I am confused about the 了 in the sentence:
Zhèɡe biǎo kuàile wǔ fēnzhōnɡ.
This watch is running five minutes faster.
Clearly there is no change of state. Is it for completion? I don't understand what is completed...
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Grammatically, the completion is not only for verbs but also for adjectives. In your example 快了, 快 is an adj. Another example might be easier to understand. 苹果红了, apples turned red. 苹果熟了 is a similar example.
Here is the dictionary definition about this usage of 了.
了 / le /
Apples got red.
And the official 新华字典 has the similar definition:
- 放在动词或形容词后，表示动作变化已经完成: 买~一本书 | 水位低~一米。
It is a well-known fact in Chinese linguistics that adjectives denoting gradable attributes must be “initiated” with a certain value of degree when used in predicative constructions. In this case, we have a certain form of comparison, kind of “quite/rather X”. For example:
Usually, the adverb很 is used to indicate a default positive value of degree.
When the verbal suffix了 is used in a predicative construction with this kind adjectives, we also have a certain form of comparison, kind of “getting more X”. For example:
In this case, the verbal suffix了also indicates a positive value of degree, which comes with an aspectual dimension (i.e. “getting” more X).
From my expert friend:
Adjectives behave very much like verbs in Chinese grammar. Like verbs, many adjectives can take aspect markers (瘦咗, 靚過), resultative particles (開心翻, 污糟晒), objects (好熟佢, 緊張啲仔女, 嬲爆佢啲同學). That’s why some grammarians call those adjectives as adjectival verbs. But they are still adjectives, and do not imply any omission of verbs before them. We think of a possible omission only because of the English grammar in the English translation (e.g. become, turn).
快了 in 这个表快了五分钟 is apparently an "adjectival verb" (adjectival + aspect marker). It is an adjective, but acts like a verb
After some consideration, I decided treating [adjective +了 ] the same as [(implied verb) + adjective + 了] . is one way to see it, but 了 does work with adjective, not as a verb particle but as an adverb 快= fast; 快了 = got faster.
"这个表[快了]五分钟" = "This watch [got faster] by five minutes "
Above is the answer with the assumption of 了 is an adverb for the adjective
Below is the answer with the assumption of 了 is a verb particle for an implied verb
Is it for completion.
手錶快了 can mean '手錶走快了' or '手錶被調快(調早)了'
If the watch is running faster than the normal speed:
(走快)五分钟 = (run) five minutes (faster) -- No indication of the verb (走快) is a completed action. e.g. 一小時後手錶會走快五分钟 (走快 is not a completed action here)
(走快了)五分钟 = (have ran) five minutes (faster) -- 了 indicates the verb (走快) is a completed action
If the watch is running at normal speed, but is five minutes ahead of the real time, it must had been set wrong:
(被調快)五分钟 = (be set) five minutes (ahead) -- No indication of the verb (調快) is a completed action. e.g. 明天把手錶調快五分钟 (調快 is not completed action here)
(被調快了) 五分钟 = (had been set) five minutes (ahead) -- 了 indicates the verb (調快) is a completed action.
I think I managed to understand this use of 了 in Charles N. Li, Sandra A. Thompson. Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar. There, they argue the perfective 了 signals an event with a perfective action, which is regarded as completely "bounded" (i.e. with an end point) either temporally, spatially or conceptually by the speaker. On the other hand, actions that are "unbounded" are referred as imperfective or durative. In English, for example in the sentence:
He was reading when his father came in.
was reading is an imperfective action (unbounded and extending in time) and came in is a perfective action (bounded and ending in time).
An event can be bounded if:
Its temporal or spatial limits are specified. For example:
He is twenty years older than me.
二十岁 (twenty years) bounds the event.
If it signals a specific event and its direct object is definite. For example:
He spread a little butter on the bread.
一点牛油 (a little butter) bounds the event. We note the use of 了 depends on the feeling of "boundedness" of the speaker within a context. The speaker might use 了 if he/she wants to emphasize the information in the definite direct object (considering it defines completely the event).
If boundedness is inherent in the meaning of the verb sentence. For example:
He died last year.
死 (to die) is a bounded action with an end point.
If it is followed by another event. For example:
After I finish eating, then you eat.
我吃完 (I finish to eat) is bounded by the subsequent event 你吃 (you eat).
A bounded action might or might not be a completed action. However, many perfective events refer to past events. Ordinarily, unless context makes clear a different time, a perfective 了 is understood to refer to past time. For more information, check the corresponding chapter of the book.
Note: The perfective or aspectual 了 should not be confused with the sentence-final or modal 了, which occurs at the end of a sentence and marks a change of state.
This watch is running five minutes faster.
the action to be running faster is bounded temporally by five minutes, and marked as such by the speaker with the particle 了. In this case, the action does not seem to be completed (the watch might still not be readjusted).