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In my chinese book I saw the following sentence.

6年初二晚上他们一家人去看了烟花 。

That has sense with the following grammar point for verbs in series with 去

9.5   Two verbs: One indicating purpose When a simple sentence has two verbs and the second verb indicates the purpose of the first verb, such as 来 (lái), 去 (qù) and 用 (yòng), the perfective aspect particle 了 follows the second verb if it is a past event. 下午我去超级市场买了一些水果和面包。 Xiàwǔ wǒ qù chāojíshìchǎng mǎi le yìxiē shuǐguō hé miànbāo. I went to the supermarket to buy some fruit and bread in the afternoon. (Incorrect: 下午我去了超级市场买一些水果和面包。 ) 我用手机给我妈妈发了一个短信 , 告诉她我不能回家吃饭。

But later in book i saw this one.

吃完晚饭后,我们去了维多利亚海港看烟花。

Why is 了 after 去 and not after 看? Is it because is a subordinate sentence?

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It's an exception.

With verbs in series, when the object of the first verb is a proper noun, the aspectual 了 is placed after the first verb.

So the construction becomes: "Subj. + V1 + ASP 了 + proper noun + V2"

In your example, you indeed have a proper noun after the first verb:

吃完晚饭后,我们去了维多利亚海港 (Victoria Harbor) 看烟花

Another example:

我去了北京找我的朋友 —— (北京 proper noun: V1 + ASP 了 + V2)

我去图书馆借了一本书 —— (图书馆 common noun: V1 + Obj. + V2 + ASP 了)

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  • 1
    We could say 我去北京找了我的朋友 and 我去了图书馆借书. :) That rule doesn't seem to work very well. haha – dan Jul 31 at 12:44
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    @dan 是的,中文语法规则经常只是提供一个框架,中文为母语的朋友很容易能找到反例~ 咱们能够给学者带来一定的指导就可以了 – blackgreen Jul 31 at 13:02
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One of the functions of 了 is acting as a verb particle to indicate the verb is completed

  1. 年初二晚上他们一家人[去看]烟花 - [go to watch]

  2. 年初二晚上他们一家人[去看了]烟花 - [went and watched]

What is the difference between the two sentences above? The first one doesn't firmly state the action is completed. It indicates the family 'attempt' to go watch the firework but doesn't confirm they were successful or not, maybe the firework event was canceled or maybe they got lost and didn't get there on time

But the second one does indicate the verb is completed with 了 after the verb 去看. They did get there and did watch the firework

  1. 年初二晚上他们一家人[去了看]烟花 - [went to watch]

With the verb particle, '了' after 去 indicates the action 去 is completed, but we don't know if they completed watching.

Similarly:

  1. 下午我去超级市场买一些水果和面包 (neither 去 nor 买 is confirmed to be completed)

  2. 下午我去超级市场[买了]一些水果和面包 (the verb 买 is completed, therefore the verb 去 is also completed because you must first get there before you can buy

  3. 下午我[去了]超级市场买一些水果和面包. (the verb '去' is confirmed to be completed, but 买 isn't. You could successfully get to the supermarket, but failed to buy anything, maybe you forgot to bring your wallet or maybe the supermarket is closed

吃完晚饭后,我们去了维多利亚海港看烟花。

Why is 了 after 去 and not after 看? Is it because is a subordinate sentence?

The reason 去 is confirmed to be completed with 了 after it, but 看 isn't. is explained in the examples above.

blackgreen wrote:

With verbs in series, when the object of the first verb is a proper noun, the aspectual 了 is placed after the first verb.

维多利亚海港 is a proper noun. The main action is 去维多利亚海港 and it is important to stress it is completed.

It is not important to specifically indicate the subsequent action 看烟花 is completed -- because it is strongly implied. (no additional statement after the sentence to indicate it wasn't also completed)

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Both sentences are absolutely correct. However, they slightly differ in what the speaker wants to emphasize:

With 我们去了维多利亚海港看烟花, the speaker is emphasizing on 去维多利亚海港. They went to 维多利亚海港 rather than any other places.

With 我们去维多利亚海港看了烟花, the speaker is emphasizing on 看烟花. They watched fireworks rather than doing anything else.

This difference is actually negligible. Feel free to use any of the two versions.

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I can see your difficulty. The reason why 下午我去了超级市场买一些水果和面包。is incorrect is that 买一些水果和面包 is a specific action, not a purpose. You can simply remove 一些 to correct the sentence: 下午我去了超级市场买水果和面包. It's also correct to say 下午我去超级市场买了一些水果和面包。

By the same token, 吃完晚饭后,我们去了维多利亚海港看一场烟花 doesn't sound quite right. 看烟花 can be a purpose, while 看一场烟花 is not because it specifies 烟花, not the idea of seeing 烟花. 吃完晚饭后,我们去了维多利亚海港看烟花 is correct. And so is 吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚海港看了(一场)烟花

I hope I have made this clear.

