Common mistakes with 把 (bǎ) in Chinese grammar

The 把 structure in Chinese is common and important, but quite difficult to get right. It’s a big issue and there’s a lot to learn, but have a look at this quick list of common 把 mistakes. It might save you some time if you iron these out before they become habits!

✗ Don’t use 把 when there’s no disposal

When you fist learn about the 把 structure, the hardest thing to grasp is the idea of disposal. Disposal simply means that something happened to the object and it was affected.

The structure 把 is used to talk about this ‘disposal’. If there’s no disposal, then you can’t use 把. Have a look at the following tips to get a better understanding of when to use 把.

✔ Use 把 to talk about things being put in places

One of the most common uses of 把 is to talk about things being put in places. This is done with the verb 放 (fàng). In fact, the 把 structure is so perfect for describing this that you pretty much have to use 把 in these situations. Here are some example sentences with 把 and 放:

把你的包放在那边吧。

Bǎ nǐ de bāo fàng zài nà biān ba.

Put your bag over there.

我把我买的东西放在桌子上了。

Wǒ bǎ wǒ mǎi de dōngxi fàng zài zhuōzi shàngle.

I put the things I bought on the table.

In both these situations, the 把 structure really is the best way to describe the situation. The object (the bag or the things) are being put somewhere, and that’s their disposal.

✔ Use 把 to talk about things being changed

If the object gets changed or altered in some way, you should probably use 把. This is especially true if the objects gets changed into something else. Let’s have a look at some examples:

把面包切成三片。

Bǎ miànbāo qiè chéng sān piàn.

Cut the bread into three slices.

我把我的自行车换成了吉他。

Wǒ bǎ wǒ de zìxíngchē huàn chéngle jítā.

I swapped my bike for a guitar.

你能不能把这些句子翻译成英文?

Nǐ néng bùnéng bǎ zhèxiē jù zǐ fānyì chéng yīngwén?

Can you translate these sentences into English?

我把“夫”写成了“天”。

Wǒ bǎ “fu” xiěchéngle “tiān”.

I wrote “天” instead of “夫”.

In each of these cases, something has been changed. Notice how it doesn’t have to be a physical object or a physical change - translations and mistakes count as ‘changes’ that work very well with 把.

✔ Use 把 to talk about things being finished or used up

Another common use of the 把 construction is to describe things being finished or used up. This works because the object has been directly affected - there’s less of it now (at least figuratively). Some examples:

我把作业做完了。

Wǒ bǎ zuòyè zuò wánle.

I’ve finished the homework.

不要把我的啤酒喝完了。

Bùyào bǎ wǒ de píjiǔ hē wánle.

Don’t finish off all my beer!

她要腾出一个晚上把论文给写完。

Tā yào téng chū yīgè wǎnshàng bǎ lùnwén gěi xiě wán.

She’s going to set aside an evening to finish writing her essay.

Notice that the structure for this is:

把 [object] [verb] 完

The 完 at the end completes the structure and shows the disposal of the object. The need for the 把 structure to be complete in this way is explained further below.

✔ Use 把 to talk about things being damaged or destroyed

The 把 structure is very good for talking about the object being damaged or destroyed, as that’s a very direct effect! When used in this way, 把 often appears with the verb 弄 (nòng). Here some some examples:

我不小心地把你的笔弄坏了。

Wǒ bù xiǎoxīnde bǎ nǐ de bǐ nòng huàile.

I’ve accidentally broken your pen.

小心别把你的新衣服弄脏了。

Xiǎoxīn bié bǎ nǐ de xīn yīfú nòng zāng le.

Be careful not to get your new clothes dirty.

敌人用炸弹把桥摧毁了。

Dírén yòng zhàdàn bǎ qiáo cuīhuǐle.

The enemy destroyed the bridge with a bomb.

These situations are perfect for 把 because they all involve the disposal of the object - something happened to it and it was affected.

✗ Don’t use 把 with an indefinite object

As well as the disposal of the object, another requirement for 把 is that the object is specific. That means that the speaker and listener both know exactly what the object is. The object should be definite.

In English, this often means that the object will be preceded by “the” or a possessive such as “your” or “his”. In Chinese, it often means that there will be words like 那个 or a possessive like 你的 before the object. In Chinese, definite objects can also be unmarked. I.e., there is nothing before the object - just the object itself is enough to make it clear what the speaker is talking about.

✔ Give a definite quantity (or no quantity at all)

If you can put “一个” in front of the object, it’s not a definite object and probably shouldn’t be used with 把. Indefinite objects are often marked with “a” in English. Only use definite objects with 把. Some examples:

我把水果吃了。

Wǒ bǎ shuǐguǒ chīle.

I ate the fruit.

他把书弄丢了。

Tā bǎ shū nòng diūle.

He lost the books.

Notice how in each of these situations there could a quantity, but it isn’t be specified in the 把 construction. However, you can give a definite quantity in a 把 construction. This would make the above sentences look like this:

我把那三块水果吃了。

Wǒ bǎ nà sān kuài shuǐguǒ chīle.

I ate the three pieces of fruit.

他把那两本书弄丢了。

Tā bǎ nà liǎng běn shū nòng diūle.

He lost those two books.

