The difference between 拿 (ná) and 带 (dài) in Chinese grammar
The verbs 拿 (ná) and 带 (dài) can both mean “bring” or “take”, so what is the difference between the two? In short, the difference between 拿 and 带 is:
拿 focuses on the action of carrying or picking up an object, particularly in one’s hands.
带 focuses on bringing or taking things with you, i.e. having something whilst moving.
As with all confusing word pairs, there is a lot of overlap between 拿 and 带. In many cases, native Chinese speakers would be hard pushed to say why you should go with one over the other.
A big rule in developing your Chinese is to avoid spending too much time trying to analyse grammar or rules. Native speakers do not learn in this way. It is good to read up on grammar and get a sense of what is going on, but ultimately you’ve got to develop a natural feel for the language through lots of practice and exposure.
With that in mind, let’s look at 拿 and 带.
Comparing 拿 and 带 directly
The best way to get an idea of the difference between 拿 and 带 is probably to compare them in otherwise identical sentences. First up:
Here you can see that whilst 带 and 拿 can both mean ‘take’, 带 simply expresses the act of moving with an object, whereas 拿 focuses on the physical act of carrying it.
So what about this example? The sentences seem to mean the same thing. They are pretty much the same, except that 拿 draws more attention to the act of picking up the umbrella. Functionally there is very little difference between these two sentences.
The difference is clearer in this example. With 带, the sentence is a request for something to be taken to another place. It feels somewhat incomplete without the place being specified. The sentence 带 seems that the listener is going there and the speaker wants them to take something with them. With 拿, the request is simply to hold something without necessarily going anywhere.
Now we’ve looked at some of the direct differences between 拿 and 带, let’s look at them each separately in detail.
拿 is used to talk about physically picking things up or carrying them. Notice how it contains 手 (shǒu), the character for hand. When 拿 is used, you should nearly always think of things being moved in someone’s hand/s.
Taking to and from with 拿
Depending on the direction of the action, 拿 is often translated into “bring” or “take” in English. Let’s have a look at “take” first:
If you noticed the 把 character there and are wondering what it does, have a read about the 把 structure. It’s one of the trickiest and most important structures in Chinese grammar.
With these example sentences for 拿, pay attention to how the action focuses on physically moving things around by hand.
Bringing to and from with 拿
You can also use 拿 to talk about bringing things to or from places:
Again, 拿 is used in these sentences because they’re about people moving things with their hands. If you replaced 拿 with 带, the sentences would still be acceptable, but there would be no focus on the physical carrying of the objects. Using 带 would simply state the objects were transported by the person.
Unlike 带, 拿 can be used to talk about physically carrying or holding things without specifying if they’re being taken anywhere. Have a look at some examples:
When used to talk about carrying things, 拿 is very often combined with the aspect particle 着 (zhe). 着 is used to talk about continuous or ongoing actions.
Have a look at some examples with 拿 and 着:
Notice how 着 indicates that the action is ongoing. There isn’t a defined start or end point for the action; in the context of the sentence, it is continuous.
Getting or acquiring with 拿
As well as talking about physically moving things around, 拿 can also be used to talk about ‘getting’ or ‘acquiring’ things.
You might see this as a slightly metaphorical use of 拿, because there isn’t necessarily anything being moved by hand. Alternatively, you might just interpret this as meaning that 拿 has a wider set of meanings.
带 means ‘bring’ or ‘take’ in the sense of causing something to move with oneself to a destination. In that way it’s more general than 拿, and doesn’t have any implications about how the thing is moved.
Taking to and from with 带
As with 拿, whether 带 is translated into ‘bring’ or ‘take’ in English is decided by the direction of the movement. Chinese uses 带 for both directions:
The important difference to 拿 is that these sentences with 带 don’t imply how the object is being moved. The person might be carrying it, putting in their bag or putting it in their car, for example.
Bringing to and from with 带
if the direction is towards the speaker, then 带 becomes ‘bring’ rather than ‘take’:
Like 拿, 带 is often combined with 着. This is often used to state that someone ‘has’ something, i.e that they have it with them. It could mean that they have it in the hand, but they could just have it on them or otherwise with them at moment.
This sentence is very ambiguous because 带 doesn’t specify in what way exactly she possesses the gun, just that she’s got one. If you were to use 拿 instead of 带, it would be much clearer that she’s holding the gun in her hand.
Also note that the sentences above could all be in the past. Like other aspect particles, 着 is about the time frame we’re talking about, and not the time frame we’re talking in.
Some more example sentences with 带 and 着:
带 can be used with abstract / intangible things
Finally, another difference between 拿 and 带 is that 带 can be used with abstract or intangible things, whereas this doesn’t tend to be the case with 拿.
Have a look at some examples:
她说话是带着浓重的美国口音。[This would often be said with 操着.]
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