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Chinese Grammar: Lesson: The passive voice with 被

Say something horrible were to happen to Nincha and Lupishu, as they get thrown into prison, how would you say that in Chinese? First off, you want to use the passive voice, because ending up in prison wasn’t exactly of their choosing. Now that’s decided, you need to know how to use the passive voice in Mandarin Chinese. Meet , a passive marker. It’s not the only way to use the passive voice in Chinese, but is the most common one, so it’s a good one to start with. Let’s learn more about and how to use it to talk about Nincha and Lupishu’s hypothetical terrible predicament.

What is ?

expresses the passive voice in Chinese. can, therefore, be your word of choice to show that an action was done to you or to someone or something by the doer of an action. A good thing to know is that in Mandarin Chinese, the passive voice is frequently used, although not as much as in English. It is mainly used in sentences with a negative meaning: unfortunate circumstances, undesirable outcomes, such car crashes, objects being stolen, people getting killed, cats getting wet... or Nincha and Lupishu getting thrown into prison.

How to make sentences

Not unlike , has an impact on the whole structure of the sentence, so sentences with are often referred to as sentences.

The basic structure of a sentence with is: noun + + verb

One way to think about it is: With , something gets verbed.

Now, let’s see the impact of on a whole sentence. Remember the normal sentence structure in Chinese? That’s right: Subject + Verb+ Object

Example:

打破 杯子
I broke the cup.

In a passive structure, you need to rearrange how elements are placed. The Object (recipient of the action) normally placed at the end of a normal sentence becomes the Subject in the passive voice. This is the structure of a sentence:

Structure

Subject (Recipient of the action)++ Doer of the action (optional) + Verb + Other element

While in English, we’d say “something was verbed by me”, in Chinese you say “Something by me was verbed.

Examples

杯子 打碎
The cup was broken by me.

解决
This matter was solved by him.

手机老师 拿走
His cellphone was taken away by the teacher.

Passive sentences without a doer

Not unlike in English, sentences can also be used in sentences without specifying who did the action, in cases where it’s unimportant, obvious (and you don’t want to have to specify who it was), or where you don’t know who did the action onto the object.

Subject (Recipient of the action)+ + Verb Phrase

Examples

杯子打碎
The cup was broken.

苹果
The apple was eaten.

拿走
The book was taken away.

When do you use ?

is used in sentences to place emphasis on the actions and the results of actions. You can use for two main types of sentences:

  • As we saw, is used in sentences to indicate one was negatively affected.

Note: You will almost never hear someone say “Someone stole my bike” in Chinese. It’s much more widespread to say “My bike was stolen”.

上个月 自行车
My bike was stolen last month.


She was hit by a car.

Nincha 绿皮书 监狱
Nincha and Lupishu were sent to prison.

  • It is also used in sentences where you want to place emphasis on the one affected by the action, rather than on the doer.

市长
He was elected mayor of the city.

讨厌 湿
Cats hate to get wet.

A few things to know about #

likes its verbs to have company

Just like , cannot be used with a simple one-syllable verb. A verb form must follow it, that is to say, the verb + something that indicates the result of the action, even if it’s something as simple as to indicate completion. You can also accompany the verb with resultative, degree or directional complements, a particle, and more.

Say you want to say the rice was eaten.

You can’t say : 米饭. That’s incorrect since you do not know enough about what happened to the rice.
You’ll need to say: 米饭 or 米饭完了
It adds the information the rice was completely eaten.

Things you can place before

Negation

When you want to indicate something wasn’t verbed by someone, you’ll need to put the negation before ; the rest of the sentence stays the same. A common negation used with is 没有.

Let’s use this new knowledge to get Nincha and Lupishu out of prison, shall we?
Retake this terrible sentence:

Nincha 绿皮书 监狱
Nincha and Lupishu were sent to prison.

Add a negation:

Nincha 绿皮书 没有 监狱
Nincha and Lupishu were NOT sent to prison.

Much better right? Here's another example:

没有
She wasn’t hit by a car.

Note: In a negative passive sentence, you cannot use since the action wasn’t completed.

Modal verbs and adverbs

Modal verbs, such as , , , 可以, , and adverbs, such as , , , , 已经 and so on are all placed before .

失踪 找到.
The missing cat hasn’t been found yet.

不想取笑
I don’t want to be made fun of.

几乎 每个人 邀请
Almost everyone was invited.

One last thing

Interestingly, the use of has been evolving in Mandarin Chinese. Perhaps due to the influence of English, Chinese native speakers now have started to use the passive voice for neutral or even positive meanings as well; so you may run into such sentences. Until you get a complete feel for , we recommend sticking with for sentences about undesirable, unwanted or unpleasant events. There are other words to express the passive voice for more neutral and positive phrases, which we’ll see together later.

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