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In the examples mentioned above, 了 functions as an aspect marker. The aspect marker 了 indicates that:

  • an occurrence Pi of a process P (an action or an event) is located on the time line.
  • Pi is a distinguished/distinguishable value of P (not just any occurrence of P).

By default, the time line where Pi is located is adjacent to the moment of speech (i.e. "hic et nunc"), but it can also be a segment in the past (for example: 昨天, 去年) or even a projected time in the future.

An occurrence is distinguished/distinguishable* if:

A) It is pre-defined (or presupposed). For example:.

    • 等下,我去问问老师。
    • 我问了,他说不知道。 (I asked the question that was supposed to be asked.)
    • 你还有问题吗?
    • 没有。该说的我都说了。(I said what I was supposed to say.)

B) It is delimited. For example:

    • 老李在吗?
    • 他去了银行,你找他有事吗?
  1. 你的狗咬死了我的鸡,你打算怎么赔?
  2. 我买了几本小说,你要看吗?
  3. 昨晚我们看了两个小时的烟花。

In (3) and (4), as telic processes with a terminal point,去银行 and 咬死 are delimited by default. In (5) and (6), 买 and 看 are delimited through quantification (几本小说, 两个小时).

Therefore, when we use the aspect marker 了, we don't just indicate that there is an occurrence of P, but that this Pi is a distinguished/distinguishable occurrence of consequence.

If we say: "昨天吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚港看烟花。", we simply mention that there is an occurrence of "去维多利亚港" together with an occurrence of "看烟花".

If we say: "昨天吃完晚饭后,我们去了维多利亚港看烟花。", to interpret "去了维多利亚港" as an occurrence of consequence, we have to put it in a context like "昨天吃完晚饭后,你到处找我们吗?我们去了维多利亚港"。

If we say: "昨天吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚港看了烟花。", to interpret "看了烟花" as an occurrence of consequence, we have to put it in a context like "看烟花是我们原来的计划,我们完成了。". If we don't have a presupposed objective, we can make the occurrence distinguishable through quantification: "昨天吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚港看了两个小时的烟花。".


*Beside (A) and (B), there is another case: when P is a compact process as in the case of “你胖了”, “孩子高了”. For lack of time and space, we are not going to delve into it. Please see my other article in the thread "What is 了 doing in 这个表快了+time?".

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  • What does Pi and P stands for? Thanks for the answer – ANTXON Aug 1 at 18:09
  • We use P to denote a process at the notional level. In a case like 我们昨晚看烟花, we say that P(看烟花)is located on the time line with reference to 我们. In this case, "我们昨晚看烟花" is an occurrence Pi of P. While P is the abstract notion of the process, Pi can take various contours: 看一场烟花,看两个小时烟花,看过烟花,看着烟花,看了烟花... etc. – KK_Tse Aug 2 at 7:48
  • Sorry not really Understand. Any grammar reference for P And Pi. What I understand P is the process when something happens to the subject. And then Pi¿ – ANTXON Aug 2 at 7:58
  • Let's put it this way. The notion of "apple" (A) as such does not exist in time and space. What we see, touch and eat are occurrences of A - Ai, Aj, ... An. They verify the same notion of "being apple". They are all the same - just apples. However, if we like, we can single out a particular Ai and distinguish it from other apples. The same can be said of a process. – KK_Tse Aug 2 at 10:04
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吃完晚饭后,我们去了维多利亚海港看烟花。 correct.

吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚海港看了烟花。 correct.

吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚海港看烟花。 correct.

吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚海港看烟花。 correct.

吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚海港看烟花。 correct.

吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚海港看烟花。 (understandable, but not so fluent, it sounds like you are talking about 3 events individually)

吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚海港看烟花。 correct

吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚海港看烟花""?"" correct. (After dinner, How about 去维多利亚海港看烟花?)

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  • You are right to point this out. Actually, we can also say something like: 昨天吃完晚饭后,我们去维多利亚海港看烟花。/ 昨天吃完晚饭后,我们去公园遛狗。(completely without 了) – KK_Tse Aug 1 at 3:49
  • @KK_Tse It's interesting. The version without 了 seems to work better with future tense. E. g. 明天我们去公园遛狗。 – dan Aug 1 at 6:27
  • @dan "昨天我们去公园遛狗" is correct. "明天我们去了公园遛狗" is incorrect. "明天我们約了去公园遛狗" is correct. – HungYu Chang Aug 1 at 16:34
  • @HungYuChang Yes, i know all that, but I said 明天我们去公园遛狗。My point is 明天我们去公园遛狗 vs 昨天我们去公园遛狗,the former seems to make more sense because the version with no 了 tends to indicate future tense as if 将 is implied. – dan Aug 2 at 1:33

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