Lesson 14: Korean Passive Verbs

Lesson 14: Korean Passive Verbs


The vocabulary is separated into nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs for the purpose of simplicity.

Click on the English word to see information and examples of that word in use (you probably won’t be able to understand the grammar within the sentences at this point, but it is good to see as you progress through your learning).

A PDF file neatly presenting these words and extra information can be found here.

냄새 (나다) = smell

청소기 = vacuum cleaner

얼굴 = face

시장 = market

몸 = body

불 = light/fire

숙제 = homework

기억 = memory

상자 = box

바람 = wind

세금 = tax

켜다 = to turn on

끄다 = to turn off

숨다 = to hide oneself

숨기다 = to hide an object

고장내다 = to break

놓다 = to lay an object down

눕다 = to lie down

존경하다 = to respect

대체하다 = to replace

제공하다 = to provide, to offer

포함하다 = to include

내다 = to make something come up/arise/occur

싸우다 = to fight

속이다 = to trick somebody

감동하다 = to impress

서다 = to stand

Passive Verbs:
잠기다 = to be locked

켜지다 = to be turned on

꺼지다 = to be turned off

나다 = to have something you didn’t have

고장나다 = to be broken

화나다 = to be mad

짜증나다 = to be annoyed

놓이다 = for an object to be lying down

열리다 = to be open

닫히다 = to be closed

속다 = to be tricked

자꾸 = repeatedly

For help memorizing these words, try using our Memrise tool.


This lesson contains a lot of boring, confusing grammar. I am warning you now.

If you looked at the vocabulary list of this lesson before reading this, you may have noticed something strange with some of the words. A lot of the words look very similar to each other. The reason for this is because today you will learn about passive verbs in Korean. Though I studied passive verbs very early in my studies, it is something that actually took me a year to fully grasp – and not because it is incredibly difficult, but rather that I never received any proper instruction regarding passive verbs.

What are passive verbs? A passive verb is a word that indicates that an action was done in the past – which results in something being in a non-active state after that action. It’s hard to explain with words – and much better explained with examples. In this sentence:

I open the door:
The verb “open” is an active verb because the subject (I) is acting on an object (the door). But, in the following sentence:

The door is open:
The subject is actually “the door” and it is in the passive state of “opened.” Though it is not explicitly shown, we can infer from that sentence the fact that ‘somebody previously opened the door – so now – the door is open’

If you are not good with languages (which I wasn’t) it is difficult to understand the difference between active and passive verbs at first. I will show you more examples:

– Active: I turn the computer on
– Passive: The computer is on (which means, somebody had previously turned the computer on – so now it is in the state of being on).

– Active: I turn the computer off
– Passive: The computer is off (which means, somebody had previously turned the computer off – so now it is in the state of being off).

– Active: I lock the door
– Passive: The door is locked (which means, somebody had previously locked the door – so now it is in the state of being locked).

In English, we add is/am/are before a verb to make it passive and usually attach ~ed to the end of a verb:

– lock – is locked
– expect – is expected
– annoy – is annoyed

In Korean, they usually use a different (but very similar looking) verb when saying a passive verb instead of an active one. In this lesson, we will look at the different ways this can be done.

One thing that is absolutely essential in knowing before you start, however, is that sentences with passive verbs can NOT have objects in them. This means, that you can never use 를/을 in a clause with a passive verb. For example, you can’t say: “The man me was found.” In that sentence “me” is an object so must be eliminated to say: “The man was found.” However, “me” can be used if you want to use another particle on it. In English, we do this by using the particle “by”: “The man was found by me.”

You will learn about all of this in this lesson.

This is probably the most important paragraph in the entire lesson; It is usually unnatural to use passive verbs in Korean. Passive verbs are used (quite often, actually) but the main reason they are used is because Korean has been so heavily influenced by English over the past 50 years. In almost every situation, it is more natural to use the active form of a verb. For example, instead of saying “the house is built” it is more natural to say “somebody built the house” (which implies that the house is now built).

One more quick thing – passive verbs are verbs – not adjectives. People sometimes think that they are adjectives because they look, sound and feel similar to adjectives and they never act on objects. Look at the similarities between these two:

The house is beautiful (beautiful = adjective)
The house is built (built = passive verb)

Always remember that passive verbs are verbs. This is important because you must conjugate them as verbs.

