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Rules for using or not using 了 in longer texts when talking about the past?

Hi @YuQinCai, @Constance_Fang @Fiona and the ChinesePod team, my question is this:

In longer Chinese texts, I always wonder when it is appropriate to use “了” when referring to the past. When I read the newspaper or essays I see people use 了 in some sentences but not in others. It seems kind of arbitrary to me. Have a look at this paragraph for example:

险峻的岩石和狭窄的山口使这位军事天才意识到这是一座理想的堡垒却不易攻 。 于是 , 诸葛亮命令他的士兵在那里建一座城门 , 立一个关隘 。他还在大和小之间的山谷中开辟了一条 15 公里长的道路来运送军事物资 。

Why is 了 used in the last sentence but not in the one before? Are there any rules at all? How should I decide when to use it or not?

I’ve also learned that you should only use 了 after the last action in a series of actions, even if it consists of multiple clauses. This doesn’t seem to be true, like in this sentence from the same article as above:

人们今天看到的关隘上的城门塔是由同济大学设计的 , 在 2009 年进行了重建 , 保留了以往朝代的建筑特色 。

I hope you can give me some pointers as to when to use it, and how to decide how often to use it.

Another related question I have is: When do I place the 了 after the verb and when after the object? The lesson on this website says it should always be placed after the verb when marking completion, but as far as I can see that isn’t correct. The only “rule” I’ve heard is that placing it after the verb emphasizes the action(我去了商店。/我去商店买了东西。)while placing it after the object emphasizes the object (我去商店了。/我去商店买东西了。). However, this doesn’t seem to always be the reasoning behind its placement. Are there any rules? How do I decide where to place it?

And finally, I’ve heard that 了 can’t be used when talking about recurring actions or habits, for example when using words like “always”, “often” or “usually”. Is this always true or are there exceptions?

I really hope you can shed some light on this matter as I’ve struggled with it for years and neither my teachers nor friends were able to tell me more than “you have to get a feeling for it.”

Thank you!

Hi Julien,

To answer your question, let’s take a look at the basic definitions of the 了:

  1. change of sate
  2. completion of an action

Take the last sentence of the first paragraph for example. 他还在大和小之间的山谷中开辟了一条 15 公里长的道路来运送军事物资。In this sentence, you may find:

  1. The 了 here means “completion of an action”.
  2. When we use the “completion-了”, it always (1) implies a continuous status after the completion of the action or (2) be followed by another action. Here, the continuous status is “a 15 km road lying there”.

Now, let’s take a look at the sentence that you have problems with.

  • 诸葛亮命令★他的士兵在那里建★一座城门,立★一个关隘

The icon ★ here is where we might put 了. Let’s see why we don’t use 了 one by one:

  1. Like what I have said, the completion-了 is either followed by an action or implying a continuous status. And after 命令 (to order), there’re only actions. But the actor (soldiers) of the following actions are different from the one who gives orders (诸葛亮). So here, we can’t use 了.
  2. The 2nd and the 3rd star have the same problem. They are neither “change-of-state-了” nor “completion-了”. Because in this plot, they hadn’t started to build the gate, yet.

Next, the rule you mentioned (only use 了 after the last action). Be honest, I have never heard of it before and I don’t think it’s right because there’re lots of sentences breaking this rule.

So, when to use 了? Generally, when the situation fits the two definitions of the 了 that I mentioned above, we use 了. Of course, there’re still many exceptions, such as 太好了. But, don’t worry about it. You would know how to use “exception-了” naturally.

The second question, where to put 了, after the verb or the object? First of all, I would like to ask you to forget about “what to emphasis”. When it comes to “emphasis”, the emphasis target changes depending on the contexts. Let’s try to make it simple:

  1. 我去商店了:When it comes to “change-of-state-了”, it is always at the end of the sentence which means it would be in front of a comma or a period. Here, the scenario would be like: Mom asks “where is your dad?” You answer “他去商店了”.

  2. 我去了商店:Like what I have mentioned above, after “completion-了”, there might be either a continuous status or another action. So if you want to say this sentence, we still need another clause. For example, Mom asks you “Where have you been?” You answer, "我去了商店,买了点吃的东西。 "

  3. 我去了商店了:This one have both “completion-了” and “change-of-state-了”. And we only use this sentence when we tell people where were we. Like…Mom asks you “Where were you?” You answer, “我去了商店了”.

