了 (completed / progressive action)

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adawg

New Member
English - American
Is it common throughout China to use the suffix "了" after a verb to indicate an action in progress?

I live in South China and am used to hearing people speak this way. They say "我吃饭了" to mean "I am eating". Or, they say "我来了" to mean "I'm coming". My brain accepts this with difficulty, especially as the textbooks teach that "了" indicates a completed action, analogous to our simple past tense.

If I say "我吃饭了" I want to be understood as "I ate", but I wonder if I will be. If I say I am presently doing something, I prefer to say "我正在。。。吃饭", but I worry that it is overly formal or awkward-sounding usage.

I have found that there is also a suffix "着" which indicates "in progress" (something like English "-ing") but it seems unused in spoken Chinese and even just rarely used in written Chinese. I wonder why that is.
 
  • maosichunjie

    New Member
    Chinese
    I am Chinese, but it is really difficult to explain. I think it speaking Chinese.Maybe something has been omitted in the sentences.
    我吃饭了 means 我去吃饭了 = I go to eat. "了" means you have changed the condition to another one. i.e. you have been working.now lunch time. you can say it.
    A:吃了没?B:吃了/吃过了。seldom reply 吃饭了. "了" means you have done it.
    我来了 can mean 我就来 = I have not come to you yet, but I am coming. I think ,here "了" can also mean someone has changed the condition to another one. i.e. You have been doing something, your teacher calls you, so you can say it.

    i.e."着"
    书看着看着竟然忘了还在烧着水。<-- I don't know how to say it in English.
     

    BODYholic

    Senior Member
    Chinese Cantonese
    I live in South China and am used to hearing people speak this way. They say "我吃饭了" to mean "I am eating". Or, they say "我来了" to mean "I'm coming". My brain accepts this with difficulty, especially as the textbooks teach that "了" indicates a completed action, analogous to our simple past tense.
    I am so sorry to hear that learning Chinese is such an uphill task. Unfortunately, Chinese and many other languages have different trains of thought when constructing sentences. And when it comes to colloquial Chinese language, we tend to rely more on logic, rather than syntax or grammar. This is the part that gets really tricky for new learners.

    I understand your concerns on the "了" in "我吃饭了". You think it should terminate the action but it didn't. The source of the problem is attributed by the incompleteness of the sentence. It should rightfully be something to the tune of "我(开始)吃饭了" or "我(去)吃饭了". The former states that the speaker began to eat, and the latter implies that the speaker is heading somewhere for meal. In both cases, it is obvious that the process of eating has yet to be completed. But you may ask why crucial words are dropped? It's simple and that's because the transient actions of "开始" (to begin) and "去" (to go) can be easily seen/perceived by the receiver.

    It would be a totally different story, if someone calls you on the phone and says "我吃饭了". In this case where the context is ambiguous, the meaning of the sentence could be anybody's guess.

    If I say "我吃饭了" I want to be understood as "I ate", but I wonder if I will be. If I say I am presently doing something, I prefer to say "我正在。。。吃饭", but I worry that it is overly formal or awkward-sounding usage.
    When you are seated at the dinner, the moment you picked up your pair of chopsticks and said "我吃饭了" -> I'm tucking into.
    When you are fed, you say "我吃饱了" -> I'm full.

    I'm sure you are aware that it is impossible to conjugate Chinese verbs, hence we rely heavily on different words to alter the state of verbs. E.g 吃饱, 吃完, 吃好, 吃够, 吃足, 没吃够, 没吃完, 没吃饱 & etc.
     
    Last edited:

    SuperXW

    Senior Member
    Basically, it indicates: 1. Finish of a statement. 2. Completed action.
    So whenever you feel the thing is "in progress" or even "haven't occured yet", 了 is just a symbol for the end of the sentence. It can be changed to 啦 in these cases.
    So 我吃饭了 = 我(要)吃饭。
    Of course, it can also mean "I've already eaten" for No.2 usage.

    The real meaning depends on the context.
    No.1: 别说了,我吃饭了。Stop talking, I'm going to eat.
    No.2: 我不饿,我吃饭了。I'm not hungry. I've eaten.

    We've just discussed this problem in another thread:
    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2469317
     
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