Using "ba" sentences
- Also known as: 把字句 ("bǎ"zìjù), 把 construction, preposition 把, disposal construction 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.
- 1 What is a 把 sentence?
- 2 把 Sentences with Two Objects
- 3 把 sentences and complements
- 4 Forming 把 sentences
- 5 Verbs for 把 sentences
- 6 Notes about 把
- 7 Other uses of 把
- 8 See also
- 9 Sources and further reading
What is a 把 sentence?
A basic sentence in Mandarin is formed with a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, as in English:
Subj. + Verb Phrase + Obj.
A 把 sentence shakes things up a bit, and you get this structure:
Subj. + 把 + Obj. + 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. Here are other examples of how to successfully use 把 and 放 in the same sentence.
- 她 把 手机 放 在 包 里 了。"She put the phone in the bag."
- 请 把 钱 放 在 桌子 上 。"Please put the money on the table."
- 你 是 不 是 把 衣服 放 在 办公室 了？"Did you put your clothes in the office or not?"
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:
Subj. + 把 + Obj. 1 + Verb + Preposition + Obj. 2
Common verbs that take two objects include: 买 (mǎi), 卖 (mài), 送 (sòng), 借 (jiè), 还 (huán), 介绍 (jièshào).
|Subject||把||Object 1||Verb||Preposition||Object 2|
|他||把||花||送||给||他 女 朋友||了||。|
|我||把||我 的 车||卖||给||朋友||了||。|
|我们||把||最 好吃 的 东西||拿||给||客人||了||。|
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 作业 做 完 了。I finished the homework.
- 你 把 这 个 汉字 写 错 了。You wrote this character wrong.
Direction complements also work well in 把 constructions, for similar reasons. For example:
- 请 把 这些 东西 拿 出来。Please take this stuff out.
- 我 把 他 推 出去 了。I pushed him out.
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.
Forming 把 sentences
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 想||把||这 件 事||告诉||她||。|
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 作业 写 完 了 吗？Did you finishing doing your homework?
- 你 可以 把 这些 都 吃 完 吗？Can you eat these all?
- 你 把 我 的 东西 放 在 哪里 了？Where did you put my stuff?
- 他 把 你 的 书 借 给 谁 了？Who did he lend your book to?
- 你 是 不 是 把 纸 用 完 了？Did you use up the paper or not?
- 你 能 不 能 把 你 的 名字 写 清楚？Can you write your name clearly or not?
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||这 件 事||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.
|我||把||你 的 两 件||衣服||洗 好 了||。|
|他||把||昨天 买的 三 块||蛋糕||吃 了||。|
|请 你||把||老师 写 给 我们 的 几 句||话||读 一下||。|
Verb measure words are frequently used in 把 sentences, and come at the end of a 把 sentence.
|我||把||这 句 话||读 了||三 遍||。|
|妈妈||把||这些 脏 衣服||洗 了||好 几 遍||。|
|弟弟||把||我 的 手机||玩 坏 了||好 几 次||。|
Note that in all of these sentences, the object is something specific and definite.
把 sentences and aspect particles
The particles 了 and 着 can both be used with 把 constructions, while 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||。|
|请||把||你 的 电脑||带||着||。|
Verbs for 把 sentences
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
Notes about 把
- 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).
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 一把伞, 一把枪 and 一把椅子. 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 伞 拿 给 我。Please give me that umbrella.
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
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课下册） (pp. 369-70, 384, 398-9) →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)
- FluentU: The Definite Guide to the Chinese Ba Construction
- Mandarin Online: 把字句
- Just Learn Chinese (blog): Lesson 10 How to understand and use Chinese sentence pattern “…把…”?