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I'm studying New Practical Chinese Reader 1. In the "Particle 了1" section, it reads: "If the verb with a “了” takes an object, this object usually has an attributive, which in many cases, is a numeral-measure word, an adjective or a pronoun."

Then it gives some examples, like: 我们看了一间房子。

But in the next section, it reads:

If the object does not have an attribute (eg. 他买了苹果), other elements are needed in the predicate to form a complete sentence. For example: 我去了医院,也吃了多中药。

Here is my question: What is wrong with the sentece "我去了医院?" or "他买了苹果" Why are they incomplete?

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  • I feel like in oral Chinese, there is nothing wrong with 我去了医院, as it means I went to the hospital. Similarly, it appears that there is nothing wrong with 他买了苹果.
    – De Rien
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 7:32
  • Nothing wrong, depending on the questions to which the sentences reply. I don't quite follow the author's idea, and find the sentence "我去了医院,也吃了多中药" problematic.
    – r13
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 15:00

2 Answers 2

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Quote:- ""我去了医院?" or "他买了苹果" Why are they incomplete?"

So, the question is why are these sentences "incomplete", and not "wrong"? @r13 gave a partial answer in the comment. Let me complete it.

They are not incomplete and "nothing wrong" if it is meant to be an answer to a certain line of questioning or an antecedent inquiry.

Thus, the antecedent inquiry could be "You look much better today", answer, "I've been to the hospital" The "answer" seen in isolation, without an antecedent inquiry, appears "incomplete", hanging, (though not wrong), as it begs the question why visit the hospital, and also the consequence of that visit. If not, "I've been to the hospital" could mean you are there not for medical treatment but to visit a patient.

However, if the statement in question, (我去了医院) is predicated with a "consequential follow-up", like, (我去了医院,也吃了多"种"药), then it is considered "complete", though not "wrong" per se as saying you have 也吃了多"种"药 means unequivocally you went to the hospital for medical treatment.

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The verbal suffix 了 indicates that:

  • an occurrence of a process P is located on the timeline, and that
  • this occurrence is a distinguished value (or at least a distinguishable value) of P (i.e. that is, it is not just any Pi).

For example:

  1. 他昨天吃过榴莲。
  2. 他昨天吃了两个榴莲。

In (1), with 过, it is the experience of eating durians that counts (that is, any Pi as long as it verifies the property of being P).

In (2), with 了, the quantification (by virtue of 两 and the classifier 个) renders the occurrence Pi individualised and hence distinguishable (i.e. it is not just a Pi like any other).

With a telic process (i.e. a process that is usually associated with a terminal point) such as 去,来,抵达,离开,割,剪,死...etc., the terminal point is by default the distinguished value:

  1. 她去过中国。(She has been to China)
  2. 她去了中国。(She has gone to China)

In (3), with 过, only the experience of "going to China" is relevant, not the terminal point of "going until being in China".

In (4), with 了, the terminal point of "going until being in China" is relevant.

If the process is associated with a target or objective, the target can serve to define Pi as a distinguished value:

  1. 你吃了药没有?
  2. 小明今天真听话,快快做完功课,也温习了英文和数学。

In (5), "taking medicine" is something that you are supposed to do. In (6), "revising English and Math" is a task that was expected.

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