City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
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asked Dec 1, 2020 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by Ariel (17,790 points) | 22 views

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The object ‘grasped’ by bǎ is generally of definite reference. In our example above, the object bēi zǐ must mean ‘the cup(s)’. It may of course be given an explicit definite reference by the addition of a demonstrative, as in:

他把那只/那些杯子洗干净了。

Tā bǎ nà zhī /nà xiē bēi zǐ xǐ gān jìng le 。

He washed that cup/those cups.

But one cannot say:

*他把一个杯子洗干净了。

*Tā bǎ yī gè bēi zǐ xǐ gān jìng le 。

because ‘yī gè bēi zǐ’ is of indefinite reference.

The verb must, as was implied above, be followed by a complement. In our example, the verb 洗 xǐ ‘wash’ is complemented by the adjective 干净 gān jìng ‘clean’, without which the sentence would not be complete.

One cannot say:

*他把那个杯子洗。

*Tā bǎ nà gè bēi zǐ xǐ 。

The presence of a complement, especially a long one, in fact necessitates the shift of the object in the first place. One cannot say, for example:

*他洗得干干净净(的)杯子。

*Tā xǐ dé gān gān jìng jìng (de) bēi zǐ 。

While it is possible for the object to follow a verb with a simple complement:

他洗干净了那只杯子。

Tā xǐ gān jìng le nà zhī bēi zǐ 。

nonetheless it feels more natural and rhythmically more balanced to use 把 bǎ.

[1] Yip, P. C., Rimmington, D., Xiaoming, Z., & Henson, R. (2009). Basic Chinese: a grammar and workbook. Taylor & Francis.
answered Dec 1, 2020 by Ariel (17,790 points)

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