This grammar page tries to explain when to use 了 after a verb and when to use 了 after an object.

It claims when the time is specified, it's acceptable to use 了 after a verb and before the object as in 她上个月去了北京.

However, it provides another example where the time is specified yet 了 comes after the object (上个月我去台湾了).

  1. When the time is specified, where does 了 go? After the verb or after the object?

  2. How does the different 了 placement change the meaning/correctness of these two examples: (a) 上个月我去台湾了 and (b) 她上个月去了北京.

  • "她上个月去了北京" is a normal sentence and "上个月我去台湾了" emphasizes "上个月".
    – lxg
    Oct 16 '18 at 10:03
  • @lxg so could 她上个月去了北京 stand on its own? another user suggests it feels like an incomplete sentence. thanks!
    – Crashalot
    Oct 24 '18 at 18:19

了 indicates 'completion of an action'

In "上个月我去了台湾" the action of "去" is completed, meaning you had gone there but it doesn't say you are still there or have already came back

In "上个月我去台湾了", '了' is a final particle for the emphasis (stress in tone) of the whole sentence

You can see the different by compare the two structure with other context:

  • "下个月我去了台湾" is nonsensical, you can't already gone there when you say 'next month'

  • '了' in "下个月我去台湾了" is a final particle for emphasis, and this sentence does make sense

  • Maybe, 下个月我就要去台湾了 makes more sense. The structure is 就要...了. Eg. 就要吃饭了。我就要上学了。
    – dan
    Oct 14 '18 at 23:14

Some linguist argue that 了 DO NOT indicates 'completion of an action'. Instead RVC ("Resultive verb complements") indicate 'completion of an action', but we are talking about 了...

了 renders either part or whole situation factual, that is real. Please, notice that factual situation does correlate (most of the time) with being in the past, but it could very well be in present or in future (see conditional factuality in ex.1)

  1. If you do X, then It's all done. Part (If you do X) of the situation is real but the whole situation is "fake", that is it's a conditional statment. If condition X is factual, then Y will be done, but Y is not done yet (not factual yet).
  2. I doing this thing now. Whole situation is factual.

There is not much difference in your example though:

(a) 上个月我去台湾了. Last month I have already gone to Taiwan. So my visiting Taiwan is a fact. Without (上个月) this sentence won't be translated with the past tense.

(b) 她上个月去了北京. Last month she had gone to Beijing, .... (looks like sentence hangs in the air, it's not complete, because you had said that A became fact before B, but you didn't provide B)

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