I want to tackle a topic many might have wondered about a few times. Does Korean have something like passive sentence structures? We all love passive sentences. We love them so much in fact, we tend to overuse them. While Korean does not have a passive structure per se, it does have pattern similar to it: -아/어 있다. Though it has its difficulties.

Passive, yet Not Passive

Korean verbs and English verbs two very different animals. This difference is what makes learning Korean sometimes so difficult. Concepts such as passive sentences doesn’t really exist in Korean. They only have the semblance of a passive sentence. The grammar pattern -아/어 있다 is the closest thing Korean has to a passive sentence structure. However, it isn’t a passive sentence as its use is far narrower.

The verb pattern -아/어 있다 is a way to express the continued state of a completed action. You use it for example to tell someone a door is closed as that is the continued state of the completed action of closing it. However, verbs for wearing clothes, such as 입다, do not use this verb pattern, but instead use -고 있다.

The primary difficulty you will face is that a lot of verbs you know cannot use this verb ending. A limited list of these verbs that can use this verb ending: 열리다, 닫히다, 켜지다, 꺼지다, 떨어지다, 놓이다.

Transitive verbs cannot use this verb ending.

The careful observer will notice that share one common characteristic. They are intransitive, meaning they never use the object particle 을/를. Some verbs, the verbs I gave earlier, are derivatives of verbs you probably already knew. How you can transform ‘normal’ verbs into these special verbs, is a bit of a problem. There isn’t a real rule so you will need to learn them as you explore the wonders of Korean. However, if the verb is already intransitive, you can just go ahead and use this verb ending.

The How To

Using this verb pattern isn’t that difficult. It follows the a rule you are most familiar with by the time you learn this verb pattern anyway. It is essentially a variant of the 3 rules you use to form the present tense in Korean:

  1. If a verb stem ends in ㅏ or ㅗ you use the variant -아 있다.
  2. If a verb stem ends in any other vowel, you use -어 있다.
  3. For 하다 verbs, you use 해 있다.

After you have attached it to the verb, you simply continue adding proper verb endings to the 있다 part. That is easy, no? Just don’t forget to make sure you are using an intransitive verb when using this verb pattern. Transitive verbs cannot use this verb ending.

Expression of State: -아/어 있다 - Summary
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A short overview on the pattern -아/어 있다. The pattern used to express the continued state of a completed action.