Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fuckin', 了 (le) can be a source of confusion for those learning Chinese. Depending on the context, it can mean either the completion of an action or the beginning of one. Take the sentence
妈妈来了。
which can mean either "Mom came" or "Mom's coming." In the first case, you'd know Mom had come because there'd be a knock on the door. In the latter, you'd finally convince her, over the phone, to come see you, and then hang up and announce to the room, well, that Mom was on her way. The first use of 了 can be thought of as a marker of completion. The second can be thought of as a marker of a change in condition. Do that mental dance in real time—I dare you.

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