Thanks Betty, this is a great explanation!
I’ve also looked at my old grammar books again as well as the Grammar Wiki page, and things are a lot clearer now.
I think the most important question for me is how flexible this all is. I know Chinese rarely has rules as strict as English or most European languages.
Therefore it would be great if you would let me know, for each of the example sentences from articles or books below, if more 了 could be added or some removed, or their position changed, without making the sentences sound bad.
I now under understand where to place 了 in most cases and why, except for one:
You said that if 了 is placed at the end of a statement with a simple object it describes a state of change. In my grammar books however it says that when it describes a completed action and the object is a simple, undefined noun, 了 has to always come at the end. Whether it marks completion or change is then only visible from the context.
For example 我吃面包了。
A specific example which confuses me would be ＂ a few things the character did in China，还在中国结婚成了家。＂(statement about completion at the end of a sentence but 了 isn’t at the end) , and in the same book it later says" 他在中国结婚成家了，and then something about paying for his daughter’s studies＂(statement before a comma talking about a completed action but 了 doesn’t come after the verb, plus there is another action in the next clause).
According to your explanation this would be wrong.
My books say that 了 can only be placed after the verb if:
- Other things follow, like 我买了面包，水果和米饭。It doesn’t need to be a new action, just anyzhing more than just one noun.
- The time is specified,. It can then either be put behind the verb (我昨天吃了面包。）even if nothing else follows, but I can also put it at the end of the sentence (我昨天吃面包了。) I’ve seen both many times in books so they must both be correct.
But none of this is true regarding the example above with 成家。Can you explain what the reasons and differences are (if any) and give me a few clues how to decide where to put 了？
The specific case above aside, my main problem isn’t where to place the 了, it’s deciding WHEN I should use it.
I know it should never be used:
With words describing a state or feeling like 有，喜欢，感觉，etc.
With certain words like 说 and 告诉 (these are just exceptions I have to know, correct? Or is there logic behind 表达 allowing for a 了 behind it while these to words don’t? ?)
When a verb is part of an expression describing a time, e.g. 我刚来中国的时候.
I also know it’s optional to use it when it is clear that the action is completed, for example after 以前 or 昨天 but I have no idea how people decide whether or not to drop it.
My problem is therefore cases which generally allow for it to be used, like in these sentences:
赣江干流 、 支流共超过 30 个水位站出现有记录以来的最低水位 ， 个别支流还出现了最小流量 。
Why is 了 used only after the second 出现？Isn’t the idea behind 出现 the same both times?
就这样一来二去之后 ， 在 1971 年 5 月 ， 身为美国国务卿的亨利 · 基辛格代表尼克松先秘密访问了中国 。
Right after, it is used without 了:
在尼克松宣布他决定访问北京之后 ， 基辛格于 1971 年 10 月公开访问中国 ， 为即将到来的尼克松与中国领导人之间的会面进行规划与安排 。
Here are two other cases where different words are used but my problem is the same:
1972 年 2 月访问北京之后 ， 两个国家在尼克松行程的最后于上海签订了联合声明 《 上海公报 》， 从此开启外交新篇章 。
In the first example one sentence has 了 while the next one doesn’t, then the next one has 了 again while the final clause doesn’t. In the second example 签订 is followed by 了 while 开启 is not. What is the reasoning behind this?
Another unrelated problematic paragraphis the one below. I have is why the 烧毁 below isn’t followed by 了.
据澎湃新闻报道 ， 日本当地时间 10 月 31 日凌晨 ， 冲绳县的世界文化遗产首里城城堡发生大火 ， 正殿 、 南殿 、 北殿等六栋建筑 ， 共计 4200 平方米全部被烧毁 。
The castle burnt, so now it is burnt, which is a lasting state. Why can 了 be dropped?
I’m also confused as to why 命令, according to your explanation above, can’t be followed by 了 because it is an action without a lasting result and not followed by another action while 访问 here is also just an action and is not followed by any other action. Isn’t the explanation rather that all verbs like 让，使，命令 can’t be followed by 了 when describing completed actions because they’re not really actions?
Regarding the habitual or repeated actions, what I meant was sentences where you talk about the past, like “I often went to the cinema last year. 我去年经常去看电影” or “I ate breakfast everyday last year. 我去年每天吃早餐。” Could (and would) you use 了 here?
Thanks in advance for your efforts!