The words 拿起来 (náqǐlái) and 拿上来 (náshànglái) in Chinese seem similar but are actually used differently. 拿起来 translates quite neatly into “pick up” or “pick something up” in English. 拿上来 doesn’t have such a direct translation, and is used to talk about moving things from lower positions to higher positions, e.g. putting things on tables or taking them upstairs.
Notice how both of these words are formed with the verb 拿 followed by a directional complement. The complements are in neutral tone – only the first character 拿 has a strong tone in these words.
拿起来 (náqǐlái): “to pick up”
Of the two words described here, this is probably the easier to understand and use. 拿起来 (náqǐlái) is very similar to “pick up” in English, i.e to use your hand/s to get an object off the floor, a table or something. It doesn’t mean meeting people in bars or giving someone a lift in your car, though!
Notice the directional complement 起来 (in neutral tone). Literally this is “rise come”, so 拿起来 is always about bringing objects upwards and towards you. You can’t use 拿起来 to talk about getting some down off a shelf, for example; that would be 拿下来 (náxialai).
拿起来 also implies that the object has been picked up and held, at least for a moment. The action of 拿起来 in itself isn’t about putting the object somewhere else, although that might follow.
The next thing to note is that 拿起来 usually appears in one of two constructions:
拿起 [object] 来
把 [object] 拿起来
If you don’t know about 把, then read about the 把 structure. These two structures are pretty much equivalent in meaning; the only important difference is where the object goes. You might also see 拿起来 without a direct object.
Have a look at some example sentences for 拿起来:
Nǐ kěyǐ bāng wǒ bǎ nàge náqilai ma?
Could you pick that up for me?
Tā bǎ bēizi náqilai hēle yī kǒu.
He picked up his cup and took a sip.
Xuéshēng náqi bǐ lai kāishǐ kǎoshì.
The students picked up their pens and began the exam.
Xiāngzi hěn qīng, wǒ kěyǐ hěn róngyìde náqilai.
The box is very light – I can pick it up easily.
As you can see, 拿起来 is used to talk about picking up objects and holding them for some amount of time.
拿上来 (náshànglái): “to bring up”
拿上来 is probably best translated into English as “to bring up”, as in to take an object from somewhere lower down and bring it to somewhere higher up. Unlike 拿起来, the action of 拿上来 includes the object ending up somewhere without someone holding it.
That’s the key difference to remember about this two words. 拿起来 is simply about the object being picked up, and that’s it. 拿上来 is about where the object ends up: from a lower position to a higher one.
The similarity is that both words are about an action that comes towards the speaker. That’s what 来 is doing on the end of both words: the action is *coming closer *in both cases.
拿上来 tends to be used in a 把 structure (see above):
把 [object] 拿上来
As usual, we’d recommend getting familiar with example sentences, listening a lot and reading a lot to learn these structures. This is easier and more effective than trying to memorize ‘grammar rules’.
Some example sentences for 拿上来:
Hùshì xiàlóu bǎ bìngrénde yào náshànglaile.
The nurse went downstairs to bring the patients’ medicine up.
Wǒ ràng xínglǐyuán bǎ wǒmende bāo náshanglai le.
I had the porter bring our bags up.
Nǐ kěyǐ bāng wǒ bǎ wǒde shū cóng lóuxià náshanglai ma?
Could you bring my book upstairs for me?
Notice how 拿上来 is about objects being moved from a lower location to a higher one (often upstairs and downstairs, although it doesn’t have to be).
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