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).
- 길을 막아요. [Traffic] blocks the road.
- 길이 막혀요. The road is blocked [by traffic]. (막히다 is much more common in this scenario)
Some active voice English expressions should be translated to the passive form in Korean. (Only using the passive form is natural in Korean.)
- It looks fine. ☞ 괜찮아 보여요. [It] is seen to be fine.
- It sounds like English. ☞ 영어처럼 들려요. [It] is heard like English.
- I can't see the blackboard well. ☞ 칠판이 잘 안 보여요. The blackboard is not seen well (by me).
- Can you hear my voice? ☞ 내 목소리 들리냐? Is my voice heard (by you)?
- The game has begun. ☞ 게임이 시작되었다. The game has been begun. (a game can't begin something because it has no ability to decide. there must be a human who had decided to begin the game. the "game" is passive, not active.)
- This book is selling very well. ☞ 이 책은 아주 잘 팔리고 있다. This book is being sold very well. (a book can't sell something because it's not a human. the "book" is passive, not active.)
- The door is opening. ☞ 문이 열리고 있다. The door is being opened. (a door can't open something because it has no ability to decide. If a door is opening, there must be something else affecting the door such as wind, dog, installed automatic mechanism, etc. the "door" is passive, not active.)
Some Korean passive forms should be translated to the active voice in English. (Both the active and passive forms are natural in Korean, but only the 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 the active form in Korean. (Both the active and passive voices are natural in English, but only the active form is natural in Korean.)
- I was interviewed. ☞ 나는 면접을 받았다. (I received an interview.) : "-을 받다" can be considered a passive form itself.
- I was brought here. 나는 여기에 데려와졌다. (although it can be literally translated, it sounds unnatural in Korean.) ☞ 그 사람이 나를 여기에 데려왔다. (He brought me here.)
- I was told that you are my son. ☞ 네가 내 아들이라고 들었다. ([I] heard that you are my son.)
네가 내 아들 : you my son
네가 내 아들이다 : You are my son.
네가 내 아들이다라고 : - that "You are my son"
네가 내 아들이라고 : - that you are my son
네가 내 아들이라고 들었다 : Heard that you are my son.
네가 내 아들이라고 하는 : - that tells that you are my son
네가 내 아들이라고 하는 이야기 : a story that tells that you are my son
네가 내 아들이라고 하는 이야기를 들었다 : Heard a story that tells that you are my son.
네가 내 아들이라는 얘기를 들었다 (contracted from the previous sentence, same meaning)
네가 내 아들이란 얘길 들었다 (above sentence can be even further contracted, that is similar to the actual colloquial language. See the shrinking process "아들이라고 하는" → "아들이라는" → "아들이란", and "이야기를" → "얘기를" → "얘길". This kind of process happens all the time in Korean, and it is the key to understand the actual spoken language.)
If you want to clarify the subject who heard the story, declare a topic with 나는(난).
난 네가 내 아들이란 얘길 들었다 : As for me, (I) heard a story that tells that you are my son. (this final sentence looks simple, but it has a quite complex structure, especially the "아들이란" part.)
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 conjugational forms are completely different.
- 굽다1 : bend
- 굽어지다 : to (naturally) become bent : (-어지다 is always passive. in this case, 굽다 follows the regular conjugation rule. this "naturally" means "not by someone intentionally")
- 굽히다 : to make something become bent , to bend something : (this -히 is causative)
- 굽혀지다 : to become bent by someone : (causative -히 + passive -어지다. try to pronounce 굽히어지다 fast then you get 굽혀지다.)
- 굽다2 : to bake
- 구워지다 : to be baked : (-어지다 is always passive. in this case, 굽다 follows the ㅂ irregular conjugation rule. try to pronounce 구우어지다 fast then you get 구워지다.)
※ The "pronounce fast and get something" rule is applied to all verbs except for the irregular 으 dropping verbs. You can see an irregular example of 잠그다 at the end of this page.
In the example above, -히 is a causative suffix, but it can be either a passive suffix in many other verbs.
- 먹다 : to eat
- 먹히다 : to be eaten : (this -히 is passive)
- 먹혀지다 : to be eaten : (passive -히 + passive -어지다. this is wrong as it is a double passive)
- 먹이다 : to make/let someone eat , to feed : (this -이 is causative)
- 먹여지다 : to be fed : (causative -이 + passive -어지다. this is correct but hardly used.)