With these in mind, let’s take a look at your longer sentences.

  1. 我去商店买东西了:Same scenario. Mom asks “where is your dad?” You answer “他去商店买东西了”. You just make it more clear.

  2. 我去商店买了东西:Same problem. There should be another action after this clause, like 我去商店买了东西,你们要不要吃?

  3. (X) 我去商店买了东西了:Remember that we don’t put two 了 in this kind of sentence. Instead, we can say…我去了商店,买了些东西。

All in all, the rule is:

  1. The “change-of-state-了” is always in front of a comma or a period.
  2. The “completion-了” is always after the verb.
  3. If you really want to emphasize the situation (status), you can use both.

And…the last question. I haven’t heard of this rule (cannot use 了 with the recurring actions or habits), either. And here is the example:

  • 他常常像这样,吃了饭就睡,难怪会胖。
    [Tā chángcháng xiàng zhèyàng, chīle fàn jiù shuì, nánguài huì pàng.]
    He’s always like this. Sleep directly after finishing eating. No wonder he’s getting fat.

So just stick to the basic definitions of the 了. If you have any other questions or sentences that you’re confused with, feel free to leave them down.

Betty

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. With words describing a state or feeling like 有,喜欢,感觉,etc.

  2. 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? ?)

  3. 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?

Another example:

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:

我洗过手来到饭桌前,先给爸爸妈妈一人解了一个粽子,撒上白糖,然后给我自己解了一个漂亮的三角粽子,撒上白糖就津津有味地吃起来。

and

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!

Hi Julien,

【我吃面包了】
Actually, I would say it’s “change-of-state-了” because instead of saying 我吃面包,了 we say 我吃过面包了 more often. The scenario would be like this: Mom asks “do you want some pizza?” You reply, “我吃过面包了” And the state is changed from “haven’t eaten anything” into “have eaten bread”.

【成了家 vs. 成家了】
First of all, you’re right. 成家 is a verb indicating a kind of change of state, so yes, you can put the 了 at the end of the sentence. And it would be 还在中国结婚成家了. But why we can also put 了 after the verb? It’s because 成家 is a 离合词 (separable word) which literally means that these words can be separated. (*离: to separate 合: to combine 词: word). And one of the rules of separable words is: When we have to put separable words and things (like number, object, adjective, aspect marker, or complement) together, you have to separate the verbs. So we can either say 成家了 or 成了家. So as long as it’s a separable word, you can either put 了 right after the verb or put it after the objet.
*More details about separable words, check out the link: Interesting structure
*As for the other sentence you mentioned (pay for his daughter’s studies), I might need to know the sentence to answer your question.

【About the 2 rules in your book】
About these two rules, I have something to say. The 1st rule is what I have mentioned in my last post: we need to add more information after the “completion-了”. The 2nd one, I think is quite weird because we don’t say 我昨天吃了面包(completion-了) and 我昨天吃面包了(the-3rd-definition-了).

The former one is wrong because there’s no information after it. Again, we need to put more information after using completion-了, so the right sentence would be 我昨天吃了面包,今天吃了饼干 or 我昨天吃了面包,还吃了饼干.

The latter one, the correct sentence would be 我昨天吃过面包了. The possible scenario would be: a friend asks “Let’s go eat some bread.” and you reply “我昨天吃过面包了,今天不想再吃了。” The 3rd definition of 了 is “to emphasize the situation”. So in the scenario that I give, “Have eaten” is emphasized. (By the way, the 了 in 太好了 is also the 3rd 了.)

【When to use 了】
It is hard to answer. I would say, when it fits the 3 definitions, we use it. And…let’s talk about the 3 situations you mentioned…because I find something wrong.

  1. With words describing a state or feeling like 有,喜欢,感觉, we actually can use the change-of-state-了. And from the sentences below, you may find that the meanings change a bit.
    〖a-1〗我有了:I am pregnant.
    有 in sentence a. doesn’t mean “to have” but mean “be pregnant”. So, the state is changed from not pregnant to pregnant.
    〖a-2〗有了手机以后/有手机了以后,方便了许多:After I have a phone, everything becomes convenient.
    〖b〗我喜欢上他了:I have fallen in love with him.
    Yes, normally, we don’t say 喜欢了 (unless there’s a specific scenario) because there’s no change of state. But, 喜欢上 means “originally you have no special feeling about sth/sb but now you do”. So we do use the change-of-state-了 with 喜欢上.
    〖c〗我感觉到了:I can feel it. It’s just like 喜欢. We don’t say 感觉了 but we do say 感觉到了. 到 is a verb complement denoting completion or result of an action. So yes, there’s a change of state.

