III. Modal particle le了 (or sentence-end le了)
Modal particles help verbs express different moods. In the case of the modal particle le了, while representing the completion of the action indicated by the verb, it is used with a different intention than the aspect particle. The modal particle le了 is used “to affirm the message and make the listener aware of its importance or relevance to the immediate situation.” (Yi Po-Ching and Don Rimmington: 2004, p. 318). As such, the modal particle le了 is used to explain a present situation. The object the verb takes is usually a generalized one and no specific information about it is given or sought after. The modal particle le了 is placed at the end of the sentence. It may be difficult to distinguish it from the sentence-end le了 indicating the emergence of a new situation. However, it is important to note that they both ‘acknowledge some change in the picture of things.’ (P.C. T’ung and D. E. Pollard: 1982, p. 142).
A. Le 了is used to affirm the completion of the action and to make a point about a present situation.
1.1 Kèrén dōu dào le. Wǒmén kāishǐ ba.
The guests have all arrived. Let’s begin.
The guests’ arrival is important or relevant to what is going to happen next.
1.2 Tāmén dōu zǒu le. Kěyǐ guān mén le.
They have all left. You can shut the door.
The said people’s departure makes it possible to shut the door.
1.3 Wǒ ZUÒ zuòyè le. Bú xìn nǐ kàn.
I DID my homework. (or: I’ve DONE my homework.) If you don’t believe me, you can check it.
The completion of the homework makes the speaker free from some kind of obligation. It may be followed, for example, by a request to let him go out and play with other kids. This tells us that when a speaker uses the modal particle le了, he has a point to make.
1.4 Wǒ yǐjīng gàosù tā le.
I’ve already told him.
By affirming the completion of the action, the speaker intends to say that the other person referred to as ‘he’ already knows about the matter.
1.5 Wǒ yǐjīng chī le.
I’ve already eaten. (Don’t cook for me any more.)
By affirming the fact that he has eaten, the speaker emphasizes the point that he is not hungry.
When using the modal particle le了to affirm completion of the action, the speaker always has a point to make about the immediate situation. The modal particle le了relates the completion of an action to its impact on the present situation.