In some cases, the passive and causative forms are morphologically identical.
- 보다 : to see
- 보이다1 : to be seen : (this -이 is passive)
- 보여지다1 : to be seen : (passive -이 + passive -어지다, this usage is wrong as it is a double passive)
- 보이다2 : to make/let someone see , to show : (this -이 is causative. to avoid confusion, 보여주다 is used in most cases)
- 보여지다2 : to be shown : (causative -이 + passive -어지다)
Many verbs have two possible passive forms but only one of them is preferred in most cases. (the less preferred one might even sound unnatural) Some verbs, however, the two passive forms are equally preferred, either one is fine.
- 믿다 : to believe
- 믿기다 : to be believed : (this -기 is passive)
- 믿어지다 : to be believed : (-어지다 is passive)
- 믿겨지다 : to be believed : (passive -기 + passive -어지다. this is wrong as it is a double passive)
- 믿게 하다 : to make/let someone believe something : (in this case, -게 하다 is the proper causative form)
There are some verbs that even most native Koreans fail to conjugate correctly.
- 잊다 : to forget
- 잊히다 : to be forgotten : (passive -히)
- 잊어지다 : to be forgotten : (passive -어지다, this form is correct but hardly used)
- 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)
Not to be confused with the normal causative+passive forms. (they look like the double passive form but they are different.)
- 숨다 : to hide : (intransitive)
- 숨기다 : to make/let something become hidden, to hide something : (causative -기)
- 숨겨지다 : to become hidden by someone : (causative -기 + passive -어지다)
- 남다 : to remain : (intransitive)
- 남기다 : to make/let something remain, to leave something : (causative -기. not to be confused with 떠나다, which means "to depart, to leave")
- 남겨지다 : to be left : (causative -기 + passive -어지다)
- 알다 : to know
- 알리다 : to make/let someone know, to inform : (causative -리)
- 알려지다 : to be informed, to become known : (causative -리 + passive -어지다)
Some verbs don't allow the passive suffixes 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 + nominalization -ㅁ + passive -을 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 conjugational forms.
- 묻다1 : to bury : (this verb follows the regular conjugation rule)
- 묻히다1 : to be buried : (this -히 is passive)
- 묻어지다 : to be buried : (passive -어지다. this form is not much used)
- 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 the passive form but this is not used. instead, 물음을 받다 would work as the passive form. 물음 is a noun form of 묻다(to ask), as the object suffix -을/-를 is only attached to nouns. however, 물음을 받다 sounds kind of uncommon. the most frequently used passive form for this verb would be 질문(質問)을 받다, the Sino-Korean alternative. this 묻다3 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(is) low
- 낮아지다 : to become low : (passive -아지다)
- 낮추다 : to make/let something become low , to lower : (this -추 is causative)
- 낮춰지다 : to become lowered by someone : (causative -추 + passive -어지다)
- 높다 : be(is) high
- 높아지다 : to become high : (passive -아지다)
- 높이다 : to make/let something become high : (this -이 is causative)
- 높여지다 : passive form of 높이다 : (causative -이 + passive -어지다)
※If you don't know why the passive ending -어지다 is changed to -아지다 in this case, see Vowel harmony.
Some causative forms with the -우 suffix 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)
When verbs have a -하다 (to do) ending, the conjugations are different from the rules above. Most Hanja words (Chinese loanwords) belong to this part. When the 하다 verbs have a monosyllabic stem, they tend to take the -어/-아지다 ending.
Note that the 하다 verb itself is irregular.
[하다 + -어/-아지다 → 하여지다 → 해지다]
- 칠하다 : to paint
- 칠해지다 (칠하여지다) : to be painted
- 정하다 : to decide
- 정해지다 (정하여지다) : to be decided
Note that there are many exceptions, this is not an established principle. For example, 변하다 (to change, intransitive) already works like a passive form without any conjugation. If you use 변해지다 which is wrong, the Koreans would instantly notice that you are not a native speaker. The native Korean counterpart for "to change", 바꾸다, has a normal passive form 바뀌다. In short,
- 변하다 : (not used as the active form)
- 변하다 : to be changed (passive / intransitive)
- 바꾸다 : to change (active)
- 바뀌다 : to be changed (passive)
바뀌다 and 변하다 are interchangeable because they both work as passive forms. For example,
- My mind was changed = 내 마음이 바뀌었다 = 내 마음이 변했다 : 내 마음(my mind) is the subject of the sentence
바꾸다(active) can't be replaced with 변하다(passive).