  2. We also can use 了 with words related to express oneself.
    〖d-1〗他说什么了?What did he say?
    〖d-2〗他说了什么? What did he say?
    〖e-1〗他告诉你妈了 He has already told your mom.
    〖e-2〗这部电影告诉了我们什么 What did the movie tell us?
    〖f-1〗导演表达什么了 What does the director want to say through the movie? (With different intonation, this sentence might also implies: The director says nothing through the movie.)
    〖f-2〗导演表达了什么 What does the director want to say through the movie?

From the sentences above, you may ask: So where should the 了 be? Like what I have mentioned repeatedly:

  • When it comes to changing of state or emphasis, put it after the object.
  • When it comes to the completion of an action, put it after the verb.

But…what makes the rules so complicated is that we can’t categorize all the words into two categories clearly. They are somehow overlapping. Take 告诉 (to tell) for example. If I say 告诉了, we can’t really tell whether it belongs to a kind of change of state ( change from “haven’t told” to “have told” ) or completion of an action. Because of the ambiguity, you might see both 告诉我们了 and 告诉了我们. And that’s why most of your teacher told you “to get a feeling for it.” Because in different situation, we prefer to put 了 in different places. But it’s not efficient to memorize all the situations. Therefore, I would suggest that you listen to/read/watch more Chinese stuffs, and use the common structure they use in the specific situation.

【Whether to drop 了 or not】

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 。

  1. First of all, I have to say we drop 了 a lot in formal article, such as news and report, to make it sound professional. So if you hear a reporter speaking on TV, you might hear:
    赣江干流 、 支流共超过 30 个水位站出现【了】有记录以来的最低水位 , 个别支流还出现【了】最小流量。
    Why there’s 了 again? Because the reporter is speaking. It’s not in an article.
  2. Why we can’t drop the second 了? Because there’s “还” in front of it. 还 means “also” and is used to emphasize “something has also happened (certain action has been done), too.” So, if 还 is used to emphasize, we always put 了 after the following verb.

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 。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 。

All the icons that I insert into the sentence represent the potential 了. Let’s take a look at them one by one.

  1. 【了】:
    Why can’t we drop the 了 here? It is because the word “先 (in advance)”. In this article, it says Mr. Nixon visited China in advance. So, obviously, the action “to visit” has happened. This is why we can’t drop the 了 here.

  2. ★:
    Let’s take a look at the following sentences first.
    在我宣布了之后
    在我宣布了/ (了) 这件事之后
    在我宣布 (了) 我要结婚之后
    In the 3rd sentence, we prefer to omit the 了 because the content of the announcement is quite long. If we don’t omit 了, the sentence might sound redundant.
    So, why we drop the 了 in the article here? First, the content happens at the reference time. Secondly, it’s a formal article. Last but not least, the content after 宣布 (to announce) is too long. But, it’s grammatically right to use 了 here. It’s just quite redundant.

  3. :heart:
    Why we don’t use 了 after 决定 (to decide) and 访问 (to interview)? These two words both have the same problem here. The whole translation of the sentence is “After he announces that he decide to interview…”. So when he did the announcement, “to decide” is in the progress and “to interview” hasn’t happened yet. And since none of them has been completed, we don’t use 了 after these two verbs.

  4. :cloud:
    We can put 了 here. But why we drop it? Because it’s a formal article.

我洗过手来到饭桌前,先给爸爸妈妈一人解【了】一个粽子,撒上★白糖,然后给我自己解【了】一个漂亮的三角粽子,撒上★白糖就津津有味地吃起来。

  1. 【了】:
    We can put 了 here, but we can also drop them because there’s a number after them.

  2. ★:
    We can put 了 here but we don’t because if we do that, there might be too many 了 in one sentence (before the period).

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 。

  1. ★:
    We can use 了 here, but we drop it because it’s a formal article. Besides, if we put 了 here, the sentence would be redundant.

  2. 【了】:
    We can drop the 了 here, too, but why we don’t? Because “to sign the announcement” is what the writer wants to emphasize.

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★ 。

  1. ★:
    We can use 了 here, but we drop it because it’s a formal article. Besides, if we put 了 here, the sentence would be redundant.

【Causative Verbs and 了】
诸葛亮命令他的士兵在那里建一座城门 , 立一个关隘 。
vs.
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 。在尼克松宣布~

After doing some research, yes, verbs like 让,使,命令 can’t be followed by 了. And…I have no idea why. Maybe it’s the rule. Besides, when we want to express that actions like these have happened, we would

  1. Put the emphasis-了 at the end of the sentence.
  2. Put words like 已经 and 早就 in front of it. (if you really want to emphasize that you “already” did it.)
    我 (已经) 叫他去睡觉了。
    我 (早就) 命令他去做了。

Now, let’s take a look at Mr. Nixon’s sentence. Actually, I don’t think it’s a grammatically correct sentence because there’s no lasting status and actions after it. But, you can see that there’s another sentence in which the subject is also Mr. Nixon, so the context is completed although they are not in one sentence.

【Habitual/Repeated Actions in the past and 了】
Yes, we don’t use 了 with habitual situations because there’s neither change of state nor completion of an action.

  • 我去年经常去看电影
  • 我去年每天吃早餐
1 Like

Hi Betty,

Thanks again for the extensive answer!

It really helped a lot, and I understand it much better now. Hopefully this will be the last batch of questions I have:

【我吃面包了】
我吃面包了 marks a change, but 我过吃面包了 does not mark a change but emphasizes and action completed in the past, marked by 过, correct? What is the difference between this sentence and 我吃了面包了。, which also emphasizes a complete action?

And how would you simply say “I ate bread.” as a complete sentence, without any special empasis? You said using 了 after 吃 isn’t okay because no other action follows after, so is there any way? Or do I have to use two 了 or 过+了? Would it just be 我吃过面包。(I assume you can use it after the verb without having to add more information like with 了)? Would 过 have the same meaning as 了 here?

【成了家 vs. 成家了】
Since you mentioned that 了should only be used when a completed action leads to some form of permanent state, what exactly is the difference between a change of state and the completion of an action?
Take these sentences for example:
我找到新工作了。我找到了新工作。
他们建新一条路了。他们建了新一条路。
What is the difference? When I put the 了 after the verb and the verb refers to some lasting change, isn’t that effectively the same as a change of state? I assume this is what you meant in the net paragraph when you wrote: "What makes the rules so complicated is that we can’t categorize all the words into two categories clearly. They are somehow overlapping. "
Is 成了家 and 成家了 one of the cases where it doesn’t matter where you place 了 because of this ambiguity?

【When to use 了】
Sorry, I forgot to make clear that I’m talking about the completed action 了 and not the change-of-state 了. I am aware it can be used with any word to describe a change of state.

【Whether to drop 了 or not】
Here you wrote that a 了 can be put in this clause:" 个别支流还出现【了】最小流量。" But why? It’s at the end of a sentence and no other information follows, so according to your rules 了 could only be used here if 出现 was an action or event which creates a permanent state. However, to me it doesn’t seem like this is the case. Does this mean that words like 还 create an exception and 了 can be used when it normally couldn’t? Or would 了 be usable here even without it?

Since 还 makes 了 mandatory, does it absolutely have to follow the verb in this case and 还在中国成家了 or 先秘密访问中国 了would be incorrect?

You also wrote that a 了 can be put in this clause: “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 。” If my assumption is true that 还 and 先 allow for 了 to be used after the last verb in a sentence even if no other action follows, then this still confuses me because there is no such word here. 进行 doesn’t seem to create a permanent state. What is the explanation here? You also mentioned that the part of the text about Nixon reading “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 。” is grammatically wrong. What’s the difference between the two? Why can 了 be used after 进行 but not here?
Another example is “972 年 2 月访问★北京之后 ,…” where you say that a 了 could be placed. But again, 访问 doesn’t create any permanent state.

Among the following sentences
在我宣布了之后
在我宣布了/ (了) 这件事之后
在我宣布 (了) 我要结婚之后
you suggest only dropping 了 in the third one, am I understanding correctly? I don’t quite understand what the length has to do with redundance. All three sentences have 之后 and 了, so shouldn’t they all be equally redundant (the other two even more so in my opinion since the 了 is closer to the 之后)? Or is this not what you meant by “redundant”?
Secondly, do you mean by “reference time” the time most of the paragraph is talking about?