Korean Passive Verbs – 하다 to 되다

I’ve told you twice before that verbs ending in 하다 can usually be separated from 하다 to create a noun form of that verb. 하다 then has the meaning of “do”:

나는 일했어 = I worked
which has the same meaning of:
나는 일을 했어 = I did work/I worked

When dealing with 하다 verbs, most of the time you can simply exchange 하다 with 되다, to make that verb passive. For example:

이해하다 = to understand
이해되다 = to be understood

포함하다 = to include
포함되다 = to be included

제공하다 = to provide
제공되다 = to be provided

You can use these passive verbs in sentences, but remember, these sentences cannot act on objects. For example:

이 값은 세금을 포함해요 = this price includes tax
세금은 포함돼요 = the tax is included
*Adding 어 to 되 creates either 되어 or 돼 with no difference in meaning. (For example, 되다 in the past tense can either be 되었다 or 됐다)

More examples:

Active: 저는 점심을 준비했어요 = I prepared (the) lunch
Passive: 점심이 준비되었어요 = (The) lunch was prepared

Active: 회사는 기계를 대체했어 = The company replaced the machine
Passive: 기계는 대체되었어 = The machine was replaced

However, a lot of times you want to indicate by whom/what the lunch was prepared, or by whom/what the machine was replaced. For example:

– The lunch was prepared by the school
– The machine was replaced by the company

In the examples above, although we are still using a passive verb, information about how the passive verb occurred is given. This is an example of when it is much more common to use the active form over the passive form in Korean. In Korean (and most likely in English as well), it would be much more natural to say “I prepared the lunch” instead of “The lunch was prepared by me.” Nonetheless, the grammar within these sentences is important, so I need to continue teaching it to you here.

In order to create these sentences, you need to remember that sentences with a predicating passive verb can NOT have an object – which means that you CANNOT attach ~를/을 to “the school” or “the company.” For example, the sentence below would be ridiculous and probably wouldn’t be understood at all:

점심이 학교를 준비되었어요

In these types of sentences, in order to indicate how/by which means the passive verb occurs, you need to use different particles. If this part of a sentence is a person, it is acceptable to attach the particle “에게” to the noun. For example:

그것은 이해되었어 = it was understood
그것은 학생들에게 이해되었어 = It was understood by the students

집은 청소되었어 = the house was cleaned
집은 아버지에게 청소되었어 = the house was cleaned by my dad

Again, I highly suggest that you refrain from using this passive voice in Korean. I need you to understand what is being introduced here so I can build on it in later lessons. The two sentences above would be better said as:
학생들은 그것을 이해했어요 = The students understood that
아버지는 집을 청소했어요 = My dad cleaned the house

The particle ~에 can be used when this part of a sentence is a non-person. For example:

점심이 학교에 준비되었어요 = The lunch was provided by the school

The particle “~에 의해” can also be attached to nouns that are non-people in these situations, but the distinction between ~에 and ~에 의해 at this point doesn’t need to be discussed (it will only confuse you, and it – especially because I advise against using this passive form in Korean anyways – doesn’t need to be taught until much later. In Lesson 78, I formally introduce ~에 의해 and its main function. I suggest not skipping ahead to that lesson, and focusing on the information I am presenting here.

Also, remember the meaning of ~(으)로 which you learned in Lesson 12. You learned that ~(으)로 can be used to indicate with what tool/device/method/material something is carried out. This means that you can say something like:

저는 집을 청소기로 청소했어요 = I cleaned the house with a vacuum cleaner

But, if you wanted to say that sentence by using the passive verb (to be cleaned), you would have to again use ~(으)로 as the particle attached to 청소기 because that was the method/tool that was used for it to be cleaned:

집은 청소기로 청소되었어요 = the house was cleaned by a vacuum cleaner, whereas:
집은 청소기에 청소되었어요 = is not correct, although most Korean people would probably understand you.

Wow. Confusing.

It’s confusing for me, I’m sure it is confusing to you, and it is actually confusing to Korean people as well – so don’t get too hung up on the difference between ~에/에게 /~(으)로 in these situations because, as I said – Korean people don’t use passive verbs as much as they use active verbs.

What do you need to take from all of this? Because it is so confusing, I wrote the main points that you should know:

Clauses ending in a passive verb can never have a word with an object marker (를/을) within the clause.
Passive verbs are conjugated just like active verbs, even though they feel like adjectives
Though clauses ending in a passive verb cannot have an object in the clause, other particles can be attached to nouns to indicate how the passive action occurred. These particles are usually:
에 – to indicate that something occurred due to a non-person
에 의해 – to indicate that something occurred due to a non-person, but we haven’t studied this specifically yet
에게 – to indicate that something occurred due to a person
~(으)로 – to indicate the tool/method in which something occurred
One other thing. Just because an noun in a passive sentence has the particle ~에 (or ~에게, or ~에 의해 for that matter) attached to it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that is the noun that caused the passive verb to occur. ~에 could also have its more familiar function of designating a place. For example, we saw this sentence before:

세금은 포함돼요 = the tax is included

I could put the noun “값” in the sentence to indicate the location of where the tax is included in.

