Using "bei" sentences
被 (bèi) sentences, which are called 被字句 (bèizìjù) in Chinese, are a key way to express the passive voice in modern Mandarin Chinese. In passive sentences, the object of an action becomes the subject of the sentence, and the "doer" of the action, which would have been the subject of the normal (active voice) sentence, becomes secondary and may or may not be mentioned in the passive sentence.
- 1 What is a 被 sentence?
- 2 Why use them?
- 3 How to Use 被 Sentences
- 4 Forming 被 Sentences
- 5 See also
- 6 Sources and further reading
What is a 被 sentence?
被 (bèi) sentences are simply sentences which use a passive verb and the word 被. 被 sentences are not the only way to create the passive verb form in Chinese, but they are the most common and definitely the type to tackle first.
For the sake of clarity, take these sentences for example:
- 男孩 吃 了 热狗 。active voice sentence: "the hot dog" is the object of the verb "ate"The boy ate the hot dog.
- 热狗 被 男孩 吃 了 。"the hot dog" is now the subject, and "the boy" is the "doer"The hot dog was eaten by the boy.
- 热狗 被 吃 了 。passive voice with the "doer" omittedThe hot dog was eaten.
Why use them?
First, passive sentences indicate that one has been negatively affected. For example:
- 他 被 打 了 。He was beaten.
Second, passive sentences shift emphasis from the "doer" of the action to the one affected by that action. For example:
- 你 被 公司 炒鱿鱼 了 ？You got fired by the company?
Third, passive sentences allow one to avoid having to mention the "doer" of the action, either because it is unknown, or for other reasons. For example:
- 我 的 手机 被 偷 了 。My cell phone got stolen.
How to Use 被 Sentences
Normal use of 被 has a few preconditions:
- The verb to be used with 被 needs to have an object (this will become the new subject of the 被 sentence). Verbs that take objects are called transitive verbs.
- If you're going to state who the verb was done by (the "doer"), then the subject doing the original action must be known.
- The verb can't be too simple (for example, a one-character verb like 吃). Put simply, something needs to come after the verb. That "something" can be a particle like 了, a complement, or sometimes even an additional object.
Subj. + 被 (+ Doer) + Verb + 了
被 sentences with a doer:
- 我 被 他 骗 了 。I was deceived by him.
- 他 被 警察 抓 了 。He was caught by the police.
- 他 被 父母 骂 了 。He was scolded by his parents.
被 sentences without a doer:
- 我 的 车 被 撞 了 。My car was hit.
- 他们 做 的 坏事 被 发现 了 。The bad things they've done were discovered.
- 文件 被 删 了 。The files were deleted.
- 咖啡 被 我 喝 。Remember: you need SOMEthing after the verb.
- 咖啡 被 我 喝 了 。The coffee was drunk by me.
- 咖啡 被 我 喝 完 了 。The coffee was finished by me.
- 他 被 打 。Remember: you need SOMEthing after the verb.
- 他 被 打 了 。He was beaten.
- 他 被 打 伤 了 。He was beaten and wounded.
Forming 被 Sentences
You know the basic pattern already, so it's time to go deeper...
Negating 被 Sentences
There's just one other complication. What if you want to make a sentence in the negative? To negate a 被 sentence, you need to insert 没 or 没有 (past) directly in front of 被. For the present and future, use 不.
|她 的 想法||不||被||父母||理解||。|
Question Forms of 被 Sentences
You can make 被 sentences into questions in the usual three ways to form questions in Mandarin:
- With a question particle
- With a question word
- With positive-negative verbs
- 那些 书 被 借 走 了 吗 ？Have those books been borrowed?
- 他 被 谁 打 的 ？Who was he beaten by?
- 你 是不是 被 公司 炒鱿鱼 了 ？Did you get fired by the company or not?
被 Sentences with Aspect Particles
The particles 了 and 过 can both be used with 被 constructions, while 着 cannot. 着 indicates an action is "ongoing," which is not appropriate for a 被 construction, which should refer to an already complete action.
|我 的 车||被||撞||过||。|
被 Sentences with Complements
- 花瓶 被 摔 碎 了 。The vase was broken into pieces.
- 那个人 被 车 撞 死 了 。That man got hit and killed by a car.
- 那个 男人 被 警察 赶 出去 了 。The man was kicked out by the policeman.
- 孩子 被 他 父母 送 回去 了 。The child was sent back by his parents.
Sorry if these example sentences all seem like downers, but 被 sentences tend to be negative (or even tragic!).
Adverbs in 被 Sentences
What if you want to include adverbs in your 被 sentence? Where should those go? They go in the same place as the negative adverb 没有, above.
Sources and further reading
- A Practical Chinese Grammar For Foreigners (外国人实用汉语语法) (pp. 470-7) →buy
- Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar (pp. 55) →buy
- Boya Chinese Elementary Starter 2 (博雅汉语初经起步篇) (pp. 182) →buy
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 164-6) →buy
- Chinese Grammar - Broken down into 100 items - Basic and Intermediate Levels (汉语语法百项讲练 - 初中级) (pp. 362-4) [ →buy]
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 2 (3rd ed) (pp. 243-4) →buy
- Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar (pp. 492-508) →buy
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (pp. 100-7) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 2 (新实用汉语课本2) (pp. 239-40) →buy
- Short-term Spoken Chinese: Threshold Vol. 2 (汉语口语入门篇下) (pp. 168-70) [ →buy]
- 40 Lessons for Basic Chinese Course (基础汉语40课下册） (pp. 428-9) →buy
- ChinesePod (free content): Qing Wen - Passive Verbs and 被