Passive form

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The passive voice is a grammatical voice in which the subject receives the action of a transitive verb. Passive voice emphasizes the process rather than who is performing the action. In Korean this form is called 피동. There are few patterns to help distinguish between active and passive voices in Korean verbs. This makes this more difficult to learn than a regular Korean grammar rule.

Passive verbs still work as action verbs but now the object (that usually takes 을 or 를) has become the subject of the sentence (takes the particles: 이 or 가).

  • 막아요. [Traffic] blocks the road.
  • 막혀요. The road is blocked [by traffic]. (막히다 is much more common in this scenario)

Some active voice English expressions should be translated to passive form in Korean. (Only passive form is natural in Korean.)

  • 괜찮아 보여요. [It] is seen to be fine. ☞ ([It] looks fine.)
  • 영어처럼 들려요. [It] is heard like English. ☞ ([It] sounds like English.)
  • 칠판이 잘 안 보여요. The blackboard is not seen well (to me). ☞ ([I] can't see the blackboard well.)
  • 내 목소리 들리냐? Is my voice heard (by you)? ☞ (Can [you] hear my voice?)
  • 게임이 시작되었다. The game has been begun. ☞ (The game has begun.)
  • 이 책은 아주 잘 팔리고 있다. This book is being sold very well. ☞ (This book is selling very well.)

Some Korean passive forms should be translated to active voice in English. (Both active and passive forms are natural in Korean, but only active voice is natural in English.)

  • 이 현실이 믿기지가 않았다. This reality was not believed (by me). ☞ ([I] couldn't believe this reality.)
  • 이 현실을 믿을 수가 없었다. [I] couldn't believe this reality.

Some passive voice English expressions should be translated to active form in Korean. (Both active and passive voices are natural in English, but only active form is natural in Korean.)

  • I was interviewed. ☞ 나는 면접을 받았다. (I got a interview.)

The Korean passive and causative conjugations pose many confusing aspects, and most Korean materials don't even teach this part properly. This grammar part may even be hard for some native Korean speakers. For example, 굽다 has two meanings and their conjugation forms are completely different.

  • 굽다1 : bend
  • 굽어지다 : to become (naturally) bent : (-어지다 is always passive. in this case, 굽다 follows the regular conjugation rule)
  • 굽히다 : to make something become bent , to bend something : (this -히 is causative)
  • 굽혀지다 : to become bent by someone : (causative + passive)
  • 굽다2 : to bake
  • 구워지다 : to be baked : (-어지다 is always passive. in this case, 굽다 follows the ㅂ irregular conjugation rule)

In the example above, -히 is a causative particle, but it can be either a passive particle in many other verbs.

  • 먹다 : to eat
  • 먹히다 : to be eaten : (this -히 is passive)
  • 먹이다 : to make/let someone eat , to feed : (this -이 is causative)

In some cases, passive and causative forms are morphologically identical.

  • 보다 : to see
  • 보이다1 : to be seen : (this -이 is passive)
  • 보이다2 : to make/let someone see , to show : (this -이 is causative. to avoid confusion, 보여주다 is used in most cases)
  • 보여지다1 : to be shown : (causative -이 + passive -어지다)
  • 보여지다2 : to be seen : (passive -이 + passive -어지다, this usage is wrong as it is a double passive)

There are some verbs that even most native Koreans fail to conjugate correctly.

  • 잊다 : to forget
  • 잊히다 : to be forgotten : (passive)
  • 잊혀지다 : to be forgotten : (a double passive using both -히 and -어지다. this is wrong)
  • 잊게 하다 : to make/let someone forget something : (in this case, -게 하다 is the proper causative form)

Some verbs don't allow the passive particles at all. These exceptional verbs need special passive forms.

  • 죽다 : to die
  • 죽이다 : to make/let someone die , to kill : (causative -이)
  • 죽임을 당하다 : to be killed : (causative -이 + passive -ㅁ을 당하다)
  • 사망(死亡)하다 : to die : (Sino Korean equivalent)
  • 살해(殺害)하다 : to kill : (Sino Korean equivalent)
  • 살해(殺害)당하다 : to be killed : (Sino Korean equivalent)
  • 살해(殺害)되다 : to be killed : (Sino Korean equivalent)
  • 피살(被殺)되다 : to be killed : (Sino Korean equivalent)