세금은 값에 포함된다 = The tax is included in the price

Notice in the example above that the particle “~에” is not denoting that the tax is included by the price. Rather, it is included in the price. Being able to recognize things like this just takes practice and your understanding of this will increase as you progress through your studies. For now, try not to focus too much on the tiny parts of this lessons, and focus more on the big-picture.

Korean Passive Verbs – 하다 to 받다

In addition to the usual way of switching 하다 with 되다 to make a passive verb – there is another (similar) way of making these verbs passive. This can only be done with certain verbs (usually acting on people), and is done by switching 하다 with 받다 (to receive). For example:

저는 저의 형을 존경해요 = I respect my brother
저의 형은 존경 받아요 = My brother is respected (literally-my brother receives respect)

The same rules apply with ~에 and ~에게 as described previously:

교장선생님은 선생님들에게 존경받아요 = The principal is respected by the teachers
나는 너의 말에* 감동받았어 = I was impressed with what you said
*Remember that 말하다 means “to speak.” By removing 하다, 말 becomes the noun form of “speak,” which is ‘words/the thing you said/what you said/etc…”

Korean Passive Verbs – Non-하다 verbs

So far you have only learned how to change ~하다 verbs into the passive tense. There are, of course many verbs in Korean that don’t end in ~하다. When dealing with words not ending in 하다, there is often a separate (but very similar) word that can be used to indicate the passive voice. These words will always be presented separately in the vocabulary lists. Here are some examples:

켜다 = to turn on
켜지다 = to be turned on

끄다 = to turn off
꺼지다 = to be turned off

닫다 = to close
닫히다 = to be closed

You can treat these passive verbs just like the passive verbs you learned in the previous two sections (되다 and 받다 verbs). Make sure you use the passive verb and not the active verb (for example – use 닫히다 instead of 닫다 in a passive sentence)

밥은 학교에 의해 제공된다 = food is provided by the school
밥은 학교에 의해 제공되었다 = food was provided by the school
문은 바람에 의해 닫혔어요 = The door was closed by the wind

When dealing with these passive verbs however, you need to think about whether or not that passive verb is in the state of something. For example, every passive verb you learned in the previous two sections (하다 to 되다 and 하다 to 받다) were not passive verbs in the state of something. For example, again:

나는 너의 말에 감동받았어 = I was impressed with what you said

Simply means that you were impressed. It does not mean that you are in the state of being impressed. But, in these sentences:

The computer is on.
The TV is off
The door is locked

All of those nouns are in the state of something. The computer is in the state of being on, the TV is in the state of being off, and the door is in the state of locked. To indicate that something “is in the state” of something in Korean, you must add ~아/어 있다 to the passive verb:

저는 컴퓨터를 켰어요 = I turned the computer on
컴퓨터가 켜져 있어요 = The computer is (in the state of) on

저는 TV를 껐어요 = I turned the TV off
TV가 꺼져 있어요 = The TV is (in the state of) off

저는 문을 잠갔어요 = I locked the door
문이 잠겨 있어요 = The door is (in the state of) locked

Notice that when using these ‘state’ words, 이/가 should be used instead of 는/은.

I get a lot of people who are confused about this “state” nonsense of these passive verbs. I would like to fully describe how these words can be used to describe that something is in a “state” and compare them to the same passive verb that is not in that state. For example:

저는 문을 닫았어요 = I closed the door
This sentence is an active sentence. It has an active verb, and has an object. This should be no problem.

문이 닫혔어요 = The door was closed
This is a passive sentence. It is indicating that at some point in the past, the door was closed by something or something. This is the exact passive equivalent of “저는 문을 닫았어요” – the only difference is that we have no idea who/what closed the door. Though you could assume that the door (after that point) was in the state of “closed” this sentence does not specifically indicate that.

문은 바람에 닫혔어요 = The door was closed by the wind
This is essentially the same sentence as above, but in this case we know how the door was closed. Again, though you could assume that the door (after that point) was in the state of “closed” this sentence does not specifically indicate that.

