I have noticed that there are two different pronunciations of 了: - Usually it's pronounced "le". - in some situations it's pronounced "liǎo"

for example:


As much as I realized, according to Google Translate, the second "了" is pronounced "liao"

When is "了" pronounced "le" and when is it pronounced "liao" ?

  • to make this sentence a little more complicated, you can say 我用了很多年才了解了什么是武术 ----here three 了 in one sentence.:)
    – sylvia
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


Generally speaking:

  • if 了 is within a single content word, it should be produnced as "liao".
  • if 了 acts as an independent auxiliary word indicating a change of state or introducing a new situation (Verbs have no past tense in Chinese, therefore some auxiliary words would be used to indicate it), it should be produnced as "le".

In Chinese sentences, there are no blanks to separate the words. Therefore you must separate them in your mind.

In this sentence, we can separate words like this (just do separation, it is not a correct translation):

我 用 了  很多   年  才  了解      什么  是  武术。
I  used many years to understand  what is  KongFu.

Yeah, 了解 is a single content word (verb) meaning "understand" (we can't separate it into 了 and 解)

  • Thanks, that helped a lot. I thought it was separated like this "很多 年 才了" meaning "too many years that have passed". Thanks for the clarification.
    – Ashkan
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 9:16
  • Neat answer. I just edited the part saying that 了 is indicating past tense. Although this is the inference in most of the cases, 了 is actually indicating a change of state or introducing a new situation. Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 23:17
  • Why did you translate 武术 as kung fu rather than just martial arts? Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 17:43


(1) [aspect marker] indicating completed action

(2) [final particle] indicating change of situation


算了 /suan4 le5/

對了 /dui4 le5/



(1) [v] finish; end; conclude; settle

(2) [verb particle] indicating possibility


不得了 /bu4 de2 liao3/

了解 /liao3 jie3/

  • Trouble is when the former of those two is pronounced as the latter, which does occur occasionally. Mostly occurs in songs and poetry, but can sometimes be heard in speech as well, often in an attempt to sound poetic, quaint or erudite (perhaps also for old-fashioned effect, considering that le is just a reduced pronunciation of liǎo?). Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 17:56

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