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Making Sense of Grammar
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What is the function of LE (了) in Chinese?
asked Dec 6, 2017 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by admin (23,690 points)
retagged Jan 2, 2018 by admin

2 Answers

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Le is a grammatical marker used after a V or VP: V-(LE)-N-(LE), e.g.,  


      tā chī-le fàn le 

      ‘He ate/has eaten.’

Le marks the actualization of an event/state X in time in the form of [X-le]. To be more specific, it is used to mark the preceding X (V or VP, event or state) as temporally realized. For example,  in 我感冒了 wǒ gǎnmào le ‘I have a cold.’, the state of having a cold is actualized in time with the required use of le, which asserts the happening of the state (having a cold), even though it is described as present tense in English.

The difference between [X] and [X-le] is the difference between atemporal vs. tempoally anchored event:

  他吃榴莲 tā chī liúlián ‘He eats durian.’  -------habitual/atemporal        

  他吃了榴莲 tā chī-le liúlián ‘He ate/has eaten durian.------- temporally realized

[chī-le] asserts the actualization of the action of eating durian in time;

 without le,  it describes a habitual/atemporal situation.

answered Jan 2, 2018 by admin (23,690 points)
edited Jan 16 by admin
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answered Mar 11 by Rush (480 points)
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