- [I] Changed my mind = 내 마음을 바꾸었다(바꿨다) : 내 마음(my mind) is the object of the sentence
When the 하다 verbs have a polysyllabic stem, they don't add the -어/-아지다 ending. Instead, the 하다 ending is changed to 되다 or 당하다 or 받다. (you should memorize what to use. most verbs allow one or two ways out of the three)
- 결정하다 : to decide
- 결정되다 : to be decided (Note : 결정하다 is a synonym of 정하다 above, the only difference is the 결, but they are different in the passive form)
- 구타하다 : to beat up
- 구타당하다 : to be beaten up (당하다 means "to suffer")
- 지원하다 : to support
- 지원받다 : to be supported (받다 means "to receive")
The causative form of 하다 is 시키다.
- 실행하다 : to carry out
- 실행시키다 : to make someone to carry out something
- 실행하게 하다 : to make someone to carry out something
(Note : many 하다 verbs don't allow the 시키다 causative form. 하게 하다 can be applied universally)
Note that Korean adjectives can have the 하다 ending too, but the 하다 in adjectives is a different thing and doesn't mean "to do". The conjugation rules are also different. They take the -어/-아지다 and -게 되다 forms like verbs but the 시키다 causative form is not used. This poses another difficulty because the 하다 verbs and adjectives look the same, so you can't determine if they are verbs or adjectives unless you look up a dictionary. You should first figure out if they are verbs or adjectives, then you can apply the correct conjugation rule.
- 깨끗하다 : be(is) clean (adjective)
- 깨끗해지다 : to become clean (verb)
- 깨끗하게 되다 : to become clean (verb)
- 깨끗하게 하다 : to make/let something be(is) clean (-게 하다 causative)
- 깨끗해지게 하다 : to make/let something become clean (-게 하다 causative)
(Note : adjectives don't count if the stem is monosyllabic or polysyllabic. the passive form is always "하다 → 해지다" and "하다 → 하게 되다")
Note that (하)게 하다 and (하)게 되다 are different. (하)게 하다 is a causative form for verbs and adjectives, (하)게 되다 is a passive form for adjectives. If verbs take 하게 되다, the meaning is slightly different. It's like "end up doing / get to do". Native Koreans are just naturally able to speak it without learning, just like the Americans can speak English without an effort. For those who are not natively speaking Korean, however, it may be extremely tricky at first.
- 결정하다 : to decide (verb)
- 결정되다 : to be decided (verb)
- 결정하게 하다 : to make/let someone to decide something : (the 시키다 causative form is not used for this verb)
- 결정되게 하다 : to make/let something to be decided : (-게 하다 causative)
- 결정하게 되다 : to end up deciding something , to get to decide something
- 결정되게 되다 : to end up being decided : (same with other non-되다 passive verbs. for example, [정해지게 되다 : to end up being decided] , [구타당하게 되다 : to end up being beaten up] , [먹히게 되다 : to end up being eaten])
- 결정해지다 (X) : (if you don't understand why this is wrong, read the explanation again. hint : 결정하다 is a verb and the stem 결정 is polysyllabic.)
- 익숙하다 : be(is) accustomed (adjective)
- 익숙하게 되다 : to become accustomed (verb)
- 익숙해지다 : to become accustomed (verb)
- 익숙해지게 하다 : to make/let someone to become accustomed (verb) : (-게 하다 causative)
- 익숙되다, 익숙당하다, 익숙받다 (X) : (if you don't understand why this is wrong, read the explanation again. hint : 익숙하다 is an adjective.)
