Understanding 把 (bǎ) in ten minutes

One of the difficulties of learning Chinese grammar (or any other language) is that everyone learns in different ways and responds better to different learning materials.

Because of that, we try to cover Chinese grammar points from different angles and with different styles of articles.

This one is a super-short introduction to 把 (bǎ) that let’s you get to grips with this structure in less than 10 minutes.

What is the 把 structure?

The standard Chinese sentence structure is SVO: subject verb object. For example:

我卖了自行车。

Wǒ màile zìxíngchē.

I sold the bike.

把 comes in and swaps the object and verb around:

我把自行车卖了。

Wǒ bǎ zìxíngchē màile.

I sold the bike.

As you can see, the meaning hasn’t changed, just the sentence structure. In the end that’s all there is to 把: the structure becomes subject 把 object verb.

What is the point of 把?

The first question a lot of people ask when seeing this is “What is the point of 把? Why would I use this?”

There are two answers to this question.

The first is that 把 is super common and it’s essential that you know and use it if you’re going to have good Chinese.

From the perspective of a language learner, it doesn’t matter why Chinese is like this. It just is, and you need to know about it.

The second answer would be one that tries to explain why Chinese has ended up with this structure. As far as I know there is no definitive answer, but one theory is that it makes the sentence easier to understand as we get to know what the object is sooner.

When is 把 used?

把 is the preferred way to form a sentence when:

  • There’s a specific object involved that the speaker and listener both know about.
  • The sentence is about an action happening to the object.
  • The sentence deals with what happens to the object in the end.

Those aren’t hard and fast rules, just a brief summary in the limited space we have here.

As usual, I’d recommend that you don’t bother memorising rules and instead aim to build a natural feel for the language through a lot of practice and exposure.

Quick 把 examples

Here are three quick example sentences using 把 to get you started:

我把苹果吃掉了。

Wǒ bǎ píngguǒ chī diàole.

I ate the apple.

我把作业写完了。

Wǒ bǎ zuòyè xiě wánle.

I'm finishing my homework.

我要把这个送给他。

Wǒ yào bǎ zhège sòng gěi tā.

I'm going to give this to him.

Notice that none of these sentences leave the verb hanging at the end of the sentence. There’s always something else to finish it off.

This is due to the third point above: 把 is used to talk about what happens to the object in the end. We can’t leave the verb exposed at the end of the sentence because that wouldn’t cover the final result of the action on the object.

Common ways to use 把

To finish off, here are some quick fire examples of common sentence patterns involving 把.

把 with 了

我把钱包弄丢了。

Wǒ bǎ qiánbāo nòng diūle.

I lost my wallet.

我把书看完了。

Wǒ bǎ shū kàn wánle.

I finished reading the book.

把 with an indirect object

不要把钱给他们。

Bùyào bǎ qián gěi tāmen.

Don't give them the money.

把 with 成

把这句话翻译成韩语。

Bǎ zhè jù huà fānyì chéng hányǔ.

Translate this sentence into Korean.

把 with complements

请把菜拿过来。

Qǐng bǎ cài ná guòlái.

Please bring the food over.

今天把我累坏了。

Jīntiān bǎ wǒ lèi huàile.

Today has tired me out.

那部电影把我吓得要死。

Nà bù diànyǐng bǎ wǒ xià dé yàosǐ.

That film scared me to death.

That’s about as much as we can cram into a ten minute read. To build your understanding, take a look at some of the other 把 articles on this site and elsewhere.

Other articles about 把

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

More B1 articles

  1. Understanding 把 (bǎ) in ten minutes B1
  2. How to use 碰 (pèng), 碰见 (pèngjiàn) and 碰上 (pèngshàng) in Chinese grammar B1
  3. 接 (jiē) and 接到 (jiēdào) in Chinese grammar: answering and receiving B1

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