I would like to understand which (if any) of these sentences are incorrect and why.

  1. 我给了我妹妹一支笔。(being the most basic, this is the one I think I understand)
  2. 我把那支笔给我妹妹了。
  3. 我把一支笔给我妹妹了。
  4. 我在把这支笔给我的妹妹

Thanks in advance for any answers.

Simply put, 把 is just used to denote the object.

However, the object particle 把 can only be used when the action is done entirely on the object and the object undergoes some consequences or changes after the action. This also implies that the object is doomed to experience the consequence once the action is triggered. 

For example, the following sentence will be very wrong: 

我把汉语学习。 = I learn Chinese. (?) -> wrong 

Here, "学习" means learn. Object particle is not used here as "Chinese" itself did not undergo any consequences or changes. Unless you use the completion form 了, then it will be OK to do that as "Chinese" has been in your mind deeply (did have some kinds of change), otherwise it will be unnatural to use the object particle. 

So, in your example above, the use of 把 is correct in each of the four sentences.

OK, so the only problem left is whether the four sentences are natural or not to be spoken.

Bear in mind that Chinese loves simplicity. So, for the particle 把,you should use it only when it is important that the listener does not miss the object (i. e. 笔 in your example).

Correct me if I am wrong.

Super Cool Handsome Gel Boy has given you a very interesting answer. You used the preposition 把 correctly. However there are some minor issues in the usage of the particle 了: in the 2nd and 3rd sentence, 了 should directly follow the predicate and precede the object (妹妹), because it is modified by the determiner 我. So we should write:

  1. 我把那支笔给我妹妹。
  2. 我把一支笔给我妹妹。

The preposition 把, as you've been told, can only be used when the direct object of the sentence undergoes or suffers some changes or consequences, in other words, the action expressed by the predicate must act directly upon the object. It follows that you are allowed to use 把 with action verbs, but not with stative verbs or verbs that do not express an action.

Therefore you cannot use 把 with:

  1. Stative verbs, such as 是,有,在,像,生存 (to exist),etc.
  2. Verbs expressing mental activities or judgements, such as 想,觉得,喜欢,知道,爱,希望 (to hope), 要, etc.
  3. Intransitive verbs or verbs with default objects, such as 旅行,跳舞,睡觉,迟到 (to be late)
  4. Directional verbs, such as 去,来,上,下,进,出,回,到,过,起,etc.

Also notice that the preposition 把 can only be applied if the object of the sentence you're constructing is somehow definite or known to the speaker and the listener. For instance, I cannot say

你把一些书放在桌子上。

because the object 书 is not definite (in fact it is preceded by 一些 which expresses indefiniteness). To make this sentence correct, I should say

你把书放在桌子上。

In this case, 书 doesn't have any specific modifier, but it's inferred from the context that both the speaker and the listener know the book they are talking about.

There are some situations in which you are obliged to use the 把 construction. This mainly happens when you have a result complement or a direction complement and they introduce another object in the sentence which is additional to the one of the main predicate. In the sentence I've just given to you (你把书放在桌子上), I must use the 把 construction because the predicate 放 has the result complement 在 which introduces its own object (桌子上). After the result complement block I'm not allowed to put anything else, so to add the object of the predicate (放) I should anticipate it using the preposition 把.

  • 1
    regarding position of 了,if it is the aspect/动态 了,then as pointed out by answers it must be before the object,the question arises whether 了 could not be the modal/语气 (end of sentence) 了, also combination of aspect 了 and modal 了 can be simplified to a single 了 at end of sentence. – user6065 Jun 25 '16 at 20:26
  • @user6065 I actually didn't consider that possibility. Thank you for your contribution! – Tochtli Jun 25 '16 at 21:02

Be very careful when using 妹妹 and 笔 in a sentence. Just like you do in English with cock (rooster) and little girl. In Chinese, Pen (笔) has an implication of a penis because they are all similar shape, especially for the Chinese; so you will never say something like this: (My little sister loves cocks.) or (I give my cock to my sister.), even though they are all correct in grammar.

  1. 我给了我妹妹一支笔。 ( I gave my sister a cock.)
  2. 我把那支笔给我妹妹了。(I gave away that cock to my sister.)
  3. 我把一支笔给我妹妹了。(I gave away a cock to my sister.)
  4. 我在把这支笔给我的妹妹 (I am giving away this cock to my sister.)

They are all correct. but if I want to say or do it in a more sophisticated and correct way.

This is it: 我送了一支钢笔给我妹妹。(I gifted my sister a fountain pen.)/

use 送 (gift), not 给 (give); why?

  • I give my cock to my sister. (bad)
  • I gift my cock to my sister. (okay)

also, using 钢笔, so no one will think of your 笔 has anything to do with your private part.

For the "把", its meaning is "taking" in your sentences.