문이 닫혀 있었어요 = The door was closed
This is another passive sentence, but notice the difference between this sentence and the two examples above. Here, the sentence is specifically indicating that the door was in the state of “closed”. Here, we have absolutely no idea if something/somebody had closed it recently; all we know is that, at that time, the door was not open.

저는 문을 닫아요 = I close the door
This is another active sentence with an active verb. Though it makes sense, it probably wouldn’t be said like this unless there was some sort of adverb or other information in the sentence (for example, “I close the door every day at 9:00pm”)

문이 닫혀요 = The door closes
While technically correct, you would need some other information to make this sentence more natural (for example, “the door closes every day at 9:00pm”). This is the exact passive equivalent of “저는 문을 닫아요” – except for that in this example, there is no information given as to who/what will close the door. The sentence is not referring to the door being in the state of “closed”, but rather, indicating that door somehow closes.

문이 닫혀 있어요 = The door is closed
Notice the difference between this example and the one above. This sentence is not referring to the door closing. It is only stating that the door is currently in the state of “closed”

문이 닫힐 거예요 = The door will close
Again, this example is referring to the door somehow closing. It is the exact passive equivalent of “저는 문을 닫을 거예요” – except for that in this example, there is no information given as to who/what will close the door.

문이 닫혀 있을 거예요 = The door will be closed
This is a passive sentence that is indicating that the door will be in the state of “closed” in the future. It does not indicate who/what will close the door; all we know is that, at that time in the future, the door will be closed.

Just because an active verb has a passive equivalent, it does not mean you can attach ~아/어 있다 to that word to describe that it is in the “state” of something. Typically this is only done for words like on, off, open, closed, etc…

A good example of this not working with a passive verb is with 속이다 and 속다.

속이다 = to trick somebody
속다 = to be tricked

나는 친구를 속였어 = I tricked my friend (the recording incorrectly says “요” at the end)
This is an active sentence.

나는 친구에게 속았어 = I was tricked by my friend
This is a passive sentence

나는 속아 있다…
… I am… in the state of being tricked.
This doesn’t make sense. Once you’re tricked, you’re tricked. You do not continue being in the state of “tricked” like a door continues to be open once it is open.

Here’s an example that I am including just because I have the audio for it. I’m going to get more example sentences for this lesson shortly with more audio clips:

펜이 탁자에 놓여 있었어요
= The pen was (in the state of) laying on the table

Korean Passive Verbs – 내다 and 나다

There are quite a few words in Korean that can either end in 나다 or 내다.

These two play the same role as 되다 and 하다, where a word ending in 나다 is passive and a word ending in 내다 is active. For example:

끝내다 = to finish
끝나다 = to be finished

나다 and 내다 can actually be used as standalone verbs as well as be attached to other words. Both of their meanings are very complex and depend heavily on the situation, but their general meanings are:

나다 = for something to come up/arise/occur
내다 = to make something come up/arise/occur

However, not all words ending in 나다 have an equivalent 내다 verb (and vice-versa). For example, 어긋나다 is a word (to be out of step with something) but 어긋내다 is not a word. At any rate, the two most common words ending in 나다/내다 are:

끝내다 = to finish
끝나다 = to be finished

고장 내다 = to break
고장 나다 = to be broken

It is very common to use the past tense conjugation of both of these words in the passive voice even when the thing is currently broken/finished. In English, we would say these sentences in the present tense, but in theory the task/thing was broken/finished in the past. For example:

숙제는 끝났어요 = My homework is finished
컴퓨터는 고장 났어요 = The computer is broken

It is possible to use the active voice to express these sentences, but the use of “나다” (as seen above) is more common than the use of 내다 in these cases. Nonetheless, the following are acceptable:

저는 숙제를 끝냈어요 = I finished my homework
저는 컴퓨터를 고장냈어요 = I broke the computer

As I said before, 나다 itself means “for something to come up/arise/occur” which means it can be used in a lot of sentences to indicate that some noun “comes up”. Three common ways to use 나다 are with 기억 (a memory) with 생각 (a thought) and with 냄새 (a smell):

아! 그것이* 기억났다! = Ah! I remember that! (Literally – my memory came up)
좋은 생각이* 났어요! = I have a good idea (Literally – a good idea came up)
그 가방에서 냄새가 났어요 = That bag is smelly (A smell is coming out of that bag)
그 방에서 냄새가 났어요 = That room is smelly (A smell is coming out of that room)
*Remember that 나다 is a passive verb and cannot act on an object. Therefore, the particle ~이/가 must be used on “것.” You will learn more about this sentence structure in the next lesson.

Another common example of “나다” in use is in the following phrase:

큰 일 났어요!

