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We know that adding 了 to the verb makes it mean a completed action. Like 我开了门. I opened the door.

But if the verb is a two-syllable verb like 关上, 打开,开车 etc, should we add 了 after the 2nd syllable or the 1st syllable? For example, Which is correct for "I closed the door" "我关上了门" or "我关了上门"

The same question can also apply to 过. Which is correct for "I have driven a car"?

"我开车过" or "我开过车"

Thanks

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It's not about how many syllables there are, but what kind of syllables they are. Interestingly enough, your three examples 關上 and 打開 (both verb + result complement) vs 開車 (transitive verb + object) behave differently. In summary,

關上 打開 開車
after 1st syllable No No Yes
after 2nd syllable Yes Yes Form exists but is not perfective
after 1st syllable No No Yes
after 2nd syllable Yes but rather unnatural Yes No

General rules are:

  1. You cannot separate the verb and its result complement. (e.g. = to close; 關上 = to finish closing; to close completely)

  2. You should suffix or to a verb as soon as possible (without violating 1.), i.e., before the object if the verb is transitive. So: 開了車 instead of 開車了, 開過車 instead of *開車過. Some may argue 開車了 is not ungrammatical, but here does not exactly indicate completion of the verb; it's more about indicating a change of state (開車了 = the car has started / I am starting my car; vs 開了車 = I drove my car). This post-object positioning of does not apply to , so *開車過 is ungrammatical.

  3. Verbs coupled with a result complement do not work well with the experiential . Probably because it's unnecessary to add a result complement when we are talking about experience in general:

    我關過門。 I have the experience of closing doors.
    *我關上過門。 ?I have the experience of closing doors shut.

    But if they are in the passive voice, things are much more explainable (in the following example, think of that as the “experience” of the door, not the doer, that it was once opened):

    (Passive) 門被打開過。 The door was once opened.
    (Active) ?我打開過門。 ?I once opened a door.

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开车 can actually be seen as a "verb-object" phrase, causing it sensible to add between them.

This also applies to:

  • 我开车 ~ (while) I am driving a car
  • 我开车 ~ I drove a car
  • 我开不了(liǎo)车 ~ I am not able to drive a car

关上 and 打开 are "verb-complement" phrase, which uses different rules.

  • 关上 ~ closed
  • 上 ~ be not able to close
  • (seems no be doing like form, just add 正在/在 before them)

There might be exceptions but I am not able to give a list. However, you can refer to the dictionary for it. As per 《现代汉语词典》(第6版) (The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, 6th edition), 凡例 (guide) 3.6, roughly translated:

some multi-syllable items contains double slash // in the phonetic notation, e.g.: 【结婚】jié//hūn…… , indicates that it can have other syntactical elements inserted there. If some meanings can but other meanings cannot, those that can have other syntactical elements will have (-//-) symbol after their indices.

3.7 introduces //· symbol indicates that there can be other syntactical elements, but the pronunciation should be changed. Without other elements, the latter syllables should be pronounced as unstressed ones. With other elements, the latter syllables should be stressed ones.

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