I give my sister something; (我给我妹东西。)

I am "taking" something to give my sisiter. (我把东西给我妹。)

  • 3
    "In Chinese, Pen (笔) has an implication of a penis because they are all similar shape, especially for the Chinese" Never heard of that. At least, the analogy between cock–penis and 笔–阴茎 is incorrect, because the latter implication is far less connected in Chinese. – Stan Jun 27 '16 at 7:03
  • The guy asks for 把 and gets a cock answer... laughable. – Enrico Brasil Jun 27 '16 at 16:01

see grammars,b/c object of 把 should be definite(确定)only 3 might need justification, better search this site for previous discussion of such a basic question, cf. "实用现代汉语语法","把"字句,

在"把"字句中,谓语总是针对"把"的宾语的,有人甚至认为在句字中"把"的宾语是话题。正因为如此,它必须是听话人可以理解的,确定的事物。也就是说,当说话人用"把"字句时,听话人必须知道宾语所指的是什么。"把"的宾语所指的事物大多数是已知道的,。。。

有时"把"的宾语包含数量短语"一个",对听话人来说,是一个新信息不是定指的,但这个宾语还是确指的,是听话人能够理解的。例如:

(1)刚才我把一个孩子碰倒了。

在这个句字里,"孩子"不是任意一个,而是被"我"撞倒的那个,只是在这个句字里,"孩子"是谁并不重要,说话人只是要告诉对方"撞倒的"是"一个孩子",而不是"一个老人"、"一个青年"。

(2)老妈从你的书架上把一本书拿走了,我没看书名。

这个句字中的"一本书"就是老妈拿走的那本,也是确定的。

有时"把"的宾语还可以是一类事物或抽象的事物,但也是听话人可以理解的。例如:

(1)这是个自动售报机,只要把钱放进这个眼里,报纸从另一边出来了。

在自动售报机前面,这个句字的"钱",所指也是很清楚的。

(2)他中文很好,都能把中文诗翻成英文了。

在谈到学中文时,通指的"中文诗"也就变得确定了,即"他翻译过的中文诗"。

(3)他挥了一下手,似乎要把一切烦恼统统赶走。

这个句字里表示抽象事物的"一切烦恼"显然是"他的",也是确定的。

总之,"把"的宾语应该是一个确指的、听话人可以理解确认的事物。如果听话人不可理解,就不能作"把"字的宾语。如一个人突如其来地对教室里的同学说"我把信寄走了",大家一定会莫名其妙。

Thus it seems 3 can also be considered correct in that they make the point that a pen and not a pencil or some other writing utensil was given, if unfamiliar with the combination of 在 (for progressive aspect, 动作正在进行的形式)with 把 (see 4) enter "在把" in jukuu for many examples

  • answer marked down b/c mostly in (easy to understand)C ?, thus user who could have used 2 comment spaces is punished for making the extra effort of formatting as answer (requiring inserting lots of spaces),答案被扣分是因为用中文写的吗,就是说可利用两个评论空间的 用户因为作出附加的努力把说明安排成答案所以受到处分(提醒一下,这样做需要填上大量的行距) – user6065 Jun 26 '16 at 21:27

All usages in the examples are grammatically correct. Basically if you construct your sentence in compliance with the

"[Subject e.g.我你他] 把 [Object e.g. 笔/书] [predicate e.g. 给妹妹/放那里]"
pattern I don't see how you could be convicted grammatically wrong.

However from an idiomatic perspective #4 is very awkward, too grammatically influenced by Western languages and wont be heard ever from a native speaker.

And I assume present continuous tense is used in #4 to connote an intent/desire that should translate to "I will give away this pen shortly"? In that case the correct expression should be:

  • 我(要/会/准备)把这支笔给我的妹妹

And as a side note, in colloquial context we tend to omit the subject and even the 把 itself. The following examples would be preferred by native speakers in every day/non-emergency situations:

  • 那支笔给我妹妹了
  • 笔放桌上了
  • 桌挪到角落去了

Usually the 把 construction is intended to stress the intent/importance and in many cases even the urgency of the predicate, with an extra amount of emphasis on the significance of achieving the outcome of the predicate. Consider the following examples where their context/situation perfectly warrants the use of 把:

  • (快)把警察叫来! - Call the police over (immediately)!
  • 把枪扔了! - Drop your gun/weapon!
  • (赶紧)把火灭了! - Put out that fire! (Hurry!)

I think the actual reason why you don't like sentence 4, is that you don't usually use "在" with "给", because "给" finishes instantly, but "在", when used with verbs, means that it is still in progress.

normally all is correct(unless you require strict grammar), but meaning is different for No.4 "我在把這隻筆給我妹妹"

for native speaker, they will think you are in the middle of giving this pen to my sister" .

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