I've been learning Chinese for months, but I found an interesting sentence.

他和她一起来的吗? In this sentence, my question is about why “的” is used instead of “了”.

For example, I would say "他和她一起来了吗?", but a Chinese native speaker says "他和她一起来的吗?".

I'm really confused with the use of “的” and ”了“. So when can I use “的” or ”了“? Which one of “的” and ”了“ is more natural when I want to ask like the sentence above?


Let's make it to a affirmative sentence for analysis. 他和她一起来的 vs 他和她一起来了.

的 here is a modal particle denoting affirmation. 他和她一起来的 means he and she together came here. You can insert a 是 as indicated by other answers but do not have to because 是 might add more emphasis than without it if you don't speak in a casual way. 他和她是一起来的.

了 in 他和她一起来了 denotes a completion. The whole sentence means he and she have just arrived here together.

PS. Tone emphasis affects the meaning dramatically when you speak the sentence. E. g. 他和她一起来的(implying with her not others); 他和她一起来的(implying they come together not separately).

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To put it simply, the difference is:-

If you want to say -- "Have they arrived already?", you use "他和她一起来了吗?" -- meaning you are just inquiring as to whether they have arrived, nothing more. The "了" here indicates "already?", i.e. "completion"

But if you want to say -- "Did they arrive together?", you use "他和她一起来的吗?" -- meaning you are inquiring as to whether they arrived together and not one-at-a-time or separately.

The "的" is for inquiring "together?" This is the reason for the suggestion of putting the "是" in there, which would make it to read ""Did they actually / really arrive together?", i.e. "affirmation"

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Here is a similar question and answers: 了 vs 是…的 as “factuality markers”

他和她一起来了 = he and she have come together

他和她 is the subject, 来 is the verb; the verb particle 了 indicates the completion of the verb 来


他和她 [是]一起来[的] = he and she, [are the two who] come together

"是一起来的" is the fact that describes the subject 他和她

Similar example:

水和油[是]混不在一起[的] = oil and water [are the two that] unable to mix together

"是混不在一起的" is a fact that describes the subject "水和油"

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A very special function of 的 is to emphasize, especially together with 是。You can notice that many political big shots like to use it: 中国是绝对不会主动侵犯人家的。 Using 了 is simple story telling. Using 的 is emphasizing: it's "HE", and it's "WITH HER", not anybody else. BTW, I sincerely wish you understand because I didn't use any grammar jargon at all (I actually hate grammar and never taught my students grammar).

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  • Hmm, why you say: Using 了 is simple story telling. What do you exactly mean by that? Imo 了 is a factuality marker. That is, a sentence or a verb without 了 could be read as a habitual or smth unreal, imaginative etc. Do you mean the same? – coobit Sep 12 at 17:56
  • My perception on the fundamental meaning/function of "了" is to express a fact, i.e. what happened. All others are extended from this: simple past, perfect tense,...etc. That's what I meant by story telling. You are absolutely right about a sentence without 了. But may I add "capability" and "generality"? – James Liu 刘老师 Sep 12 at 23:50

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