II. Perfective aspect particle le了 (or verb-suffix le了)
The perfective aspect particle le了 marks the perfective state of an action. It indicates that the action is completed. The aspect particle le了 is placed immediately after the verb. It is also called the verb-suffix –le了 or verb-le了. By ‘perfective state’ we mean that “the action as represented by the verb has attained its completion by a certain reference point in time. The Chinese verb-le serves to mark this perfective aspect. It is an aspect marker and not a past tense indicator. The verb-le can appear with a future action, a present action, or a past action, as long as the context calls for its use.” (H. S. Cheung: 1994, p. 207).
1. Wǒ mǎi-le sān běn shū.
I bought three books.
Note: The aspect particle le了 after the verb ‘mǎi’买 (to buy) signifies that the action of buying is completed.
2. Míngtiān wǒ chī-le wǎnfàn jiù qù xuéxiào.
Tomorrow I will go to school after I eat dinner.
Note: This sentence is about a sequence of actions that will take place in the future. The aspect particle le了here signifies the future perfective aspect of the action chī吃 (to eat). Chī-le wǎnfàn吃了晚饭 here means ‘after eating dinner’. It is the first action in the sequence. It is followed by the second one, qù xuéxiào去学校 , which means ‘to go to school’.
However, there are strict restrictions on the use of the perfective aspect particle le了. First, the verb must be an action verb capable of definite termination. Dispositional verbs may not take a verb- le了. Second, it is used for bounded events. “An event is viewed in its entirety if it is bounded temporally, spatially, or conceptually.” (Charles N. Li and Sandra A. Thompson: 1981, p. 185). According to Li and Thompson, there are essentially four ways in which an event can be bounded: