|Is similar to|
|Is used for||Expressing passive voice|
- Also known as: 把字句, 把 construction, disposal construction, preposition 把 and pre-transitive 把.
The 把 (bǎ) sentence is a useful structure for focusing on the result or influence of an action. It's really common in Mandarin, but can feel a bit strange for English speakers at first.
What is a 把 sentence?
A 把 sentence (把字句 in Chinese) is a sentence in which the object of the sentence (the noun that is having some action done to it) appears after the subject and before the verb, preceded with a 把.
Remember, a basic sentence in Mandarin is formed with a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, as in English:
Subject + Verb Phrase + Object
A 把 sentence shakes things up a bit, and you get this structure:
Subject + 把 + Object + Verb Phrase
Note that the object has moved, and is preceded by 把. You now have SOV word order.
This is all well and good, but most students of Chinese, on learning about 把 sentences for the first time, have the same reaction: "Why the hell would I ever use this structure? The SVO word order always works just fine, right?" The answer is: well, no... not always. It's true that 把 sentences are often used to achieve somewhat subtle differences in emphasis, but there are also very good reasons to use 把 sentences when a regular sentence just won't do. Take this sentence for example:
- 你 把 书 放 在 桌子 上 。 ("Put the book on the table.")
How would you say this without the 把 construction? You might try this:
- 你 放 书 在 桌子 上 。
The only problem is that the above sentence is not grammatical. You can't put an object right after a verb, and then put other modifiers of the verb after the object. Below, we'll go into more detail about when and how to use 把 sentences.
When to use a 把 sentence
The conditions for using a 把 sentence were briefly mentioned above. These are:
- The object is known. (It's already been mentioned or discussed previously.)
- The sentence describes what happened to the object in some detail (it's not just a "bare" verb; there's "more stuff" after the verb).
把 sentences can only deal with objects that are previously known about or have been clearly established in context. In other words, 把 sentences should have objects that are obvious.
This means that the object must either be definite (often preceded by 'the' in English), or generic. A generic object is a general class of things that the listener should know about. For example:
- 我 有时候 把 茶 当 咖啡 喝。
Here 茶 and 咖啡 do not refer to any particular cups of tea or coffee, but to these drinks in general. This is acceptable because as general classes of things (generic objects), these are known and understood by the listener.
Disposal (what happened to the object)
The other requirement for a 把 sentence is that it described what happened to the object, or its end fate as far as the sentence is concerned. This rules out any actions that don't have a clear effect on the object, such as psychological verbs. For example, you generally can't use 把 sentences to describe emotions or perceptions. Something has to be done to the object, and not just done by the subject.
- 我 把 他 想念。
- 他 把 他 妹妹 爱。
- 你 把 我的 东西 看见 了 吗？
None of these are acceptable 把 sentences because the object is not directly changed or affected by the verb. There is no disposal. So far so good. But it can get a bit trickier. The object does not have to be physically affected in the real world for a 把 sentence to be acceptable. For example, a 把 sentence could be used to describe something being written down:
- 我 把 我的 姓名 写 下来 了。
Here the name hasn't been physically affected, but it has been converted into written form so its disposal is still described. Another example:
- 我 把 那 件 事 说 出来 了。
Again, the 'something' in this sentence can't be 'changed' or 'affected' by being spoken about, but it is a change of form so a 把 sentence can be used. Even real world objects that do physically exist do not need to be physically affected to appear in a 把 sentence:
- 她 把 家里 收拾 得 很 干净。
These three disposals are all different types of interactions with an object, but each is a disposal.
How to form a 把 sentence
Basic 把 sentences
A basic sentence in Mandarin is formed with a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, as in English:
- 猫 吃 掉 了 金鱼。
A 把 sentence shakes things up a bit, and you get this structure:
Subject + 把 + Object + Verb Phrase
So you now have SOV word order:
- 猫 把 金鱼 吃 掉 了。
You might notice that the character 掉 occurs after the verb in these two sentences. This is no accident! This is because 把 sentences are used for describing in some detail what happened to the object. In other words, the verb alone is not enough; there always has to be something else after the verb.
Subject + 把 + Object + Verb + Something else
This is often described as the disposal of the object, which might sound a bit fancy but we'll use it for convenience here. As well as the verb, you need to provide more information related to the action (in this case, that it was completed). In the example above 掉 indicates this 'disposal'.
The idea of disposal will be covered in more detail below. For now, just remember that a 把 sentence must describe what happened to the object in the end (beyond just what the verb tells you by itself). One way of thinking about the pattern which may be useful is that using 把 is similar to saying "What I did with ... was ... " or "What happened to ... was ...."
|你||把||那 本 书||放||在 桌子 上||。|
|他||把||我的 钱包||偷||走 了||。|
Another important rule for using 把 sentences is that they have to be about something specific or definite. The object has to be something that is clear in the context, and known to both speaker and listener.
Negating 把 sentences
To negate a 把 sentence, insert 不 (present or future) or 没有 (past) directly in front of 把. You can't put it after 把, 'inside' the 把 construction, as this would break the rule about describing what happened to the object. It would be like saying "What happened to ... was nothing". It doesn't sound natural.
|我||不 会||把||这 件 事||告诉||她的||。|
Question forms of 把 sentences
You can make 把 sentences into questions in the usual three ways to form questions in Mandarin:
- With a question particle
- With a question word
- With positive-negative verbs
- 你 把 你的 手机 弄 丢 了 吗？
- 你 可以 把 五 个 汉堡 吃完 吗？
- 你 把 我的 东西 放 在 哪里 了？
- 他 把 你的 自行车 卖 给 谁 了？
- 你 是 不是 把 牙膏 用完 了？
- 你 能 不能 把 我 写 的 文章 翻译 成 英文？
Be careful how you form questions with 把 sentences though. Remember that you have to have a definite object, and you have to describe the disposal of that object. A question form could easily get in the way of one of these conditions.
Adverbs in 把 sentences
Adverbs can usually be placed before 把 or before the verb (the exception is negative adverbs, as described above). Adverbs in each of these positions can change the meaning in slightly different ways, as demonstrated with 都 in the examples below. In the first sentence, "我们都把作业做完了", 都 modifies "我们" to make "We all finished the homework." In the second sentence, 都 modifies 作业 to make "We finished all the homework."
|他||不小心||把||我的 秘密||告诉||别人 了||。|
(Note the subtle difference in meaning between the first two sentences.)
把 Sentences and Measure Words
As mentioned above, the object of a 把 sentence must be something specific and definite. This might involve noun measure words, which will come after the 把 and before the object.
|他||把||几 块||蛋糕||吃 掉 了||。|
|她||把||五 篇||课文||翻译 好 了||。|
Verb measure words are frequently used in 把 sentences, and come at the end of a 把 sentence.
|我||把||衣服||洗 了||三 遍||。|
|你||把||这些 规则||看||两 回||。|
|她||把||老公||打 了||一 顿||。|
Note that in all of these sentences, the object is something specific and definite. For example, the third sentence can not be translated as "I ate half a cake." It has to be "I ate half of the cake."
把 Sentences with Two Objects
The usual structure for 把 sentences, as described above, puts the object right after 把. for certain verbs, however, you can have two objects in a 把 sentence. Their use in a 把 sentence will also involve prepositions.
They use the following structure:
Subject + 把 + Object 1 + Verb + Preposition + Object 2
Common verbs that take two objects include: 买, 卖, 告诉, 介绍, 送, 还 (huán), 通知.
|Subject||把||Object 1||Verb||Preposition||Object 2|
|他||把||这家花店||送||给 了||他 女朋友||。|
把 sentences and aspect particles
The particles 了 and 着 can both be used with 把 constructions, whilst 过 cannot. This is because the object of a 把 construction must be obvious, or 'present' in some way in the context. 过 indicates some kind of action in the past, which suggests that the object is no longer present in the context, so it's not suitable for a 把 construction.
了 and 着, though, can be used to indicate that the disposal of the object is complete or ongoing, respectively.
|Subject||把||Object||Verb phrase||Aspect particle|
|我||把||那 本 书||翻译 成 英文||了||。|
|他||把||那 件 衣服||带||着||。|
Verbs for 把 sentences
You might have noticed by now that some types of verbs are more suitable for 把 sentences than others. This comes back to the issue of disposal, as described in the section above. Because of this, there are some verbs that work really well in 把 sentences, or even sound unnatural without this structure. Here are some examples:
- 放 - putting an object in a place is a perfect action for a 把 sentence. 放 pretty much has to be in a 把 construction.
- 买 and 卖. Sentences about buying and selling also prefer a 把 structure.
- 当 and 成. Taking one thing to be another or converting something into something else is best expressed with a 把 sentence.
A related point is that the verb (or verb phrase) in a 把 sentence must clearly indicate the result. This prevents single character verbs from being used alone in 把 sentences. They have to be combined with some sort of result to form a compound. Common options are 下, 到, 掉.
Because result complements and 把 sentences are both about the end results of actions, they appear together very frequently. If you're using one, in most cases you can be pretty sure that it will go nicely with the other.
On the other hand, some verbs generally can't indicate what happened to the object. They only describe what the subject did. Here are some examples of verbs that do not generally work in 把 sentences:
- Psychological verbs
- Perception verbs
把 sentences and complements
Because 把 sentences are all about disposal, and complements in Mandarin often handle this issue, it's good to be aware of how these two grammar features interact.
Result complements work particularly well in 把 sentences. When you consider that both structures deal with the result or outcome of an action, this makes sense. The majority of result complements (except for perception verbs) fit in very well in a 把 construction. A couple of examples:
- 我 把 我的 作业 做完 了。
- 你 把 这 个 汉字 写错 了。
Direction complements also work well in 把 constructions, for similar reasons. For example:
- 请 把 这 些 东西 拿 起来。
- 我 把 他 推 出去 了。
Note that potential complements do not appear in 把 sentences. This is because they are hypothetical, whereas a 把 sentence must describe what actually happens.
Other uses of 把
It's important to note that 把 has other uses. The most common is as a measure word for things with handles, or things that you hold. Examples include 一把椅子, 一把枪 and 一把扇子. So, you've got to look at how 把 is being used in a sentence before you can understand its meaning.
To demonstrate the difference, here's a sentence with both kinds of 把 in:
- 请 你 把 那 把 椅子 交给 我。
Sources and further reading
- A Practical Chinese Grammar For Foreigners (外国人实用汉语语法) (pp. 461-70) →buy
- Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar (pp. 53-4) →buy
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 159-64) →buy
- Chinese Grammar Without Tears (简明汉语语法学习手册) (pp. 167-81) →buy
- Common Chinese Patterns 330 (汉语常用格式330例) (pp. 3-5) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (3rd ed) (pp. 142-4) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 2 (pp. 225-7, 321-3) →buy
- Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar (pp. 463-92) →buy
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (pp. 354-5) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 2 (新实用汉语课本2) (pp. 41-2, 88) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 3 (新实用汉语课本3) (pp. 15, 51, 101-2) →buy
- Mandarin Essential Grammar (Yale): 把 Construction
- CTCFL (Oxford): The 把 Construction
- ChinesePod: Qing Wen - The Magic Word 把 (free podcast content)
- ChinesePod: Qing Wen - 把 Humbug (free podcast content)
- Mandarin Online: 把字句
- Just Learn Chinese (blog): Lesson 10 How to understand and use Chinese sentence pattern “…把…”?