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Getting to Know the Measure Word 把 in Chinese

If you’re learning Chinese, you’ll come across the character 把(bǎ) early on, and it’s important to understand its uses. Besides its common role in sentence structure, 把 also functions as a measure word. In Chinese, numbers cannot quantify nouns by themselves, so measure words are used to indicate the quantity of a noun (or action).

LanguageNumeralMeasure wordNoun
Englishthree people

However, some measure words can be tricky to grasp, and 把(bǎ)  is one of them. In this article, we’ll explore eight ways to use the measure word 把 (bǎ) and get to know it better.

1. The measure word 把 (bǎ) quantifies objects that can be held or have handles. Examples of such objects include 牙刷(yáshuā, toothbrush), 钥匙(yàoshi, key), 梳子(shūzi, comb), 勺子(sháozi, spoon), 叉子(chāzi, fork), 刀(dāo, knife), 茶壶(cháhú, teapot), 剪刀(jiǎndāo ,scissors), 伞(sǎn, umbrella),尺子(chǐzi, ruler),笤帚(tiáozhou, broom), 椅子(yǐzi, chair),扇子(shànzi, fan), 小提琴(xiǎotíqín, violin), 锯(jù, saw), 斧子(fǔzi, axe), 剑(jiàn, sword), and手枪 (shǒuqiāng, pistol).


For examples:


I lost a key.
(Wǒ diū le yì bǎ yàoshi.)

It’s raining. I want to buy an umbrella. 
(Xià yǔ le, wǒ xiǎng mǎi yì bǎ yǔsǎn.)

Remember, to specify a noun, you can use 这 (zhè, this) or 那 (nà, that) instead of 一 (yī, one).

For example:

This comb is Mary’s.
(zhè bǎ shū zi shì mǎ lì de.)

That fan is very beautiful.
(nà bǎ shàn zi hěn piào liang. )

2. The measure word 把 can also be used to describe a handful of something. It refers to a set of objects that are typically not bundled and can be held in one hand.

For example:

  • 一把火柴(yì bǎ huǒchái, a handful of matchsticks)
  • 一把豆子(yì bǎ dòuzi, a handful of beans)
  • 一把米(yì bǎ mǐ, handful of rice)
  • 一把花生(yì bǎ huāshēng, handful of peanuts)
  • 一把沙子(yì bǎ shāzi , a handful of sand)

Here are some ways to use it:


He fed the horse a handful of green grass. 
(Tā gěi mǎ wèi le yì bǎ qīng cǎo.)

The little girl put a handful of candy into her pocket. 
(Xiǎo nǚhái zhuā le yì bǎ táng fàng jìn kǒudài lǐ.)

3. 把 can be used to describe a bunch or bundle of things of the same kind that are fastened together. For example, you can use 把 with 香蕉 (xiāngjiāo, bananas), 筷子 (kuàizi, chopsticks), 菠菜 (bōcài, spinach), 萝卜 (luóbo, radishes), 大葱 (dàcōng, scallions), and so on.


For example:


I went to supermarket and bought a bunch of bananas.        
(Wǒ qù chāoshì mǎi le yì bǎ xiāngjiāo.)

I also bought two bundles of radishes.
(Wǒ hái mǎi le liǎng bǎ xiǎo luóbo.)

4. 把 can also be used to describe a strong hand, and this phrase would only make sense in a sentence with clear context.

Here is an example of how it can be used:


This suitcase is very heavy. It will take a strong hand to lift it. 
(Zhège xiāngzi hěn zhòng, tí qǐ tā xūyào yì bǎ lìqì.)

5. 把 can be used to describe actions done with hands.

For example:


give her a helping hand
(lā/ bāng tā yì bǎ)

6. 把 can also be used to motivate or encourage someone to work harder.

For example:


work harder
(zài nǔ yì bǎ lì /zài jiā yì bǎ jìnr)

You have to study harder, if you want to pass this exam.
(rú guǒ xiǎng tōng guò zhè gè kǎo shì ,hái děi zài jiā yì bǎ jìnr.)

7. 把 can modify actions done with hands (with 一 (yī, one)  as the numeral).

For example:


She whines about her trouble with snot and tears streaming down her face.
(Tā yì bǎ bítì yì bǎ yǎn lèi de kūsù tā de fánnǎo.)

8. Additionally, 把 can be a measure word for persons with special skills or abstract nouns, such as “a good hand” at something.
For example:


He is good at babysitting.
(Tā shì dài háizi de yì bǎ hǎo shǒu.)

Measure words play a crucial role in Mandarin Chinese learning, and 把 (bǎ) is one of the most versatile measure words in the language. It can quantify objects that can be grasped, describe a handful of something, bundle things together, encourage someone to work harder, modify actions with hands, and even be used as a measure word for persons with special skills. The best way to remember measure words is through example sentences, and we hope that this article has provided you with a better understanding of the measure word 把.

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Rita Zhang

Rita is a professional Mandarin teacher, has been teaching more than 8 years. She enjoys digging more about Chinese grammar and culture work and helping more learners. Now she is working at the one-on-one online Chinese school TouchChinese.

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