Hopefully the above examples show how the object has to be definite when using 把. The point is that the object is a specific one that is clear in context.

✔ Use an object the listener already knows about

The main point of this section is that the object has to be one the listener knows about. It has to be definite, or specific. Here are some more general examples:

把钱给我。

Bǎ qián gěi wǒ.

Give me the money.

请把那个包放在桌子上。

Qǐng bǎ nàgè bāo fàng zài zhuōzi shàng.

Please put that bag on the table.

别把你的东西弄丢了。

Bié bǎ nǐ de dōngxi nòng diūle.

Don’t lose your stuff.

As mentioned above, definite objects in English are often marked with ‘the’, ‘that’, ‘this’, or a possessive such as ‘your’ or ‘theirs’. These are the sort of objects you should use with 把.

✗ Not finishing off the 把 construction

You might have noticed in the examples and explanations above that there is always something after the verb in a 把 construction. This is to show the disposal of the object. In other words, you can’t just leave the verb hanging when you use 把. Finish it off with some sort of result or emphasis.

✔ Use 了 (le)

把 very often appears with 了, because 了 marks a completed action (i.e., disposal!). Have a look at some examples:

她把歌词写完了。

Tā bǎ gēcí xiě wánle.

She finished writing the lyrics.

他把房子卖了。

Tā bǎ fángzi màile.

He sold the house.

她把在大学的谈话压缩了。

Tā bǎ zài dàxué de tánhuà yāsuōle.

She cut short her talk at the university.

Without 了, the above sentences wouldn’t be valid 把 constructions, because the disposal of the object hasn’t been completed without 了 capping off the sentence.

✔ Double-up the verb

Another way to complete a 把 construction is to double-up (reduplicate) the verb. This indicates that the action is completed and that something has happened to the object. A couple of examples:

你可以把我的自行车修一修吗?

Nǐ kěyǐ bǎ wǒ de zìxíngchē xiū yī xiū ma?

Can you fix my bike?

请你们不要忘了把书看看。

Qǐng nǐmen bùyào wàngle bǎ shū kànkan.

Please don’t forget to read the book.

Note that reduplicating the verb in this way is the same as adding 一 in between (e.g. 看一看), or 了 (e.g. 看了看).

✔ Use a second object

You can also complete a 把 structure by adding a second object with 给 (gěi). Have a look at the examples below to get a feel for this:

我把作业交给老师了。

Wǒ bǎ zuòyè jiāo gěi lǎoshīle.

I handed my homework in to the teacher.

把你的故事讲给我听听。

Bǎ nǐ de gùshì jiǎng gěi wǒ tīngting.

Tell me your story.

The verb 给 (literally ‘to give’) is often used in Chinese as a preposition like ‘to’ or ‘for’ in English. It’s used to mark second objects in sentences, as shown above.

✔ Use verb + 成 + second object

Another way to add a second object is to use 成 (chéng) with 把. As mentioned above, if the object is changed into something else, it often makes a good candidate for a 把 sentence. Have a look at some examples:

他要把这首诗翻译成英文。

Tā yào bǎ zhè shǒu shī fānyì chéng Yīngwén.

He’s going to translate this poem into English.

把蛋糕切成八块。

Bǎ dàngāo qiè chéng bā kuài.

Cut the cake into eight pieces.

This 把 + 成 structure is another very common use of 把.

✔ Use a descriptive complement

You may be interested to know that you can also use 把 to get a little bit more descriptive and interesting than the standard things being moved around, changed, affected etc. This is commonly done with a descriptive complement. This just means that some extra description comes right after the verb.

Have a look at these examples:

今天把我吃得都不想动了。

Jīntiān bǎ wǒ chī de dōu bùxiǎng dòngle.

I’ve eaten so much today that I don’t want to move.

他把我气得要命,就给了他一记耳光。

Tā bǎ wǒ qì dé yàomìng, jiù gěile tā yī jì ěrguāng.

He made me so angry I slapped him across the face.

Notice the [verb] + 得 + [description] in the sentences above. These sentences work well with 把 because the verb has a clear result or conclusion.

✔ Use a direction complement

And finally, you can also use 把 with another kind of verbal complement: the direction complement. As the name suggests, this complement is used to describe the direction the action of the verb follows. Some examples:

她把椅子搬到楼上去了。

Tā bǎ yǐzi bān dào lóu shàngqùle.

She took the chair upstairs.

请把牛奶从冰箱里拿出来。

Qǐng bǎ niúnǎi cóng bīngxiāng lǐ ná chūlái.

Please take the milk out of the fridge.

That rounds up this (rather long) list of 把 mistakes and correct usages. If you have any questions or suggestions, please share them in the comments below!

Other articles about 把

  1. Common mistakes with 把 (bǎ) in Chinese grammar B1
  2. Chinese grammar 把 structure: a basic introduction B1

More B1 articles

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  2. 接 (jiē) and 接到 (jiēdào) in Chinese grammar: answering and receiving B1
  3. How to use 对 (duì) and 跟 (gēn) as prepositions in Chinese grammar B1

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Hugh Grigg

About the author:

Hugh Grigg graduated from Cambridge with a degree in Chinese Studies. After living in Qingdao and Shanghai, he is now based in London.