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Which of these sentences is correct? Or are both acceptable? Which sounds more natural to a native Mandarin speaker?

  1. 他把书放在桌子上。
  2. 他在桌子上放书。
  3. 他把书在桌子上放。
  4. 他放书在桌子上。

I guess 在桌子上 is not where the 放 is occurring, so maybe the #2 & #3 don't make sense? I can't find a specific sentence structure rule, but is it generally:

#4 seems to follow a pattern:

(subject) + (verb) + (object) + (location of object after verb action)

That seems to make sense to me.

#1 seems to follow a pattern:

(subject) + 把 + (object) + (verb) + (location of object after verb action)

This makes sense to me if it is acceptable to put (location of object after verb action) at the end of the sentence.

So the primary questions summarize to:

1) Is there a general sentence structure for actions on objects which change the location/state of the object?

2) Or is this case unique to "putting an object in a place"?

  • cf.CCG:6.2 Dynamic and static differences ...dynamic action verb implies action travels across certain space, whereas static action verb does not, dynamic or static nature will decide whether location phrase associated with it precedes or follows it, dynamic -> precede, static -> either precede or follow, 他在公园里散步,他在草地上坐着,他坐在草地上。"实用现代汉语语法"第284页:(七)介词短语"在。。。"可用在动词后作补语,表示事物通过动做行为所在的处所或动作行为发生的时间。1。表示处所:1。他生气地把衣服仍在地上。(2)计算出来的那些数据已经都存储在计算机里了。(3)他进屋就趴在床上了, – user6065 Feb 24 '17 at 17:13
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    since 在 indicates direction of action of verb 放 (and not where it takes place) it should follow verb, therefore 1,4 seems appropriate, similarly: 把这些词写在黑板上, 把垃圾扔在人行道上, 撒尿在草地上,generally location phrase is considered adverbial adjunct or complement according as it precedes or follows verb, other prepositions used for complements: 于,向,自,e.g.鲁迅生于一八八一年。我们要从胜利走向胜利。这句话引自<<马克思全集>>。 – user6065 Feb 24 '17 at 17:13
  • Now I know how to say 撒尿! lol... Thank you so much for the explanation! I can see that there is a standard structure going on here, and it makes sense to me. – jdods Feb 25 '17 at 20:56
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1 and 2 are correct, but 2 is weird. You can find a nice explanation here.

The grammatical role of 在桌子上 is sightly different though. In:

他把书放在桌子上。

The phrase 在桌子上 is a result complement. The verb 在 acts as a result of 放:the result of 放 "putting" the book is that it now 在 "stays" on the table.
Now the result verb must occur right after the main verb, therefore the object of the action gets pulled in front of it by 把, thus achieving a SOV structure.

In example 2:

他在桌子上放书。

The phrase 在桌子上 acts as a location complement, and therefore locates the action 放。The sentence is weird because it's not clear if being on the table is the result of the action or where the action is taking place.

Examples 3 and 4 are not grammatical.

So to answer your question, anticipation of the object with Subj. + 把 + Obj. + Verb Phrase.
happens mainly in two cases:

  1. when the main verb is followed by a result verb or a result complement

    你把苹果吃掉吧。 Eat the apple. (result is 掉 = object has disappeared)
    你把钱包拿出来。Take out the purse. (result is the purse comes out)

  2. when the main verb is ditransitive (direct and indirect object)

    我准备把这件礼物 (direct obj.) 给 (indirect obj.) I'm going to give this present to him

2

It might be easier to understand the subtlety if you tried to translate it to English literally and see how it would sound like to native speakers (not exact translations, just to give you an idea why the first sounds most natural):

  • 他把书放在桌子上。He put the book on the desk.
  • 他在桌子上放书。 On the desk he placed (instead of put sounds better) the book.
  • 他把书在桌子上放。The book on the desk he placed.
  • 他放书在桌子上。He released the book on the desk.
1

Chinese is a language of subtlety, by "subtle" I mean you can use the same set of characters to form sentences (by changing the order) for a variety of circumstances. As to what is correct, it really depends on what you are trying to communicate (emphasize), and the situation you are in—a sentence that is perfectly ok in writing could be awkward or dull in daily communications.

So,

1) If you want to describe the action itself, #1 is probably the most natural in general.

2) If you want to describe the result (e.g. in response to the question "Where did he put the book?"), add a 了:

他把书放在桌子上了。

Many native speakers choose to omit 在 in daily conversations nowadays:

他把书放桌子上了。

And when 桌/椅/架/车子 is used with 上, you can even omit 子. This sounds more comfortable to the Chinese ears (I'm Chinese so you can take my words for it :D). So if you want to impress people, try losing them in daily conversations:

他把书放桌上了。

3) In response to the question "Where does he (usually) put his books?" Both #1 and #2 are ok, #2 is arguably better if you add an adverb:

他(一般)在桌子上放书。

4) The structure of #3 can be used (useful) in writing/saying rhyming verses:

他把书在桌上放,
水泥包往肩上扛。

Try to say it out loud (this verse makes more sense in the 60s). :D

So again, instead of asking whether it is right or wrong, it is more sensible to ask which is more appropriate in which situation.

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