How to Use Chinese Verbs in Passive Form

Learning how to employ verbs in the passive voice can be one of the more challenging aspects of learning Chinese at first. Chinese utilizes a distinct structure from English, which forms passive verbs by adding “be” to a past participle. To further comprehend their usage, we’ll examine the grammar of Chinese passive verbs in this section and provide real-world examples.

Understanding the Concept of Passive Voice in Chinese

Let’s first get acquainted with how the Chinese language uses the passive voice. Chinese passive-verb sentences typically look something like this:

[被 + actor + verb + (了/的) + object]

  • “被” (bèi) is the most common particle for expressing the passive voice, but there are other particles such as 叫 (jiào), 让 (ràng), and 给 (gěi) used in informal or colloquial language.
  • “了” (le) and “的” (de) are modal particles used to express the completion of an action or possession, respectively.

Forming Passive Sentences

Let’s illustrate the passive voice structure with an example:

我被她打了。 (Wǒ bèi tā dǎ le.)

In this sentence, “我” (wǒ) is the recipient of the action, “被” (bèi) is the passive marker, “她” (tā) is the actor or doer of the action, “打” (dǎ) is the verb which means ‘hit,’ and “了” (le) is a modal particle indicating that the action has been completed. So, the translation of this sentence into English would be: “I was hit by her.”

In Chinese, it’s common to omit the actor when it’s understood from the context. In such cases, the passive sentence would look like this:

我被打了。 (Wǒ bèi dǎ le.)

This sentence translates into English as “I was hit.”

Using Other Particles

As mentioned earlier, while “被” (bèi) is the most common passive particle, there are others that can be used, especially in informal or spoken Chinese:

  1.  (jiào): This word also means ‘call’ or ‘be called,’ but when used as a passive particle, it can replace “被.” For instance, “我叫他打了” (Wǒ jiào tā dǎ le), which means “I was hit by him.”
  2.  (ràng): This means ‘let’ or ‘allow,’ but as a passive particle, it functions similarly to “被” and “叫.” For example, “我让他打了” (Wǒ ràng tā dǎ le), which translates to “I was hit by him.”
  3.  (gěi): Normally, this word means ‘give,’ but in spoken Chinese, it can also function as a passive particle. “我给他打了” (Wǒ gěi tā dǎ le) also translates to “I was hit by him.”

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Exceptions to the Rule

While the structure [被 + actor + verb + (了/的) + object] is ordinary, there are exceptions where the verb is followed directly by “被.” In this case, the sentence is usually a general statement rather than a specific action done by a particular actor. For example, “这本书可以被读” (Zhè běn shū kěyǐ bèi dú) translates as “This book can be read.”


Due to the differences between Chinese and English syntax, it may initially seem challenging to understand how Chinese verbs take on a passive form. You’ll learn to recognize and use these patterns more naturally with time and exposure to the language, though. 

FAQ: How to Use Chinese Verbs in Passive Form

Q: What is the primary particle used to form the passive voice in Chinese?

A: The most common particle used to form the passive voice in Chinese is “被” (bèi).

Q: Are there other particles that can be used in place of “被”?

A: Other particles can be used instead of “被,” especially in informal or spoken Chinese. These include “叫” (jiào), “让” (ràng), and “给” (gěi).

Q: Can the actor in a passive sentence be omitted in Chinese?

A: The actor can be omitted in a passive sentence when understood from the context. For instance, “我被打了” (Wǒ bèi dǎ le) translates to “I was hit” with the actor implied but not explicitly mentioned.

Q: Are passive sentences commonly used in spoken Chinese?

A: Like in English, the use of passive sentences in Chinese is dependent on the context. Although they are less frequent than active sentences, inactive sentences are still employed in formal and informal contexts when the action done to the subject is more important than the person who performed it.

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