In short, the conjugation rules for the 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/-당하다/-받다. most causative verbs take one of -이, -히, -리, -기, -우 ,-구, -추 or -시키다 or -게 하다). The four suffixes -이, -히, -리, -기 are particularly tricky as they could be either passive or causative (or sometimes both). If you come across a Korean word you don't know, with one of the four suffixes, you can't really determine whether it is passive or causative unless you look up a Korean dictionary, because those four suffixes arbitrarily work with individual verbs. (say, if you come across an English word you don't know, with "-ed" ending, you can soon figure out that it is a past tense suffix for a verb, but you can't determine the function of the four Korean suffixes without a Korean dictionary) Besides, when they have the -하다 ending, you have to figure out if they are verbs or adjectives, because verbs and adjectives follow different rules despite looking exactly the same things. That's why most Korean materials for foreigners overlook or skip 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 doubtful if the claim is based on any valid statistics. As previously shown, many active voice English expressions should be translated to the passive form in Korean, but it is often ignored. It seems like many Koreans aren't even aware that they are actually speaking in the passive form. I have never seen someone explaining 믿기지 않다 or 믿어지지 않다 or 믿겨지지 않다 as the passive form. Most people just explain it as "can't believe". That's how you end up thinking the passive form is not common in Korean without understanding the underlying grammar structure. Depending on the situation, the passive form in Korean could be even more common than the passive voice in English. This grammar part is very confusing even for native Korean speakers. Many Koreans are still using double passive words like 잊혀지다, because they were not sure about the function of the -히 suffix, it feels like it only is not sufficient to represent a passive form, so they just added the passive ending -어/-아지다 again to make sure that it is a passive form. (Try to imagine a word like "forgottened" which has an extra "-ed" suffix. That's what's called the double passive in Korean. In English, somehow the past participles are used for the passive voice but in Korean, past tense has nothing to do with the passive form. They are morphologically completely different.) I think they (those who created the Korean materials for foreigners) are just avoiding some nettlesome parts. Who would want to make their customers freaked out? In practice, each form of every verb should be memorized.
※ Further explanation about the passive form and attributive tense forms.
In English, the passive voice uses the past participles, so English speakers naturally relate the completely different two concepts. Besides, English verbs don't have any attributive conjugational forms. The verb conjugations are much simpler in English so it is causing misunderstandings or difficulties of Korean to English speakers. Think about this phrase "a pretty girl". English speakers never say "a pretty-ed girl" or "a pretty-will girl" so it is basically impossible to naturally convey the connotation of Korean. I hope the following over specific translations can convey this Korean part.
A passive verb, for example, 먹히다 (to be eaten) is the infinitive form (AKA the basic verb form used in the dictionary), it doesn't even have any tense (it is not present tense. it literally has no tense whatsoever), so you should conjugate it in actual Korean. Let's make it to attributive past tense.
- 먹힌 닭 : a chicken that was eaten , a chicken that has been eaten (an eaten chicken) : (in Korean, past and present perfect are kind of merged. in most cases, present perfect can be just replaced with past tense. in this page, probably it would be the only thing that is definitely simpler in Korean than it is in English.)
먹힌 alone implies three additional connotations along with the basic meaning "to eat". -히 stands for passive form, -ㄴ/은 stands for past tense and attributive form combined. If the verb stem has a final conosonant (e.g., 먹 in 먹다), -은 is used instead (먹다→먹은 as opposed to 먹히다→먹힌). Let's change it to present tense.
- 먹히는 닭 : a chicken that is eaten (a chicken that is being eaten. similar to 먹히고 있는 닭)
히 stands for passive form, -는 stands for present tense and attributive form combined. It exactly looks that 먹히 is a noun and -는 is a topic marker. It may be greatly confusing for beginners. It is what learners have to overcome. Let's change it to future tense.
- 먹힐 닭 : a chicken that will be eaten , a chicken that is going to be eaten (English doesn't have a grammatical future tense but Korean does.)
히 stands for passive form, -ㄹ/을 stands for future tense and attributive form combined. See some more variations.
- 먹히던 닭 : a chicken that was being eaten (-던 implies the speaker is thinking about the past retrospectively)
- 먹혔던 닭 : a chicken that was eaten before (similar to 먹힌 닭, retrospectively)
- 먹혔었던 닭 : a chicken that had been eaten before (similar to 먹힌 닭 and 먹혔던 닭, retrospectively)
- 먹히고 있는 닭 : a chicken that is being eaten (similar to 먹히는 닭 but emphasizing the action is being done now)
- 먹히고 있던 닭 : a chicken that was being eaten
- 먹히고 있었던 닭 : a chicken that was being eaten
- 먹히고 있을 닭 : a chicken that will be being eaten
- 먹히게 되는 닭 : a chicken that ends up being eaten (I've already explained about the -게 되다 grammar)
- 먹히게 될 닭 : a chicken that will end up being eaten
- 먹히게 된 닭 : a chicken that (just) ended up being eaten
- 먹히게 되었던 닭 : a chicken that (had) ended up being eaten
- 먹히게 되었었던 닭 : a chicken that had ended up being eaten
Be careful it is slightly different for adjectives.
