Today a friend of mine told me she is struggling with something that is often called Korean passive verbs, the so-called 피동사. Now technically Korean does not have something like the ‘passive voice’. However, there are still things that are akin to the passive voice that is present in nearly all European languages. Let’s take a look at the 피동사, the Korean Passive Expressions.

No Passive Voice

In European languages we change what is known the ‘voice’ of a verb. We use it when we want to express something or someone undergoes the action of a verb. That we call the passive in those languages. However, the Korean language does not have something like ‘voice’. Therefore it does not have something like a ‘passive’.

While a ‘passive voice’ doesn’t exist, that doesn’t mean there is not a way to express what the passive voice expresses. So while there is no voice in Korean, there are other ways. In fact, you have a few options. One method, though, may cause some issues and that is using so-called passive verbs known in Korean as 피동사.

피동사 – Korean Passive Expressions

In many ways the Korean 피동사 is very similar to the passive voice. However, where in European languages this is most often a verb with an auxiliary verb, in Korean you need to use a completely different verb. Though the use of different verbs causes a lot of people to have difficulties. People have even more trouble since rules do not exist on how to create these 피동사. In fact, it is simply a matter of memorization.

피동사 distinguish themselves from their regular Korean verb counterparts (동사) by one recognizable difference in use. A 피동사 can never utilize the object particle -을/를. Of course, that is because the subject of the sentence is what undergoes the action. So you have no need for a direct object with that particle.

How can you recognize a 피동사? That is not difficult, the Korean passive verb is based on its regular counterpart, but with a affix attached to the verb stem. This affix can be either -이, -히, -리 or -기. Which verb uses which affix is difficult to predict as there is simply no rule for that. You will have to memorize the Korean passive verbs. The best thing to do is to focus on the most commonly used as you’ll come across these most often. At the end of this article, we have included a 피동사 vocabulary list.

How To Use

Like the passive voice in European languages, the Korean passive verbs has a proper way to use it. You can easily form three usage groups. We’ll go over these groups individually as some verbs prefer one style of use over another. I think this will make understanding things a lot easier.

To understand the abbreviations used in the explanations:

  • N1 – Noun 1
  • N2 – Noun 2
  • PV – Passive verb (피동사)
  • V – (Regular) Verb

Group 1: N2이/가 N1에게 PV

The first usage group is where the 피동사, the Korean passive verb, requires both a subject and a indirect object using the particle -에게/한테 (N2이/가 N1에게 PV). So that means that with a regular verb the sentence would need a subject and a direct object with -을/를 (N1이/가 N2에게 PV). Let’s look at an example:

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Passive: N1이/가 N2에게 PV

아이 어머니에게 안겼어요.

Translation: The child was held by the mother.

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Active: N2이/가 N1을/를 V

어머니 아이 안았어요.

Translation: The mother held the child.

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Some of the most common 피동사 that utilize this pattern are: 쫓기다 (to be chased), 먹히다 (To be eaten), 잡히다 (to be grabbed), 안기다 (to be held) and 읽히다 (to be read).

Group 2: N이/가 PV

The second usage group is where the 피동사, the Korean passive verb, requires just a subject. So it means that with a regular verb the sentence would at least have a direct object with -을/를 (N을/를 PV). Let’s look at an example:

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Passive: N이/가 PV

시끄러운 소리 들려요.

Translation: Loud sounds are heard.

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Active: N을/를 V

시끄러운 소리 들어요.

Translation: I hear loud sounds.

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Some of the most common 피동사 that utilize this pattern are: 들리다 (to be heard), 보이다 (to be seen), 바뀌다 (to be changed), 열리다 (to be opened), 잠기다 (to be locked) and 닫히다 (to be closed).

Group 3: N2이/가 N1에 PV + -어/아 있다

The third usage group is where the 피동사, the Korean passive verb, requires just a subject, a location with particle -에 and the use of the expression of state -어/아 있다. So that means that with a regular verb the sentence would at have a direct object with -을/를 (N을/를 PV), a location with particle -에 and a verb without the expression of state.

Please note that these verbs are among the very few verbs that can utilize the expression -어/아 있다 as all 피동사 are intransitive verbs. Though you will only use the expression with a select of these verbs still.

Let’s look at an example:

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Passive: N2이/가 N1에 PV + -어/아 있다

가방 책상 위여 있어요.

Translation: The bag is placed on the desk.

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Active: N1에 N2을/를 V

책상 위에 가방을 놓아요.

Translation: I put the bag on the desk.

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Some of the most common 피동사 that utilize this pattern are: 쓰이다 (to be written), 놓이다 (to be put), 쌓이다 (to be piled up), 걸리다 (to be hung) and 꽂히다 (to be stuck, to be hit).

피동사 Vocabulary List

To end this post, we’ll close things off with a vocabulary list. Why a vocabulary list? Simple. Since rules do not exist on how to form a Korean passive verb using these affix -이, -히, -리 or -기. You needn’t learn all of the 피동사 in existence since not even Koreans can manage that! Instead it is best that you simply memorize the most frequently used Korean passive verbs. For all other verbs there is another way to turn them ‘passive’: -어지다/아지다.

Without further ado, here is our list of the most common 피동사 with their active verb counterpart. If you know other Korean passive verbs, let us know in the comments. You will help not only Morning Lands complete their list, but also every Morning Lands reader.

피동사 Meaning 동사
놓이다 To be put 놓다
바뀌다 To be changed 바꾸다
보이다 To be seen 보다
쓰이다 To be written; To be used 쓰다
잠기다 To be locked 잠그다
닫히다 To be closed 닫다
읽히다 To be read 읽다
막히다 To be blocked 막다
잡히다 To be grabbed 잡다
먹히다 To be eaten 먹다
걸리다 to be hung 걸다
들리다 to be heard 듣다
열리다 To be opened 열다
팔리다 To be sold 팔다
밀리다 To be pushed 밀다
끊기다 To be cut (off) 끊다
안기다 To be held 안다
쫓기다 To be pursued 쫓다
찢기다 To be torn 찢다
풀리다 Repeatedly, often, frequently 풀다
쌓이다 To be piled up 쌓다
꽂히다 To be hit, to be struck 꽂다
씻기다 To be washed 씻다
Grammar Note: 피동사 - Korean Passive Expressions
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Overview on the 피동사, Korean passive expressions