How to use 帮 (bāng) and 帮忙 (bāngmáng) correctly in Mandarin Chinese
The words 帮 (bāng) and 帮忙 (bāngmáng) can both mean “help” in Mandarin Chinese. However, they're used in slightly different ways and have different constructions. Because of that, how to use 帮 and 帮忙 correctly can be confusing at first.
The main difference to remember is that 帮 can always take an object, and 帮忙 can in one construction but not in another. Let's have a look at the two words separately and then summarise the differences.
How to use 帮 (bāng)
帮 is a transitive verb. As mentioned above, that means that it can be used with an object. The basic structure for this is:
[noun] 帮 [noun]
The first noun is the subject of the sentence and the second is the object. So, the structure is equivalent to something like “the subject helps the object” in English. Let's have a look at some example sentences:
帮 can also be used in a slightly more complicated structure, with a verb or verb phrase. This can be used to talk about helping people to do things.
[noun] 帮 [noun] [verb]
Note that the [verb] slot in the structure above is actually a verb phrase. That means that it can be a mini-sentence of its own, containing a verb and maybe an object.
Let's have a look at some examples for this structure:
Notice how the verb phrase can include an object of its own, almost making it a mini-sentence. This makes the 帮 structure quite easy to use, as you can combine it with other sentence patterns you know.
When 帮 means “for” and not “help”
A common use of 帮 in Chinese is to talk about actions that are done for other people. The structure is exactly the same as above, but it doesn't mean “help” in English. This use of 帮 isn't about people co-operating to do something together (“help”), it's about one person doing something on behalf of another (“for”).
This often causes Chinese native-speakers to misuse the word “help” in English, for example saying “Could you help me close the door?” instead of “Could you close the door for me?” The mistakes that people make in other languages can often be quite revealing about the grammar of their own native language.
Let's have a look at some example sentences for this use of 帮:
Sometimes it may be ambiguous as to whether 帮 means “for” or “help”. In those situations you simply have to work from context.
How to use 帮忙 (bāngmáng)
Unlike 帮, the word 帮忙 can be *transitive *(can take an object) or *intransitive *(can't have an object of its own) depending on the structure it's used in. Let's have a look at these two structures separately.
When 帮忙 is intransitive
The first 帮忙 structure we'll look at is intransitive. In other words, it can't take an object. This is probably the simpler of the two 帮忙 structures. The structure is:
[noun] 帮忙 [verb]
As with the structures above, the verb slot here could also be a verb phrase. The important thing to note with the structure above is that there's no space for an object. In other words, this structure is intransitive.
Let's have a look at some example sentences:
Notice how in the sentences above, 帮忙 works as one unit and never has an object.
When 帮忙 is transitive
You can use 帮忙 with an object in the specific structure below. In this structure, 帮忙 is a separable verb. That means that to add you extra information (such as an object) in between the two characters, rather than after them.
帮 [other stuff!] 忙
Rather than confusing you with a detailed list of things that could go in the slot, we've just put “other stuff!” in the slot. This includes the object for 帮忙 and any other information that you might want to attach to the verb. It all goes in between 帮 and 忙 in this structure.
Let's have a look at some example sentences for this structure:
You might have noticed that in all of the examples above, the object is a pronoun. A pronoun is just a noun that stands in for or ‘points at’ another noun. Common pronouns in English are “he”, “she”, “it”, “you”, “they” etc.
With this structure, the object can only be a pronoun; you can't put any other nouns in there as the object.
A summary of 帮 and 帮忙
- Both literally mean “help”.
- Both can appear with other verbs.
- Is transitive.
- Often means “for” and not “help”.
- Has both *transitive *(with an object) and intransitive (no object) usage structures.
- To take an object, the object has to go between the two characters.
- Is usually about actual “help”.
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