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Is optional in the following sentences: 我上午八点前起床了 and 我三十分钟前起床了? I know that is for completed actions, but in the case of getting up, it's obvious that I already woke up. I got the same thoughts about e.g. saying 我买了这个杯子 while pointing with my finger at a cup, do I need to include ?

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  • To say that "了 is for completed actions" is a shortcut used by teaching grammar books. Its true usage is radically different from any structure in English, rendering any short description inadequate. What 了 does is focus any further thought on the aftermath of the event connected with 了, Without it, the focus is still on the action as it is taking place or as it takes place. For instance, if the next expected thought were to be about what happened next, then 了 is required. If the next thought were about what is or was happening as you got up, then you would not use 了. Jun 29 at 19:08
  • In this case, I would probably say 我上午八点前起的床 and 我三十分钟前起的床 instead. If I have to use 了,I would add 就, e.g. 我上午八点前就起床了 and 我三十分钟前就起床了. Without 就,it sounds not as natural.
    – dan
    Jun 30 at 8:28

2 Answers 2

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"了" indicates the completion of the action stated in front of it - 我上午八点前起床了 means "This morning, I got up before eight o'clock".

If "了" is eliminated - 我上午八点前起床 becomes a statement, that means "I get up before eight o'clock", which can be an everyday event, or a future event, depending on the time indicator and modifiers:

  • 每天上午八点前起床. - "I get up before eight o'clock everyday morning".

  • 明天上午八点前(要/得/必須)起床. - "I am going to get up before eight o'clock tomorrow morning"; "I must get up before eight o'clock tomorrow morning".

Follow the explanation above:

  • "我了这个杯子" - "I (have) purchased this mug". the act of purchase is completed.

"我(想/要/想要)买这个杯子" - "I buy this cup", which is a statement of the current action, or the action yet to be carried out - "I am going/wanting to buy this mug".

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  • I think the explanation is true of how these statements are normally interpreted without further context. I think it is more correct to say that 了 is used to refer to a time after the completion of the verb it follows. Without 了, you envision the verb in progress. Without additional context, using 了 in this sentence would imply a past context; and not using 了 would imply a future or habitual event. With additional words, the meanings could even be reversed if you wanted to talk about what habitually happened after getting up or about what was happening while you were getting up. Jun 29 at 19:15
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The sentence particle 了 is used mostly in conversations where intersubjective illocutionary force is a major aspect of the speech act. To make a long story short, we can say that it serves to assert that a process happened (or happens, depending on the verb form) on the timeline, and that it happened earlier than you might think. For example:

  • 天黑了。
  • 她七岁了。
  • 我八点前起床了。
  • 吃饭了,快去洗手。

You can treat it as a sort of "already" in English (or "déjà" in French).

Incidentally, in Malaysia and Singapore, where people speak a localised version of English which is thought to be influenced by Chinese dialects, it is quite common to hear people say something like:

  • I am full already. (我饱了)
  • He told me already. (他跟我讲了)
  • Hurry up! We are late already. (快点,我们迟了)

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