After reading all of this, I get the following impression.:

  1. The only case where 了 is absolutely mandatory is after certain words, like 先 and 还.
  2. In any other case 了 can be dropped, and if I want a text to sound good I should only use it to emphasize the verb.
  3. When speaking, I can use it more often, but should try not to have too many 了 in the same sentence.

Please let me know if these statements are true.

Thank you!

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Hi Julien,

【我吃面包了】
Uhmmm…After a discussion with my colleague, we come up with a conclusion: The 了 here is actually the emphasis-了 because there’s neither change of state nor completion of an action in this sentence. First of all, it’s weird to say that from “not eat” to “to eat” is a state of change. It should be a completion of the action, to eat. But if it’s a completion-了, we should put the 了 right after the verb (吃了面包). And just like what I have said, we don’t say 我吃面包了 but 我吃过面包了. And the 过 here is an experience-marker. The 过…了 structure here implies the emphasis of the experience. Let’s see the scenario that I mentioned above again: Mom asks “Do you want some pizza?” You reply, “我吃过面包了” The reply implies that you have eaten the bread so you don’t want to eat pizza. To make it clear, let’s see the comparison:

  • 你去过日本吗?Have you been to Japan?
    去过。Yes, I have.

  • 我们这次旅行去日本好不好?Let’s go to Japan for travel this time. What do you say?
    我去过了。I have been there before. (I don’t want to go there again.)

From the sentences above, you can find that 了 here is used to emphasize that something has happened before and might have some connotations.

So let’s compare 我吃了面包了 and 我吃过面包了. If you understand the sentences from each word’s definition (in English, they both can be translated into “I have eaten bread”), you might find that there’s no difference. But we use the latter one more often. And…sorry to make it much more complicated. I want to give you one more sentence. If I want to emphasize that how much bread you have eaten, instead of 我吃过三个面包了, we say 我吃了三个面包了 more often. So if there’s number after the verb, we use 了 more often. But if the sentence is talking about the experience, then we would change it to 过. Let’s summarize it:
我吃过面包了 > 我吃了面包了
我吃过三个面包了 < 我吃了三个面包了

(I’ll keep answering other questions tomorrow.)

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Thank you!

About 吃了面包。:
In one of the best grammar books I have (“Mandarin Chinese - A Functional Reference in Grammar”), it says that there are four cases where a verb can be followed by 了 to mark a perfective aspect:

  1. By being a quantified event.
  2. By being a definite or specific event.
  3. By being inherently bound by the meaning of the verb.
  4. By being the first event in a sequence.

According to the book, it is ok to use 了 after the verb in this case - even if nothing else follows - if the object is clearly specified. 面包 isn’t specific. For 做什么了 you can choose according to the context. If it’s a general question, without 了 is preferred because it doesn’t explicitely ask about specific actions but is a general question. If 了 is added, that implies the person is asking about something the dialog partner mentioned before. The way he explains this is that 了, unless the verb absolutely requires 了 or another information follows, is always used puts emphasis on the specific noun or quantity after it. If there is nothing to specify it doesn’t make sense to use 了.
Basically the same rule I’ve read many times before, but explained better.

However, the author does say that 吃了面包了 is perfectly fine, like my other books. I assume that the reason why you find it strange is because it has become common to say 我吃过面包了. It doesn’t seem to be grammatically wrong.

The author also repeats what I’ve read elsewhere: If an adverbial expression is used, 了 can be placed after the verb and then emphasizes not what comes after, but the adverbial expression, like in 她昨天理了发。

If you’re interested, here are all the pages about 了 in this grammar book:

It’s really interesting because it also has statistics about how many speakers would choose 了 over no 了, where they would place it, and why.

Please don’t spend your time on answering the rest of my questions yet! I’ll first work through the rest of the book passage and see if this answers my questions. I’ll let you know if there is something I still don’t understand!

Thank you again for your efforts!

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Hi Julien,

I only have one thing to say: What a difficult but interesting language/grammar it is!

And feel free to leave your question here after working through the book. :slight_smile: I enjoy in this kind of discussion somehow.

Betty

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