Literally, this translates to “a big thing/task/work came up!” In Korean, this expression is used similar to the expression “Oh no! Something bad just happened!” A more common expression would probably be “Oh crap!”

You will see “나다” used with many other words throughout your Korean studies. The most common examples of 나다 (or it’s active 내다 form) are the examples above. Other common examples that you will learn shortly are provided below. I haven’t included these words in the vocabulary list above, so you don’t need to memorize them now. I am simply introducing them to you at this point because they are related to this topic.

소리 = sound
소리가 나다 = the verb of a sound happening (for a sound to “come up”)

화 = anger, rage
화가 나다 = to be angry (for anger to “come up”)

사고 = accident
사고가 나다 = to get into an accident (for an accident to “arise”)

땀 = sweat
땀이 나다 = to be sweating (for sweat to “come up”)

전쟁 = war
전쟁이 나다 = for a war to start (for a war to “come up”)

멀미 = motion sickness
멀미가 나다 = for motion sickness to “come up”

In a lot of these cases, you will see 나다 conjugated into the past tense when we as English speakers would think of the situation in the present tense. To explain this phenomenon, let me bring up an example from before:

아! 그것이 기억났다! = Ah! I remember that!

Notice here that 나다 is conjugated to the past but I have translated the English sentence into the present tense. If you imagine your memory as a thing that can “come up,” in theory, the memory had already came up before you said that sentence – therefore making it in the past tense. Here, the context of the conversation can inform you if the speaker is referring to something in the past or present tense.

It is possible to use these words in the present tense, but that would mean that the noun is currently coming up. A good example from that list above would be:

땀이 났어요 = I’m sweating

Here again, you can see 나다 conjugated to the past tense but the English sentence is translated into the present tense. Just by the nature of the word “나다” (to come out) in Korean, when sweat has “come out” of your body it means that you now have sweat on your body which we as English speakers would say as “I’m sweating.”

When 나다 is conjugating into the present tense in these cases, it insinuates that the thing is currently “coming up.” In most situations, the difference is negligible and distinguishing them would really be splitting hairs.

However, let’s split some hairs:

땀이 났어요 = Sweat was coming out of my body… which means that there is currently sweat on my body… which means that I am wet from the sweat on my body that had previously come out of my body.

땀이 나요 = Sweat is literally currently coming out of my body

저는 그것이 기억 났어요 = I remembered that… which means that I also currently remember that fact… which means that I know that fact that I had previously remembered

저는 그것이 기억 나요 = That memory is literally currently just coming to my mind

Really, this whole past/present thing is quite advanced and it not something I developed an understanding of until many years of exposure to Korean. As a beginner (you are still a beginner if you are only at Lesson 14!) you probably don’t need to worry about splitting these hairs. However, when I was learning, I would have wanted this to be explained to me at some point, so here I am explaining it to you.

I should point out that we don’t see this same phenomenon when these words are used in negative sentences. For example, if I say:

그것이 기억 안 났어

Does the fact of your memory “not coming up” mean that it is currently not up when you said the sentence? Huh…. I can’t even wrap my head around that sentence.

This type of past-tense-conjugated negative sentence with 나다 would only be used to say that you didn’t remember something sometime in the past. If you want to say that you cannot currently remember something, you can use the present tense conjugation. For example:

나는 그때 기억이 안 났어 = I didn’t remember (that) at that time
나는 그것이 기억 안 나 = I don’t remember that

Korean Passive Verbs – Normal verbs

So far, you’ve learned about dealing with 하다/되다/받다 verbs, verbs that can be in a state (닫다/닫히다) and 나다/내다 verbs. Sometimes, however, a verb that fits none of these conditions can be put into the passive voice. All that needs to be done in these cases is to add ~아/어지다 to the verb stem to make it passive. Note that this cannot be done with all verbs, but some common examples are:

주다 = to give
주어지다 = to be given
(Note that the word is 주어지다 and not 줘지다)

짓다 = to build
지어지다 = to be built (짓 + 어 = 지어) + 지다 = 지어지다

기회가 주어졌어요 = I was given a chance
그 집은 한국에서 지어졌어요 = that house was built in Korea

That’s it!

I warned you earlier, there was a lot of grammar in this lesson. Though all of the grammar in this lesson is very important, and must be understood to continue your development of Korean – keep in mind that it is always more natural to use active sentences instead of passive sentences in Korean.

I’m sure you are very confused! But I did my best to describe everything somebody would need to know when having to worry about the passive voice in Korean.

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