묻다 has three meanings and each of them has different conjugation forms

  • 묻다1 : to bury : (this verb follows the regular conjugation rule)
  • 묻히다1 : to be buried : (this -히 is passive)
  • 묻혀지다1 : to be buried : (passive -히 + passive -어지다, this usage is wrong as it is a double passive)
  • 묻게 하다 : to make/let someone bury something : (causative form with -게 하다)
  • 묻다2 : to be smeared : (this verb follows the regular conjugation rule)
  • 묻히다2 : to make/let something become smeared, to smear : (this -히 is causative. note that the previous 묻히다1 is passive)
  • 묻혀지다2 : to become smeared with something by someone : (causative -히 + passive -어지다)
  • 묻다3 : to ask : (this verb does not have a passive form. theoretically, it should be 물어지다 in passive form but this is not used. this verb follows the ㄷ irregular conjugation rule)
  • 물어보게 하다 : to make/let someone ask something : (causative form with -게 하다. theoretically, it should be 묻게 하다 but this can be misunderstood as the 묻다1 verb.)

Adjectives can also become passive and causative verbs

  • 낮다 : be low
  • 낮아지다 : to become low : (passive -아지다)
  • 낮추다 : to make/let something low , to lower : (this -추 is causative)
  • 낮춰지다 : to become lowered by someone : (causative -추 + passive -어지다)
  • 높다 : be high
  • 높아지다 : to become high : (passive -아지다)
  • 높이다 : to make/let something high : (this -이 is causative)
  • 높여지다 : passive form of 높이다 : (causative -이 + passive -어지다)

Some causative forms with the -우 particle are inflected with the vowel ㅣ.

  • 자다 : to sleep
  • 재우다 : to make/let someone sleep : (자 + ㅣ + 우 + 다)
  • 재워지다 : passive form of 재우다 : (causative -우 + passive -어지다)
  • 서다 : to stand
  • 세우다 : to make/let something stand : (서 + ㅣ + 우 + 다)
  • 세워지다 : passive form of 세우다 : (causative -우 + passive -어지다)

In short, the conjugation rules for passive and causative forms follow some patterns, but vary with individual verbs. (most passive verbs take one of -이, -히, -리, -기 or -어/-아지다 or -되다. most causative verbs take one of -이, -히, -리, -기, -우 , -구, -추 or -시키다 or -게 하다). The four particles -이, -히, -리, -기 are particularly tricky as they could be passive or causative (or sometimes both). If you encounter a new word with one of the four particles, you can't really determine whether it is passive or causative unless you look up a Korean dictionary, because those four particles work arbitrarily with individual verbs. (say, if you encounter a new English word with "-ed" ending, you can figure out it is a past tense suffix for a verb, but you can't presume the function of the four Korean particles without a Korean dictionary) That's why most Korean materials for foreigners skip or overlook this grammar part. They (those who created the Korean materials for foreigners) often say "Passive form is not much used in Korean" or "Passive form is not as common as it is in English". The first argument is wrong. Passive form is very common in Korean in fact. The latter argument might be true in many cases but is doubtful whether this generalization is based on any valid statistics. As previously shown, many active voice English expressions should be translated to passive form in Korean, but it is often ignored. In many cases, passive form is even more common in Korean than English. This grammar part is very confusing even for native Korean speakers. Many Koreans still use double passive words like 잊혀지다, because they misunderstood the -히 particle as causative. I think they (those who created the Korean materials for foreigners) are just avoiding some nettlesome parts. Who would want to make their customer freaked out? Each form of every verb should be memorized.

