le redux

cover of Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and OrthographyNo, I’m not switching to French. I just wanted to get back to the matter of the particle le (?), which was discussed previously in How to write verbs in Hanyu Pinyin. Le is so frequently used that it deserves its own section.

Because today’s selection on this from Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography is just a few pages long, for this post I typed out all of it — other than most Chinese characters, which can be seen in the PDF of the original: Tense-Marking Particles (le/?) (240 KB PDF).


9.2. Tense-Marking Particles

Tense-marking particles have already been discussed in some detail in Chapter 5, Verbs. It was noted there that the tense markers zhe (indicating an action in progress) and guo (indicating a past experience) are always written as a single unit with the verb they follow. The particle le ? (indicating a completed action) is sometimes, but not always, written as a single unit with its verb. This is because le, unlike zhe and guo, may be separated from its verb by other elements; and also because le itself can act as a mood particle as well as a tense particle. (For details on le as a mood particle, see Section 3 of chapter 9.)

This section is devoted to a discussion of orthography specifically as it relates to the tense particle le. Three rules are laid out to help the student master the written forms of this particle.

  1. When le occurs in the middle of a sentence or phrase, and immediately follows a verb or verb construction written as a single unit, le is written together with that verb or verb construction:
    • kànle y? ch?ng diàny?ng (saw a movie)
    • t?olùnle x?du? wèntí (discussed many issues)
    • ch?wánle pínggu? he xi?ngji?o (finished off the apples and bananas)
    • d?s?le s?n zh? tùzi (shot three rabbits)
  2. When le occurs in the middle of a sentence or phrase, and follows a verb phrase written as two or more units, then le is written separately:
    • z?u jìnlai le y? wèi ji?ngj?n (a general came in)
    • sh?ushi h?o le zìj? de xíngli (gathered up one’s luggage)
    • d?s?o g?njìng le zhè ji?n sh?fáng (cleaned up the study)
    • yánji? bìng ji?jué le huánjìng w?r?n de wèntí (researched and solved the problem of environmental pollution)
      • Note that le here applies to both verbs, so that the meaning is equivalent to yánji?le bìng ji?juéle.
  3. When le occurs at the end of a phrase or sentence (that is, immediately before any form of punctuation), it is written separately from other elements:
    • Xiàti?n lái le. (Summer is here.)
    • W?men fàngle jià le. (Our vacation has begun.)
    • K?lián de xi?oyáng, bèi láng g?i ch?diào le. (The poor little lamb was eaten up by the wolf.)
    • Ti?n kuài liàng le, w?men g?i dòngsh?n le. (It’s almost dawn; we should get moving.)
    • H?o le, h?o le, nímen zài bùyào zh?nglùn le. (All right, stop arguing, all of you.)
    • N? bù shì ch?guo fàn le ma? (Haven’t you eaten already?)
      • Note that le is here treated as if it occupied the sentence-final position, despite the presence of another particle (ma) following it.


OK, it’s me again. In closing I want to draw attention to that final note, because it’s important: If le is followed by ma, le is still treated as if it came at the end of the sentence and thus is written separately from its verb.