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Difficult Chinese Characters Explained Simply: 把

The character 把 is a real headache for Chinese learners, but you will get very used to when it is/isn’t used and how to use it through exposure and practice.

It doesn’t have an equivalent in English, and when used as a grammar word, it doesn’t have it’s own meaning, however the original meaning of the character is something like ‘grasp’ or ‘hold’

把 is used really commonly in Mandarin to emphasise the result or action that you are doing to an object, or the influence that it has.

Does that sound really confusing?

It’s not the kind of thing you can describe easily, it’s better to look at examples.

请打开门
Qǐng kāi mén
Literally: Please open up door
Please open the door.

However, using 把 you can also say:

请把门打开 (Qǐng bǎ mén dǎkāi)
Literally: please take/grasp the door 
and open it up

请 please
把 a grammar word (take/grasp)
门 door
打 open
开 the result of the opening (like the ‘up’ in ‘open up’

Here’s another example:

他喝完了酒
Tā hē wán le jiǔ
Literally: he drink finish (le) alcohol
He finished the alcohol.

However, using 把 you can also say:

他把酒喝完了 (Tā bǎ jiǔ hē wán le)
Literally: he took the alcohol, drunk and finished

他 he
把 a grammar word (take/grasp)
酒 alcohol
喝完 drink finish (verb + result of verb)
了 grammatical character indicating a completed action

我想先把项目做完
Wǒ xiǎng xiān bǎ xiàngmù zuò wán
Literally: I want first take project do complete
I want to complete the project first.

完 ‘completed’ is the result of the verb here, which is need to make the sentence feel ‘complete’.

我想把中文学好
Wǒ xiǎng bǎ zhōngwén xué hǎo
Literally: I want take Chinese study good
I want to do a good job of learning Chinese.

好 ‘good/well’ is the result of the verb here, which is need to make the sentence feel ‘complete’.

As you have seen, in these 把 sentences with one object, you generally have to add a result of the verb to make the sentence correct and complete.

Eg. 打开 open ‘up’ , 学好 study ‘well’, 喝完 drink ‘and finish’

了 is sometimes also added, as a grammar word to indicate ‘completion’

In these sentences, I’ve shown you that you can write the sentence either using or not using 把.

That’s because these sentence only have one object.

Even if you can format them without 把 (with a different word order), sometimes the Chinese will feel a bit awkward without doing it that way. This is just something you have to get a feel for slowly.

However in other sentences where there are two objects (direct and indirect objects), then you have to use 把 for the Chinese to be correct.

For example: Put the book on the table.

‘Book’ and ‘table’ are two objects.

This would be:

把书放在桌子上
Bǎ shū fàng zài zhuōzi shàng
Literally: take book put in the location table on top
Put the book on the table.

请把这篇文章翻译成中文
Qǐng bǎ zhè piān wénzhāng fānyì chéng zhōngwén
Literally: please take this (measure word) essay, translate become Chinese.
Please translate this essay into Chinese.

成 become is the result of the verb here, which is need to make the sentence feel ‘complete’.

我想把这封信寄到英国
Qǐng bǎ zhè piān wénzhāng fānyì chéng zhōngwén
Literally: I want take this (measure word) letter, mail to the UK.
I want to mail this letter to the UK.

麻烦把衣服拿进来
Qǐng bǎ zhè piān wénzhāng fānyì chéng zhōngwén
Literally: trouble [you to] take the clothes and take [them] in.
Could [you] bring the clothes in?

把蛋糕切成四块
Bǎ dàngāo qiē chéng sì kuài
Literally: take cake, cut into 4 pieces.
Cut the cake into 4 pieces.

我打算把电脑送给我的朋友
Wǒ dǎsuàn bǎ diànnǎo sòng gěi wǒ de péngyǒu
Literally: I plan take computer, gift and give [to] my friend.
I plan to give the compuiter to my friend.

我可以把我的手机卖给你
Wǒ kěyǐ bǎ wǒ de shǒujī mài gěi nǐ
Literally: I can take my phone, sell give you
I can sell my cell/mobile phone to you.

我可以把我的妹妹介绍给你
Wǒ kěyǐ bǎ wǒ de mèimei jièshào gěi nǐ
Literally: I can take my younger sister, introduce give you
I can introduce my younger sister to you.

One video isn’t enough to explain to you all the kinds of sentences 把 is used in and make you completely understand.

It’s best to get a sense for it by looking at a lot of examples, so as you see it or hear it more in Chinese, pay attention to how it is used, to enable you to use it better and know when you need/don’t need to use it.

You’ll pick it up in time!