이 Passive Verbs (Most verbs in this category end in ㅎ or a vowel)
Active verb Passive verb Examples
놓다 (to lay, to put, to build) 놓이다 (to be on, to be placed, to be built)
  • Active: 식탁에 그릇들을 놓았다 (I put dishes on the table).
  • Passive: 식탁에 그릇들이 놓였다 (Dishes were put on the table).
바꾸다 (to change) 바뀌다 (to be changed)
  • Active: 결정을 바꾸었다 (I changed the decision).
  • Passive: 결정이 바뀌었다 (The decision was changed).
보다 (to see) 보이다 (to be seen)
  • Active: 나는 그 외계인을 보았다 (I saw the alien).
  • Passive: 그 외계인이 보였다. (The alien was seen (to me)).
쓰다 (to use, to write) 쓰이다 (to be used, to be written)
  • Active:그 책은 내 친구가 썼다 (My friend wrote that book).
  • Passive:그 책은 내 친구에 의해 쓰였다 (That book was written by my friend).
쌓다 (to pile up, to stack) 쌓이다 (to be piled up, to be stacked up)
  • Active: 상자를 쌓았다 (I stacked boxes up).
  • Passive: 상자가 쌓였다 (Boxes were stacked up).
차다 - to dump someone 차이다 - to be dumped
  • Active: 내가 여자친구를 찼다 (I dumped my girlfriend).
  • Passive: 내 여자친구가 나에게 차였다 (My girlfriend was dumped by me).
히 Passive Verbs (Most verbs in this category end in a ㅂ,ㅈ,ㄷ or ㄱ)
Active verb Passive verb Examples
꽂다 (to put in, to stick in) 꽂히다 (to be stuck in)
  • Active: 꽃을 꽃병에 꽂았다 (I put flowers in a vase).
  • Passive: 꽃이 꽃병에 꽂혔다 (Flowers were put in a vase).
닫다 (to close, to shut) 닫히다 (to be closed, to be shut)
  • Active: 문을 닫았다 (I closed the door).
  • Passive: 문이 닫혔다 (The door was closed).
읽다 (to read) 읽히다 (to be read)
  • Active:책을 읽었다 (I read a book).
  • Passive: 책이 읽혔다 (The book was read by someone).
막다 (to block, to clog) 막히다 (to be blocked, to be conjested, to be clogged up)
  • Active: 입구를 막았다 (I blocked the entrance).
  • Passive: 입구가 막혔다 (The entrance was blocked).
먹다 (to eat) 먹히다 (to be eaten)
  • Active: 빵을 먹는다 (I eat bread).
  • Passive: 빵이 먹혔다 (The bread was eaten).
묻다 (to bury) 묻히다 (to be buried)
  • Active: 땅에 관을 묻었다 (I buried the coffin under the ground).
  • Passive: 땅에 관이 묻혔다 (The coffin was buried under the ground).
뽑다 (to pluck, to pull off) 뽑히다 (to be plucked, to be pulled off)
  • Active: 잡초를 뽑는다 (I pluck the weeds out).
  • Passive: 잡초가 뽑혔다 (The weeds were plucked out).
잡다 (to catch) 잡히다 (to be caught)
  • Active: 경찰이 범죄자를 잡았다 (the police caught the criminal).
  • Passive: 범죄자가 경찰에게 잡혔다 (the criminal was caught by the police).
리 Passive Verbs (Most verbs in this category are irregular ㄷ verbs or end with ㄹ)
Active verb Passive verb Examples
걸다 (to hang) 걸리다 (to be hung)
  • Active: 그림을 벽에 걸었다 (I hung a picture on the wall).
  • Passive: 그림이 벽에 걸렸다 (The picture was hung on the wall).
듣다 (to hear) 들리다 (to be heard)
  • Active:노래를 들었다 (I heard the song).
  • Passive: 노래가 들렸다 (The song was heard).
물다 (to bite) 물리다 (to be bitten)
  • Active: 개가 나를 물었다 (the dog bit me).
  • Passive: 나는 개한테 물렸다 (I was bitten by the dog).
열다 (to open) 열리다 (to be open)
  • Active:창문을 열었다 (I open the window).
  • Passive: 창문이 열렸다 (The window was open).
팔다 (to sell) 팔리다 (to be sold)
  • Active:나는 장난감을 판다 (I sell the toys).
  • Passive: 장난감이 팔렸다 (The toys were sold).
풀다 (to untie, to solve) 풀리다 (to get untied, to be solved )
  • Active:문제를 풀었다 (I solve the problem).
  • Passive: 문제가 풀렸다 (The problem was solved).
자르다 (to cut) 잘리다 (to be cut)
  • Active:종이를 잘랐다 (I cut the paper).
  • Passive: 종이가 잘렸다 (The paper was cut).
기 Passive Verbs (Most verbs in this category end with ㄴ (ㄶ), ㅅ and ㅁ)
Active verb Passive verb Examples
끊다 (to cut off, to sever) 끊기다 (to be cut off, to be severed)
  • Active: 줄을 끊었다 (I cut the rope).
  • Passive: 줄이 끊겼다 (The rope was cut).
빼앗다 (to take, to steal) 빼앗기다 (to be taken, to be stolen)
  • Active: 돈을 빼앗았다 (I stole someone's money).
  • Passive: 돈을 빼앗겼다 (My money was stolen by someone).
안다 (to hold, to embrace) 안기다 (to be held, to be embraced)
  • Active: 아기를 품에 안았다 (I held baby in my arms).
  • Passive: 아기가 품에 안겨있다 (The baby is in my arms).
쫓다 (to chase) 쫓기다 (to be chased)
  • Active:경찰이 도둑을 쫓는다 (A policeman chases robbery).
  • Passive: 도둑이 경찰에 쫓겼다(A robbery was chased by policeman).
잠그다 (to lock) 잠기다 (to be locked)
  • Active:문을 잠근다 (I lock the door).
  • Passive: 문이 잠겼다 (The door was locked).

See also