- 예쁘다 : to be pretty (adjective)
- 예쁜 닭 : a chicken that is pretty (a pretty chicken) : (unlike verbs, -ㄴ/은 stands for present tense. it may be confusing)
- 예뻤던 닭 : a chicken that was pretty : (this alternative past tense form is applied to ajectives, which is same with that of verbs)
- 예쁘던 닭 : a chicken that was pretty : (implies the chicken used to be pretty, retrospectively)
- 예뻤었던 닭 : a chicken that was pretty before (a chicken that had been pretty before)
- 예쁘는 닭 (X) : (if 예쁘다 was a verb, -는 stands for present tense, but it is an adjective so -는 is completely wrong)
- 예쁠 닭 : a chicken that will be pretty : (future tense is same with that of verbs. in this case 예뻐질 닭 (a chicken that will become pretty) would be more natural.)
In short, -ㄴ/은 is past tense for verbs, but present tense for adjectives. -는 is present tense for verbs, but wrong for adjectives.
I have said that Korean verbs must be conjugated in a sentence, but there is a trap that makes a conjugated verb look like an ordinary infinitive form. Take a look at this sentence.
- 먹히다 간신히 탈출했다.
In this sentence, 먹히다 exactly looks like the basic infinitive form, but it isn't in fact. That 먹히다 is contracted from 먹히다가 (먹히다 + -다가) meaning "while being eaten"
- 먹히다가 간신히 탈출했다. : (Someone) Barely escaped while being eaten. (He was being eaten alive, but barely escaped.)
If you ever come across a verb in a sentence that looks like an unconjugated form, it is the -다가(while) form. It is just contracted to -다(while).
Korean has two different suffixes for the meaning "while". In fact, "-(으)면서" is more similar to the meaning of the English "while". Google if you want to know about the difference between -다가 and -(으)면서.
There is another case. In headlines or titles of some articles, the unconjugated verb form can be used.
- 관광객, 상어에게 잡아먹히다! : A tourist, eaten by a shark! (this is supposed to be a headline of a news)
In this case, that 먹히다 is the unconjugated form. So, this headline has no tense. (먹힌다 for present tense, 먹혔다 for past tense)
|Active verb||Passive verb||Examples|
|놓다 (to lay, to put, to build)||놓이다 (to be on, to be placed, to be built)||
|바꾸다 (to change)||바뀌다 (to be changed)||
|보다 (to see)||보이다 (to be seen)||
|쓰다 (to use, to write)||쓰이다 (to be used, to be written)||
|쌓다 (to pile up, to stack)||쌓이다 (to be piled up, to be stacked up)||
|차다 - to dump someone||차이다 - to be dumped||
|Active verb||Passive verb||Examples|
|꽂다 (to put in, to stick in)||꽂히다 (to be stuck in)||
|닫다 (to close, to shut)||닫히다 (to be closed, to be shut)||
|읽다 (to read)||읽히다 (to be read)||
|막다 (to block, to clog)||막히다 (to be blocked, to be conjested, to be clogged up)||
|먹다 (to eat)||먹히다 (to be eaten)||
|묻다 (to bury)||묻히다 (to be buried)||
|뽑다 (to pluck, to pull off)||뽑히다 (to be plucked, to be pulled off)||
|잡다 (to catch)||잡히다 (to be caught)||
|Active verb||Passive verb||Examples|
|걸다 (to hang)||걸리다 (to be hung)||
|듣다 (to hear)||들리다 (to be heard)||
|물다 (to bite)||물리다 (to be bitten)||
|열다 (to open)||열리다 (to be open)||
|팔다 (to sell)||팔리다 (to be sold)||
|풀다 (to untie, to solve)||풀리다 (to get untied, to be solved )||
|자르다 (to cut)||잘리다 (to be cut)||
|Active verb||Passive verb||Examples|
|끊다 (to cut off, to sever)||끊기다 (to be cut off, to be severed)||
|빼앗다 (to take, to steal)||빼앗기다 (to be taken, to be stolen)||
|안다 (to hold, to embrace)||안기다 (to be held, to be embraced)||
|쫓다 (to chase)||쫓기다 (to be chased)||
|잠그다 (to lock)||잠기다 (to be locked)||