Chinese Language Blog

The Bǎ Construction (把) Posted by on Nov 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

With few prepositions in the Chinese language, adding depth to your conversations is often difficult for non-native speakers.  That’s why learning the bǎ construction (把) is a helpful way to improve your sentence formation and add grammatical complexity to your conversations. Instead of sticking to basic (and often boring) Subject-Verb-Object sentence patterns, the ba construction gives native English speakers something we’re used to: a bit more freedom in our sentence formation.

The bǎ construction is essentially a light-verb construction, similar to a preposition. In a bǎ construction, the object of a verb is placed after the function word “把 (bă)”, and the verb placed after the object, forming a subject–object–verb (SOV) sentence. This contradicts the more standard grammatical constructions of Chinese sentences that follows a pattern of subject-verb-object (SVO).

The bǎ construction is only used in certain contexts, generally those in which the verb expresses “disposal of”, or action upon/in relation to a direct object. The direct object of a  construction must meet certain requirements however. The object is usually a definite, meaning that it is specific and unique (as in phrases beginning with the equivalent of thisthatthese, or those). For this to occur, both the speaker and the listener must be actively “aware” of the object in question (as it has an immediate relationship to both).

Generally speaking, the ba construction highlights the object in question, making it the focus of the sentence. Ba is thus often used in relation to a previous discussion or past conversation, with implied meanings. When used properly, the ba construction allows speakers to elevate their grammatical complexity and enhance their expressive abilities. It is also very helpful when you need to emphasize the importance of the object in question.

See the chart below for a more in-depth explanation and examples of how to use the ba construction: 

[subject] [] [direct object] [verb]
他的意思 讲出来了
Transcription tā-de yìsi jiăng-chū-lái le
Gloss you BA he-POSSESSIVE meaning speak-out-come CRS
Translation You have explained what he meant. (Literally: “You have spoken out his meaning.”)

*Charts courtesy of Charles Li and Sandra Thompson (1981)

这三本书 都卖了
Transcription zhè sān-bĕn shū dōu mài-le
Gloss I BA these three-CL book all sell-PERFECTIVE
Translation I sold all three books.

Follow Steve on twitter: @seeitbelieveit


Tags: , , , ,
Keep learning Chinese with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Stephen

Writer and blogger for all things China related. Follow me on twitter: @seeitbelieveit -- My Background: Fluent Mandarin speaker with 3+ years working, living, studying and teaching throughout the mainland. Student of Kung Fu and avid photographer and documentarian.

Leave a comment: