītáng kè。

I have attended one session of class.

我唱了一首歌 wǒchàngle yīshǒu gē。

I have sung one song.

(c) If the countable noun is not quantified, then,

(c.1)  “了Le” must be used twice: one between the verb and the object, and one again at the end of the entire VOP (or at the end of the entire sentence, if the VO-phrase is at the end of the sentence).

我写了字了wǒ xiěle zì le。

I have written (down some words).

我上了课了 wǒshàngle kè le。

I have attended class.

我唱了歌了 wǒchàngle gē le。

I have sung.

(c.2) the VOP is followed by another statement:

我写了字就看书 wǒ xiěle zì jìu kànshū。

(I finished writing and then started reading.)

I started reading right after I had completed writing characters.

我上了课就打球 wǒshàngle kè jìu dǎqíu。

(I finished my class and then started playing a ball game.)

I started playing basketball right after I had finished class.

我唱了歌就跳舞 wǒchàngle gē jìu tiàowǔ。

(I finished singing, and then started dancing.)

I started dancing right after I had finished singing.

(d) A case in which the aspect particle “了Le”does not appear right after a verb: when the verb is immediately followed by another verb to form a complex predicate with two verbs in series (连谓). In this case, the actions indicated by two verbs in a series are both completed, and “了” is used summarily after the second verb. It is not to be used after the first verb; nor is it used twice.

他去上班了 tā qùshàngbān le。

He has gone to work.

他们开始上课了 tāmén kāishǐshàngkè le。

They have started (to have)  their class session.

她去同学家看朋友去了 tā qù tóngxuéjiā kàn péngyǒu qùle。

She went to her classmate’s home to meet friends.

If you haven’t learnt about the construction of predicates in series (连谓结构,it means a sentence with serial verb phrases), the easiest way of understanding it at this stage is to think of this English sentence: “I came to see you.” 连谓结构 is used to write Chinese sentences which translates such English sentences.

(e) In two obvious cases, the use of “了Le”is not necessary. This is because the notion that the action has been completed or event has taken place has been made explicit by means of a complement of a result indicating the completion of action, or by means of an adverbial of time indicating the point of time for the particular action/event in question.

For instance, when the notion of completion has been made adequately by the word “完 wán” (It means an action of finishing,used as a complement of result immediately following the relevant verb), the “了Le”can be optionally omitted for sake of stylistic brevity, e.g.:


Alternative, we can say:


Otherwise, stylistically speaking, the word “了” is used redundantly in the following sentence:


Likewise, if the time of the past action in question has been clearly indicated by an adverbial of time such as “昨天下午”(yesterday evening)  (or “今天下午”  from the point of view of this evening),“前天”,“去年”,“以前”etc, “了Le”would be superfluous. In the HanyuJiaocheng(2006), part 1, Book 2, Zhang Dong says to Tian Fang “今天下午我们跟政法大学的代表队比赛”(We played with the team of the University of Political Science and Law this evening), explaining why he failed to call Tian Fang back. Here, the “了Le” is, stylistically speaking, quite appropriately omitted. If Zhang Dong were not sensitive to stylistic norms, he could have said something clumsy like the following sentence:

今天下午我们跟政法大学的代表队比了赛。” (We played with the team of the University of Political Science and Law this evening)

The adverbial of time “今天下午”(this evening)allows the omission of “了”, if the phrase  “今天下午”(this evening) in effect refers to a time in the past.

(f) If you want to turn an affirmative sentence which contains the aspect particle “了”into a negative sentence, you can do so by prefixing the adverb “没有” (mean not)   to the verb while dropping the aspect particle, e.g.:

他吃了晚饭就去看电影。He went to the movies after dinner.

他没有吃晚饭就去看电影。(He went to the movies without dinner.)

We should never use “不Bù”(mean not) to negate a verb in the past tense or present perfect tense. For this purpose, we use “没有”(mean not); and when using “没有, we also drop “了” .

To sum up, syntactially speaking, an aspect particle is an integral part of the verb phrase and it serves to indicate the tense of the verb. If the notion of completion is already adequately expressed by the use of the word “完” (means the action is finished)as a complement of result or by the use of certain adverb of time, “了”can/should be dropped.

Modal particle”了Le” 

The sentence-end le了 indicates that a new situation has emerged or a change has taken place. We often call this sentence-final modal particle ‘change-of-state le了’ or ‘new situation marker le了’. Compare the following sentences. One has a le了 at the end while the other does not. They convey different meanings.

(a).Tiānqirè le.


The weather has become hot.

This sentence implies that the weather was not hot before but now it has changed.



The weather is hot.

Without the modal particle le了, the sentence simply announces the fact that the weather is hot.

(c)Jīntiān xīngqīwǔ le.


Today is Friday (already). /It has turned into Friday today.

The underlying statement is that time has passed and it has changed from Thursday into a new day, Friday. If le了 is eliminated, the sentence simply announces the day of the week. Compare it with the following sentence which does not have the change-of-state le了.

