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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.

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" Nánhái chī le règǒu .The boy ate the hot dog.
  • 热狗 男孩 吃 了 。"the hot dog" is now the subject, and "the boy" is the "doer"Règǒu bèi nánhái chī le.The hot dog was eaten by the boy.
  • 热狗 吃 了 。passive voice with the "doer" omittedRègǒu bèi chī le.The hot dog was eaten.

Why use them?

First, passive sentences indicate that one has been negatively affected. For example:

  • 打 了 。bèi dǎ le.He was beaten.

Second, passive sentences shift emphasis from the "doer" of the action to the one affected by that action. For example:

  • 公司 炒鱿鱼 了 ?bèi gōngsī chǎo yóuyú le?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 偷 了 。Wǒ de shǒujī bèi tōu le.My cell phone got stolen.

How to Use 被 Sentences

Normal use of 被 has a few preconditions:

  1. 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.
  2. If you're going to state who the verb was done by (the "doer"), then the subject doing the original action must be known.
  3. 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.

Structure

Subj. + 被 (+ Doer) + Verb + 了

Examples

被 sentences with a doer:

  • bèi piàn le.I was deceived by him.
  • 警察bèi jǐngchá zhuā le.He was caught by the police.
  • 父母bèi fùmǔle.He was scolded by his parents.

被 sentences without a doer:

  • 我 的 车 Wǒ de chē bèi zhuàng le.My car was hit.
  • 他们 做 的 坏事 发现 Tāmen zuò de huàishì bèi fāxiàn le.The bad things they've done were discovered.
  • 文件 Wénjiàn bèi shān le.The files were deleted.

Common Errors

  • 咖啡 我 喝 。Remember: you need SOMEthing after the verb.Kāfēi bèi wǒ hē.
  • 咖啡 我 喝 Kāfēi bèi wǒ hē le.The coffee was drunk by me.
  • 咖啡 我 喝 完 了Kāfēi bèi wǒ hē wán le.The coffee was finished by me.
  • 打 。Remember: you need SOMEthing after the verb.bèi dǎ.
  • bèile.He was beaten.
  • 伤 了bèishāng le.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.

Some examples:
Doer Negative Subject Verb Phrase
没有   打伤
  炒鱿鱼
她 的 想法 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

Some examples:

  • 那些 书 走 了 吗 ?Nàxiē shū bèi jiè zǒu le ma?Have those books been borrowed?
  • 谁 打 bèi shéi dǎ de?Who was he beaten by?
  • 你 是不是 公司 炒鱿鱼 Nǐ shì bu shì bèi gōngsī chǎo yóuyú le?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.

Some examples:
Subject Object Verb Aspect particle
老师
我 的 车  
男朋友

被 Sentences with Complements

Both result complements and direction complements work well in 被 sentences.

Some examples:

  • 花瓶 了 。Huāpíng bèi shuāi suì le.The vase was broken into pieces.
  • 那个人 车 撞 了 。Nàge rén bèi chē zhuàng le.That man got hit and killed by a car.
  • 那个 男人 警察 赶 出去 了 。Nàge nánrén bèi jǐngchá gǎn chūqù le.The man was kicked out by the policeman.
  • 孩子 他 父母 送 回去 了 。Háizi bèi tā fùmǔ sòng huíqù le.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.

Some examples:
Subject Adv. Doer Verb Phrase
刚才 同学
我们 老师
手机  
小偷 终于   抓住

See also

Sources and further reading

Books

Websites