how to use chinese ba grammar structure

Chinese Bǎ (把) Sentences: How to Form Them Correctly, Plus Practice Tips

Once you start pushing toward intermediate Chinese, you’ll discover that there’s more beyond Chinese SOV statements.

The one construction you’ll hear the most is the Chinese ba (把) sentence.

In this post, we’ll get you started with the basics: what 把 sentences look like, when and why they’re used, as well as how to get in the habit of using them yourself.


What Is a Chinese Bǎ (把) Sentence?

In Chinese grammar, the 把 sentence is a construction that focuses on the result or effect of an action.

It has no equivalent in English grammar and completely changes the order of the sentence.

When you use 把, you have to remember to put your object before the verb.

Since English speakers just don’t plan their sentences that way, it takes some getting used to.

As a fairly simple example, take the following sentence.

她把饺子吃掉了。(tā bǎ jiǎo zi chī diào le.) — She ate up the dumplings.

This follows the basic order of a 把 sentence:

Subject (她) + + Object (饺子) + Verb (吃掉了)

There are a lot of sentences in Chinese that sound more natural if you use 把. But you can get by without it.

That said, Chinese has at least one common verb where you just can’t use normal English word order, such as (fàng) meaning “put.”

Here’s an example:

我把书放在桌子上。(wǒ bǎ shū fàng zài zhuō zi shàng.) — I put the book on the table.

Now that you know what a 把 sentence looks like, we’ll look more carefully at when and why you might want to use it.

把 sentences are often used in situations where you could say, “The subject took the object and did something to it.” (This is, in fact, the likely historical source of the 把 construction.)

Remember our original sentence? You could express roughly the same meaning by saying “She took the dumplings and ate them up.”

Use 把 to Emphasize What Happened to an Object

Unlike SOV statements which answer “What did the subject do?”, 把 sentences answer the following questions:

  • “What did the subject do to the object?”
  • “What happened to the object?”

And going back to our earlier example, “She ate up the dumplings” works well to answer both questions above.

In other words, you should only use 把 when the object has undergone some change or has been strongly affected by the action.

Grammar books will sometimes refer to this as “affectedness” or “disposal.”

This is why our example sentence uses 吃掉了 instead of simply 吃了, as 吃掉了 implies a greater effect on the object.

In most 把 sentences:

1. The action is complete. You can see the result of the verb’s action. 

2. The effect is complete. The entire object has experienced the effect. 

In the case of our dumpling example, the dumplings have undergone a change (from not being eaten to all of them eaten up).

There are certain verbs that lend themselves particularly well to the Chinese 把 construction, such as:

(fàng) — put

(mài) — sell

变成 (biàn chéng) — turn into

翻成 (fān chéng) — translate

Here are some sentence examples:

我的电脑了。(wǒ wǒde diàn nǎo mài le.) — I sold my computer.

变成酒。(tā shuǐ biàn chéng jiǔ.) He turned the water into wine.

Another component of a 把 sentence is that you need to indicate how the verb was carried out, or at least clearly show the action is complete.

Some examples that show completion are the complements 好 (hǎo) and 完 (wán), as in:

我们把作业做(wǒmen bǎ zuò yè zuò hǎo le.)  We finished the homework.

他把苹果吃(tā bǎ píng guǒ chī wán le.) He ate the apple.

Verbs followed by a directional complement also tend to work well with 把 sentences.

One example:

她把桃子摘下来了(tā bǎ táo zi zhāi xià lái le.) She picked the peach.

Notice that the direction won’t always translate into English.

On the other hand, verbs that describe events like thinking, feeling or perceiving, such as 知道 (zhī dào know), 喜欢 (xǐ huān  like) and 看 (kàn  look), are almost never used with 把  because the object remains unaffected.

It would be strange to say, “She took the dumplings and liked them.”

Use 把 When the Object Has Already Been Defined

Because of the special meaning of a 把 sentence, only certain kinds of objects can be used in them.

In most 把 sentences, both the speaker and the listener know the object being talked about.

This is another way of saying that the object needs to be either “definite” or “generic.”

Think about whether you could use the word “the” with the object. If you can’t, 把 isn’t going to work.

Suppose you wanted to tell your coworker what you ate for lunch.

In this situation, you can tell your coworker:

我吃饺子了。(wǒ chī le jiǎo zi.) I ate dumplings.

But if your coworkers already know which dumplings you’re referring to (eg. you already had a prior discussion about the soup dumplings you made last night and brought to work), then you can say:

饺子吃了。(wǒ jiǎo zi chī le.) I ate the dumplings.

How to Practice Chinese Bǎ (把) Sentences

Here are some practical ideas you can try to start using 把 sentences in your conversations:

Walk yourself through your daily routine using 把

As you get ready in the morning, there are all sorts of things you do to objects.

Try talking your way through your routine in Chinese. And if you don’t live alone, consider keeping the conversation in your head!

我把脸洗干净了。(wǒ bǎ liǎn xǐ gān jìng.)  I washed my face clean.

我把鸡蛋煎好了。(wǒ bǎ jī dàn jiān hǎole.)  I finished frying the eggs.

我把钥匙放在口袋里。(wǒ bǎ yào shi fàng zài kǒu dài lǐ.)  I put my keys in my pocket.

Practice with a language partner

把 sentences also work nicely with imperatives or commands.

It follows the same basic formula as above, just without a subject.

+ Object + Verb

Have your language partner boss you around for a while, while you get up and carry out the actions.

把灯打开。(bǎ dēng dǎ kāi.) Turn on the light.

把笔放在椅子上。(bǎ bǐ fàng zài yǐzi shàng.) Put your pen on the chair.

把碗擦好。(bǎ wǎn cā hǎo.) Wipe the dishes clean.

Tell a story—with feeling!

Chinese speakers don’t just use 把 sentences at random—they have a reason.

And one of those reasons is to make a conversation sound more dramatic.

There’s a whole book about this, by Zhuo Jing-Schmidt, should you be looking for a very long diversion from your studies.

So think of something exciting that happened recently.

And then think about how you could tell a simple version in Chinese—with a 把 sentence:

(zuó tiān wǒ qù shāng chéng. yǒu rén pèng le wǒ yī xià.)
I was going into the mall yesterday. Someone bumped into me.

(wǒ zhuǎn yǎn kàn. xiǎo tōu bǎ wǒ de qián bāo tōu zǒu le.)
I turned and looked. A thief had stolen my purse.


You made it! Hopefully, you have a better understanding of Chinese 把 construction so you can speak Mandarin more naturally.

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