Getting passive?

All right, here’s the solution I was looking for in regards to the puzzle that I posted last week.

Nà shì yīnwei zǒnggòng zhǐ yǒu sān gè rén.
That’s because in all there are only three men.

那三个人是: 祖父, 父親, 和兒子.
Nà sān gè rén shì zǔfù, fùqin, hé érzi.
The three persons are: the grandfather, the father and the son.

However, I wouldn’t argue with you if you had provided one of the following answers instead:

Māo chī diào le yī tiáo yú.
The cat ate one fish.

Yǒu yī tiáo yú bèi māo chī diào le.
One fish was eaten up by a cat.

The above two sentences convey the same fact. The first sentence represents the active voice, which puts the emphasis on the doer of the action. It follows our Sentence Pattern IV:
Noun (subject) + Trasitive Verb + Noun (object)

The second sentence employs the passive voice, which focuses on the receiver of the action.
To give a transitive verb the passive voice, simply place the word (bèi) before it.

(bèi) + Transitive Verb

For example,

Tā bèi chǔfá.
He was punished.

Things get a little trickier when you also include the doer of the action in the sentence.
The general passive-voice sentence pattern is:

VII. Noun (subject) + (bèi) + Noun (object of the preposition) + Trasitive Verb

For example,

Tā bèi lǎoshī chǔfá.
He was punished by the teacher.

You see, instead of “He was punished by the teacher.”, the Chinese say, “He was by the teacher punished.” Similarly, as shown above, they would say, “One fish was by a cat eaten.” This rule is worth keeping in mind. What better way to get used to the inverted word order than doing a few exercises? Please change the voice for the following sentences from active to passive, i.e. translate the sentences in parentheses into Chinese.

Tā nònghuà le diànnǎo.
He damaged the computer.
(The computer was damaged by him.)

Nà gōngsī gùyòng le tā.
That company hired her.
(She was hired by that company.)

Tā xià le wǒ yī tiào.
He startled me.
(I was startled by him.)

(xià) is to scare or frighten. (tiào) means to jump, leap or skip.
吓了一跳 (xià le yī tiào) is an expression describing the state of being shocked or taken aback.

Please don’t go around making a lot of statements in the passive voice just because you know how to do so. You wouldn’t normally say, “A cup of coffee was drunk by me this morning.” Then don’t do that in Chinese either.

Furthermore, when the combination of the “be” verb and the past participle could be interpreted as a characterization of an item, then it is so expressed in Chinese. In this case, the character (bèi by) is dropped altogether.

Take, for example, the sentence: “The letter was written by him.” Here, we are not so much interested in what was done to the letter as in knowing who wrote the letter. The phrase “written by him” could be regarded as the descriptive complement linked to the subject by “was”. Therefore, in Chinese, it will go like this:

Zhè fēng xìn shì tā xiě de.
The letter was written by him.
(The letter was one that he wrote.)

Similarly, the following sentence de-emphasizes what was done to the cake but answers the question: “Who was the one that baked the cake?”

Zhè dàngāo shì Lùxī kǎo de.
The cake was baked by Luci.

The above sentences follow the Sentence Pattern III that we discussed before:
Noun + (shì) + Adjective ending in (de)

Měiguó guóqìng rì kuàilè!
Have a Happy July 4th!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: