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:

我来帮你吧。

Wǒ lái bāng nǐ​​ ba.

Let me help you.

你可以帮我一下吗?

Nǐ kěyǐ bāng wǒ yīxià ma?

Can you help me?

我不要帮他。

Wǒ bù yào bāng tā.

I don't want to help him.

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:

我帮我妹妹做作业。

Wǒ bāng wǒ mèimei zuò zuo yè.

I help my little sister do her homework.

你可以帮我找找我的钥匙吗?

Nǐ kěyǐ bāng wǒ zhǎo zhǎo wǒ de yàoshi ma?

Can you help me look for my keys?

他每天都帮我干活。

Tā měi tiān dū bāng wǒ gàn huó.

He helps me with my work every day.

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:

你去邮局的时候可以帮我寄这个吗?

Nǐ qù yóujú de shíhou kěyǐ bāng wǒ jì zhège ma?

Could you post this for me when you go to the post office?

我的秘书常常帮我安排开会。

Wǒ de mìshū chángcháng bāng wǒ ānpái kāihuì.

My secretary often arranges meetings for me.

帮我打开窗户吧!

Bāng wǒ dǎkāi chuānghù ba!

Could you open the window [for me]?

她昨天帮我修了自行车。

Tā zuótiān bāng wǒ xiūle zìxíngchē.

Yesterday she fixed my bike for me.

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:

你来帮忙做饭吧!

Nǐ lái bāngmáng zuò fàn ba!

Come and help with the cooking!

请你帮忙开个门好吗?

Qǐng nǐ bāngmáng kāi gè mén hǎo ma?

Would you please open the door for me?

我写信请你帮忙。

Wǒ xiě xìn qǐng nǐ bāngmáng.

I'm writing to ask you a favor.

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:

你可以帮我一个忙吗?

Nǐ kěyǐ bāng wǒ yīgè máng ma?

Can you help me?

他帮了你很多忙。

Tā bāngle nǐ hěnduō máng.

He helped you a lot.

警察帮了我们一个大忙。

Jǐngchá bāngle wǒmen yīgè dàmáng.

The police helped us a lot.

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”.
  • 帮忙
    • 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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