Basic Spoken Chinese – Lesson 4: 了 le, a common particle

Listen and download Lesson 4 of Basic Spoken Chinese

Basic Spoken Chinese – Lesson 4: 了 le, a common particle

Literally: No equivalent in English.

Usage: Used after a verb to indicate that the action has been completed, or that there has been a change of state.


1) 我肚子饿了。

Wǒ dùzi è le.

I’m hungry.

2) 我先走了。

Wǒ xiān zǒu le.

I go first. (I gotta go.)

3) 你吓死我了!

Nǐ xià sǐ wǒ le!

You scared me to death!

New words:

了 le (part.):

1. (used to indicate the verb has been completed) e.g. 我到了 wǒ dào le (“I’ve arrived”), 我吃了一个苹果 wǒ chī le yī ge píngguǒ (“I ate an apple; I have eaten an apple”), 他在北京住了两年 tā zài Běijīng zhù le liǎng nián (“he lived in Beijing for two years”)

2. (used to indicate there has been a change of state) e.g. 天黑了 tiān hēi le (“it’s getting dark [the sky]”), 下雨了 xià yǔ le (“it’s raining”), 他胖了 tā pang le (“he has put on weight”), etc.

饿 è (adj.): hungry e.g. 我不饿,我已经吃饭了 wǒ bù è, wǒ yǐjīng chīfàn le (“I’m not hungry, I’ve already eaten”), 我饿死了 wǒ è sǐ le (“I’m starving”), etc.

肚子 dùzi (n.): belly; stomach e.g. 他的肚子很大 tā de dùzi hěn dà (“he has a big belly”)

先 xiān (adv.): first (to do sth) 我要先去洗手间 wǒ yào xiān qù xǐshǒujiān (“I want to go the bathroom first”), 我先说两句话 wǒ xiān shuō liǎng jù huà (“let me say a few words first”), etc.

吓 xià (v.): to scare (sb); to frighten 别吓我 bié xià wǒ (“don’t scare me”)

死 sǐ (v.): 1. to die 他已经死了 tā yǐjīng sǐ le (“he has already died”) 2. (colloquial) very; bloody (v. + 死 + 了) e.g. 我累死了 wǒ lèi sǐ le (“I’m dead tired”), etc.

Did you know?

了 le is sometimes misunderstood as indicating past tense in Chinese. In fact, Chinese does not have any grammatical markers of tense. Instead, context is used to suggest whether an action has occurred in the past, present or future. Words like 曾经 céngjīng (“in the past; formerly”), 现在 xiànzài (“now”) and 会 huì (“will”) can be used to make it clearer. We will learn more about these in future lessons.

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