Constructing Passive Sentences in Chinese Using “被字句”(Bèi-structure)

In Chinese, the use of “passive sentences” is fairly common and foreigners who are not used to passive sentences  are often confused by them when learning the language. So , to help foreign learners better understand this kind of sentence construction in Chinese, we are going to  explore one of these special sentence structures—passive sentences with the preposition “被”(Bèi), also called  “被字句”(Bèi-structure).

“被字句”(Bèi-structure) is a kind of passive sentence structure using  “被”(Bèi) to indicate the agent who has performed the given action or verb. The basic structure is “(Patient)Subject+被(Bèi)+agent+V.+complement/other elements”.  Note that sometimes,   it is possible to leave out “被(Bèi)+agent” depending on the particular situation. Here are some detailed examples to better explain this structure:

The Affirmative Form

1. Basic form

(Patient)Subject + (Bèi) + agent + V. + complement/other elements

E.g.  (1)书被他拿走了。(Shū bèi tā ná zǒu le.

       The book was taken by him.

  (2)面包被妹妹吃了。(Miànbāo bèi mèimei chī le.)

    The bread has been eaten by younger sister.

  (3)我被他打了。(Wǒ bèi tā dǎ le.)

   I was beaten by him.

  (4)果汁被弟弟喝了。(Guǒzhī bèi dìdi hē le.)

  The juice has been drunk by young brother.

in using this basic form,  what is emphasized is the agent, or the doer of the action.

2. Leaving the “agent” out:

(Patient)Subject + (Bèi) + V. + complement/other elements

E.g.  (1)自行车被偷了。(Zìxínɡchē bèi tōu le.)

      The bike was stolen.

  (2)汉语书被借走了。(Hànyǔ shū bèi jiè zǒu le.)

   The Chinese book has been borrowed.

  (3)手机被摔了。(Shǒu jī bèi shuāi le.)

   The phone was dropped.

  (4)空气被污染了。(Kōnɡqì bèi wūrǎn le.)

  The air is polluted.

This structure emphasizes the result of the action, not the agent. The agent is left out because  it is unnecessary for it to mentioned, or is unknown.

3. Leaving the “被(Bèi)+agent” out:

(Patient)Subject + V.+ complement/other elements

E.g. (1)饭做好了。(Fàn zuò hǎo le.)

     The meal is ready.

   (2)作业写完了。(Zuòyè xiě wán le.)

    The homework was finished.

   (3)电影票买好了。(Diàn yǐnɡpiào mǎi hǎo le.)

     The movie ticket was bought.

   (4)电脑修好了。(Diànnǎo xiū hǎo le.)

      The computer has been repaired.

This type of structure only emphasizes on the (Patient)Subject and the result of the action.

 

The Negative Form

There is a negative form as well where “没(有)(méiyǒu)” is used in the passive sentences, and (有)is implied.  To be consistent with the affirmative form, there are two negative forms:

1. 没(有)(méiyǒu)is put before the preposition “被(Bèi)” in the first two affirmative forms:

(Patient)Subject + 没(有)(méiyǒu+ 被(Bèi+ agent + V. + complement/other elements

(Patient)Subject + 没(有)(méiyǒu+ 被(Bèi+ V. + complement/other elements

E.g. (1)自行车没被哥哥修好。(Zìxínɡchē méi bèi ɡēɡe xiū hǎo.)

     The bike hasn’t been repaired by older brother.

   (2)自行车没被修好。(Zìxínɡchē méi bèi xiū hǎo.)

     The bike hasn’t been repaired.

2. 没(有)(méiyǒu)is put before the verbs:

(Patient)Subject + 没(有)(méiyǒu) + V. + complement/other elements

E.g.  (1)自行车没修好。(Zìxínɡchē méi xiū hǎo.)

     The bike was not repaired.

    (2)作业没写完。(Zuòyè méi xiě wán.)

     the homework isn’t finished yet.

Here is a summary chart about “被字句”(Bèi-structure) to help make things clearer. We will use the sentence below to show the different affirmative and negative forms:

杯子被妹妹打碎了。(Bēizi bèi mèimei dǎ suì le.)

The cup was broken by young sister.

Affirmative forms:

(Patient)
Subject

(Bèi)
agent V. complement/
other elements
1. 杯子 妹妹 碎了。
2. 杯子  \ 碎了。
3. 杯子 \  \ 碎了。


Negative forms:

(Patient)
Subject
没(有)
(méiyǒu)

(Bèi)
agent 没(有)
(méiyǒu)
V. complement/
other elements
1 杯子 没(有) 妹妹  \ 碎。
2 杯子 没(有) \ \ 碎。
3 杯子 \  \ \ 没(有) 碎。

 

Finally, some points need to be emphasized:

i). In pattern 1 of affirmative forms, we can also use the prepositions “叫”(jiào)and “让”(ràng);  the negative form can also be constructed with “不”(bù), “别”(bié).Finally, some points need to be emphasized:

E.g. (1)字典叫他借走了。(Zìdiǎn jiào tā jiè zǒu le.)

      The dictionary was borrowed by him.

   (2)钱包让小偷偷走了。(Qiánbāo rànɡ xiǎotōu tōu zǒu le.)

      The wallet was stolen by the thief.

   (3)他的文章不被采纳。(Tāde wénzhāng bú bèi cǎinà.)

      His essay hasn’t been receipted.

   (4)你拿着苹果,别让他吃。(Nǐ názhe pínɡɡuǒ, bié rànɡ tā chī.

      Keep the apple, don’t let him eat it.

ii). In “被字句”(Bèi-structure), there must be a modifying element following the Verb, and the verb can’t be used alone.

Compare the two sentences below:

Water has been drunk:

水被喝完了。(Shuǐ bèi hē wán le.)

水被喝完。(Shuǐ bèi hē wán.)

水被喝。(Shuǐ bèi hē.

(The three sentences above may have  the same meaning when translated to English,  but the original Chinese pattern and meaning are different. Usually, the last two sentences are considered wrong grammar in Chinese.)

I hope this article in “被字句”(Bèi-structure) has been helpful in your studies. It may be a bit confusing at first, especially since passive sentences are not as commonly used in English, but mastering passive sentences in Chinese will go a long way in helping you understand and communicate with native Chinese speakers. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave messages below.

 

Cecilia He

Cecilia majored in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. She has vast experience in educating her students on how to listen to and speak Chinese, and is trained to teach HSK courses. She has mastered the method and practice of teaching the structure, historical development, and relationships of languages as an academic subject, and has also done extensive research on Intercultural Communication and Sinology.