(d)Jīntiān xīngqīwǔ.


Today is Friday.

This sentence simply states the fact that ‘today’ is Friday.

(e)Yīnwèi hēchá duìshēntǐ hěn hǎo, suǒyǐ tā hēchá le.


Because drinking tea is good for one’s health, now he drinks tea.

This sentence implies that the person, ‘he’, did not drink tea before, but now he has changed. Compare it with the following sentence which does not have the change-of-state le了.

(f)Yīnwèi hēchá duìshēntǐ hěn hǎo, suǒyǐ tā hēchá.


He drinks tea because it is good for one’s health.

This sentence simply reports the fact that ‘he’ drinks tea as a habitual action because of its benefits.

(g)Tāchīsù le, biézuòròucài.


He has become a vegetarian now. (Lit. He now eats vegetarian food.) Don’t make meat dishes.

This sentence implies that ‘he’ used to eat meat. Compare it with the following sentence which does not have the change-of-state le了.

(h)Tāchīsù, biézuòròucài.


He’s a vegetarian. Don’t make meat dishes.

This sentence does not imply any change. It only states a fact that the person, ‘he’, is a vegetarian.

                 Frequently occur error analysis using the “了Le”  ByPakistani students

We had an experiment on Pakistani students in Chinese department in NUML(the National University of Modren Language in Pakistan) who have been learning Chinese for one year. 25 students wrote an essay named “My pleasant day”.we found that Pakistani students have three aspects of mistakes while  using the particle “了Le” .

Aspect 1: Missingof”了Le”



Right: WorenshiLe  wodenvpengyou.

我认识了我的女朋友。(I met my girl friend.)



Right: Zaijialiwokanjian Le yiliangxindeMotuoche.

在家里,我看见了一辆新的摩托车。(I saw a new motocyle at my home.)

Wrong:Shanggeyuewo gen wodepengyou qv  Laheer.


Right: Shanggeyuewo gen wodepengyou qv Le Laheer.

上个月我跟我的朋友去了拉合尔。(I went to Laheer with my friend last month.)

In the above,the three sentences  “了”is missing after the verbs.The reason for commiting this mistake is the influences of Urdu language and English language. Urdu language and English language both are inflectionallanguages.The verb goes through morphological change of grammatical category of tense.So Pakistani students are not used to using the model partical“了Le”to express the completion of the action.

Aspect 2: overgeneralization

overgeneralization : In the process of extending the application of a rule to the items that are excluded from it in the language norm, as when a child uses the regular past tense verb ending -edto the forms like “I walked” to produce forms like “I goed“or “I rided”.During learning the “了Le”,Pakistani students commit the overgeneralization.

Wrong:Wo hen gaoxing le.


Right: Wo hen gaoxing.

我很高兴。(I was happy.)

the sentence-end “了le” indicates that a new situation has emerged or a change has taken place. “Wogaoxing le”,means ‘I’, was not happy before, but now I am happy. But “Wo hen gaoxing le.”is a false the Pakistani student eassycontext,he wanted to express his pleasure at that “了Le”is misused.

Wrong:Tamendouxihuan le wodeshengridangao.


Right: Tamendouxihuanwodeshengridangao.

他们都喜欢我的生日蛋糕。(They liked my birthday cake.)

Aspect3:  misuse of “过Guo

“过Guo”is the aspect particle, It is used to indicate that an action has been experienced in the past. “了Le”is also the aspect particle,used to indicate that an action is completed in the past. “过Guo”and“了Le”have some same usages,So Pakistani students confused them easily.



Right: zaizheli,wokanjianleyigehenpiaoliangdeguliang.

在这里,我看见了一个很漂亮的姑娘。(I saw a nice girl here.)

Wrong: yitian,wo he wodetongxueqvguoyigehenyoumingdedefang,jiaoChangcheng.


Right: yitian,wo he wodetongxueqvleyigehenyoumingdedefang,jiaoChangcheng.

一天,我和我的同学去了一个很有名的地方,叫长城。(One day, I went to a famous palce:The Great Wall.)


The distinction between the use of the word  “了”  as aspect particle and “了”  as modal particle:As aspect particle, it indicates that an action (referred to by the verb it immediately follows) is completed. Hence, it is used right after the verb. (It modifies the sense of the verb which it follows.)As modal particle, it expresses the speaker’s judgement or opinion about the occurrence of a new situation that the entire statement describes. Hence, it is used at the very end of the sentence to modify the meaning of the entire proposition. (It modifies the meaning of the basic statement it is attached to.)They both share the sense of completeness, though. The aspect particle indicates the completion of an action, whiles the modal particle indicates a change in situation which the entire sentence describes and also expresses a response on the speaker’s part.


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Liu Yao,(1974-) ,Huanggang Normal University ,Chinese department,Huanggangcity, China.Associate professor.

Arshad Mahmood,(1973-),National University of Modern Languages,English department Islamabad ,Pakistan.professor.