Causative form

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A causative form, in linguistics, (a) is an expression of an agent causing or forcing a patient to perform an action or to be in a certain condition--salient cause, (b) is an expression of a patient involves in a non-volitional event that registers the changes of its state--salient effect, (c) is an expression of a grammatical modality in perfective (sequential) or subjenctive (hypothetical) or realis (non-hypothetical) state--perceptual salient. In Korean, this form is called 사동.

The Korean passive and causative conjugations pose many confusing aspects and many 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 gin 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.

Forming causatives

Explaining the form with subject marker, object marker, etc.

이 Causative verb
Active verb Causative verb Examples
먹다 (to eat) 먹이다 (to make/let someone eat , to feed)

Active- 나는 김치를 먹는다.(I eat Kimchi)

Causative- 나는 강아지에게 물을 먹인다.(I make my dog drink water)

죽다 (to die) 죽이다 (to make/let someone die , to kill)

Active- 지진 때문에 많은 사람이 죽었다. (Many people died from the earthquake.)

Causative- 그는 사람을 죽였다. (He killed a person.)

붙다 (to stick to) 붙이다 (to make/let something stick to)

Active- 나는 벽에 붙는다. (I stick to the wall.)

Causative- 나는 사진을 벽에 붙인다. (I make a picture stick to the wall.)

끓다 (to boil) 끓이다 (to make/let something boil)

Active- 물은 100℃ 이상에서 끓는다. (Water boils in the temperature of 100℃ and over.)

Causative- 나는 김치찌개를 끓인다. (I make the Kimchi-jjigae boil. / I boil the Kimchi-jjigae.)

보다 (to see, to look, to watch) 보이다 (to make/let someone see , to show)

Active- 나는 영화를 보았다. (I saw a movie.)

Causative- 학생이 내게 사진을 보였다. (A student showed me a photograph.)

속다 (to be fooled, to be deceived) 속이다 (to make/let someone be fooled)

Active- 또다시 일기예보에게 속았다. (I am fooled by the weather forecast again.)

Causative- 절대로 사람을 속이지 마라. (Never deceive a person.)

히 Causative verb
Active verb Causative verb Examples
익다 익히다
읽다 (to read) 읽히다
입다 (to wear) 입히다
앉다 (to sit) 앉히다
눕다 눕히다
맞다 맞히다

리 Causative verb
Active verb Causative verb Examples
알다 알리다
울다 울리다
돌다 돌리다
살다 살리다
놀다 놀리다
걸다 (to hang) 걸리다

기 Causative verb
Active verb Causative verb Examples
벗다 벗기다
신다 신기다
웃다 웃기다
맡다 맡기다
감다 감기다
씻다 씻기다

우 Causative verb
Active verb Causative verb Examples
깨다 깨우다
서다 세우다
쓰다 씌우다
자다 재우다
타다 태우다

구 Causative verb
Active verb Causative verb Examples
돋다 돋구다
일다 일구다
달다 달구다
솟다 솟구다

추 Causative verb
Active verb Causative verb Examples
낮다 낮추다
늦다 늦추다
맞다 맞추다
곧다 곧추다

Creating causative form

The causative form can also be created using: See V + 게 하다

See also