The passive voice with 被, 叫 and 让
What the passive voice is
Let’s compare two sentences: 1. I ate a cake. 2. The cake was eaten by me. The meaning in both sentences is the same. However, in the first sentence we emphasize the person who performed the action. The pronoun “I” is the subject of the sentence, and also the performer of the action “to eat”. In the second sentence there is no active verb. Here we emphasize the action itself “the cake was eaten”, not who performed the action. The second sentence is an example of a passive voice sentence.
Pay attention
We use the passive voice to show what happened to an object or a person. The information about who performs the action is not important. We use the passive voice to emphasize the result of an action.
Before we go any further, let's learn the most important terms for the passive voice: the object and the subject. In the sentence “I ate the cake” — “the cake” is the object. However in the passive voice sentence “the cake was eaten by me”, “the cake” becomes the subject that experiences an action. “By me” answers the question “by whom?”, and indicates the person who performed the action. There are several ways to construct a passive voice sentence. Let's look at all of them.
The passive voice with 被
The most common way to construct a sentence with the passive voice is to use the preposition .
subject in the passive
who? what?
by whom?
I ate the dessert. (The dessert was eaten by me)
diǎnxīn bèi wǒ chīguāng le
The tree was blown down by high wind
shù bèi dàfēng guādào le
The subject in a passive voice sentence must be specific. For example, we can say:
The last ticket was bought by me
zuìhòu yì zhāng piào bèi wǒ mǎiqù le
Pay attention
However we can’t say 一张票被我买去了 “one (some of them) ticket was bought by me”.
Another example. We can say:
That letter was taken by him
nà fēng xìn bèi tā qǔzǒu le
Pay attention
But we can't say 一封信被他取走了.
Specifying the performer of an action in passive sentences is not necessary. It may be either unknown or simply not important. We should state the verb that denotes the action right after the preposition 被.
subject in the passive
who? what?
The tree was knocked down
shù bèi guādào le
I was infected
wŏ bèi gănrăn le
Pay attention
Usually we use 被 to refer to events which happened in the past. However, sometimes we can use it to speak about the future.
We shouldn’t state any adverbs or modal verbs before 被.
He was also awarded the title
tā yě bèi shòuyǔ tóuxián
The metal can be reused
jīnshǔ kěyǐ bèi chóngfù lìyòng
The passive voice with 叫 and 让
We use the prepositions and instead of 被 in colloquial speech. However, with 叫 and 让 we cannot omit the performer of the action. The one who performs the passive action must be named.
subject in the passive
who? what?
by whom?
He borrowed my bicycle
wǒ de zìxíngchē jiào tā jiè zǒu le
I broke my phone
shǒujī ràng wǒ nònghuài le
Pay attention
We can describe the same events in both the active and the passive voice. Which one to choose depends on what we want to emphasize in the sentence. The examples above are translated into English in the active voice. However in Chinese we use the passive voice because we emphasize the result, not the “doer”.
Sometimes we use the verbs 叫 and 让 in the meaning of “to command, to force”. Therefore, in order to avoid confusion, we usually state the verb before 叫 and 让 in passive voice sentences. The verb 给 is not translated into English.
I was beaten up by him
wǒ ràng tā gěi dǎ le
I almost forgot about this
zhè jiàn shì chà yìdiǎnr jiào wǒ gěi wàng le
Verbs that can be used in the passive voice
There are two types of verbs: The first type of verbs requires an object to receive the action. Such verbs can be followed by an object that answers the question “what?” or “whom?”. For example: · to paint (what?) a picture; · to love (whom?) a brother. Verbs which require an object are called transitive verbs. The object can be a noun, a phrase, or a pronoun that refers to the person or thing that is affected by the verb. The second type of verbs denotes an action that doesn’t need a direct object. For example: to run, to smile. We can't ask “run what?” or “smile whom?”. These verbs are called intransitive verbs.
Pay attention
Remember that only transitive verbs can be used in the passive voice.
The second important point is that verbs must consist of more than one character.
If we use a single-syllable verb, we should state other elements after it. We can add elements such as: 1) the particle .
The bag was stolen.
bāo bèi tōu le
2) result complement.
The vase was broken
huāpíng bèi shuāisuì le
3) direction complement.
The child was sent back by his parents
háizi jiào tā fùmǔ sòng huíqù le
4) quantity complement.
The film has already been shown once
zhè bù diànyǐng yǐjīng fàngyìngguo yí cì le
Pay attention
Remember that a passive voice sentence with 被, 让 or 叫 cannot end with a verb that consists of only one character!
Let’s compare: we can express the phrase “the coffee was drunk” either as or . However it is incorrect to say 咖啡被我喝. If the verb that is being used has two or more syllables, it is not obligatory to add other elements after it:
Last night, I was woken up several times
zuótiān yèlǐ, wǒ jǐ cì bèi chǎo xǐng
Negative sentences with the passive voice
To make negative sentences, we should state the negative particles or before the preposition.
Pay attention
We cannot use the particle 了 in negative sentences with 没(有).
We were not invited
wŏmen méi bèi yāoqĭng
The table wasn’t moved by him
zhuōzi méi jiào tā bān zǒu
We use the negative particle less frequently. We use it to construct negative sentences when we are talking about permanent actions or the future tense. Usually there is also a modal verb after 不. For example, or .
His ideas were not understood by his parents
tā de xiǎngfǎ bú bèi fùmǔ lǐjiě
He won't be rejected
tā bú huì bèi jùjué
The passive voice without prepositions
We can construct a passive voice sentence without any prepositions. This type of passive voice is only used when we are talking about a completed action. The performer of the action in these sentences is always omitted.
subject in the passive
who? what?
The cake was eaten
dàngāo chīguāng le
The clothes were torn
yīfu chuānpò le
The computer was fixed
diànnǎo xiūhǎo le
To construct the negation, we can only use the negative particle 没/没有 before the verb.
The homework was not completed
zuòyè méiyǒu xiěwán
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