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The Passive in Different Languages

  • Notes for Japanese speaking learners of English and people learning Japanese

    1) In English, we can make passive sentences only with transitive verbs. We cannot make passive sentences with intransitive verbs (dance, cry, sleep, die, rain, go, come, etc.). In contrast, in Japanese, we can construct passive sentences with these intransitive verbs and they are called indirect passive sentences. Indirect passive sentences in Japanese express some kind of adversative meaning. For example, look at this picture:

     

    Dancing on the table

    Illustration by Mariko Sakamoto

    To describe this picture, we can say in Japanese: お母さんが 子どもたちに (テーブルの上で) おどられた。Okaasan ga kotomotachi ni (teeburu no ue de) odorareta. This Japanese indirect passive sentence means that the mother was adversely affected because the children danced (on the table).  However, the equivalent English sentence structure for this Japanese sentence is: The mother was danced by the children (on the table). This English sentence is not grammatical – this is what you might also get when using Google Translate.  So, please remember that Japanese indirect passive sentences with intransitive verbs cannot be literally translated into English.

    2) In Japanese, to express adversity, we can also use transitive verbs (steal, wash, lose, use, etc.) to construct indirect passive sentences. For example, look at this picture.

    Purse stolen

    Illustration by Mariko Sakamoto

    To describe this picture, we can say in both English and Japanese: The old lady’s purse was stolen by the robber and おばあさんの財布がどろぼうにぬすまれた。Obaasann no saihu ga doroboo ni nusumareta. Both sentences are ‘direct’ passive sentences and they are both grammatical. However, neither expresses any adversity experienced by the old lady. That is, both simply describe the fact that her purse was stolen.

    In contrast, in Japanese, we can also describe this picture by making the person who experiences adversity (in this case, the old lady) the subject of the ‘indirect’ passive sentence, to express adversity: おばあさんが どろぼうに 財布を ぬすまれた。Obaasan ga doroboo ni saihu o nusumareta. This Japanese indirect passive sentence with the transitive verb (steal) means that the old lady was adversely affected because the robber stole her purse. However, the equivalent English sentence structure for this Japanese sentence is: The old lady was stolen her purse by the robber. This English sentence is not grammatical. Can you now understand that none of these example sentences are grammatical in English, although the equivalent sentence structure is grammatical in Japanese?


    •    Lisa was washed her new sweater in a washing machine by her father.(x)
    =リサはお父さんに洗濯機で新しいセーターを洗われた。(o)

    Lisa's sweater

    Illustration by Mariko Sakamoto

    •    Alisa was lost her umbrella by her younger brother. (x)
    =アリサは弟にかさをなくされた。(o)

    Alison's umbrella

    Illustration by Mariko Sakamoto

    •    Marina was used her iPod by her younger brother. (x)
    =マリナは弟にiPodを使われた。(o)

    Marina's ipod

    Illustration by Mariko Sakamoto


    You might get these English translations when using Google Translate.  So, please remember that these Japanese indirect passive sentences with transitive verbs cannot be literally translated into English. 


    Reference
    Enomoto, K. and M. Sakamoto and K. Watanabe. (2006). ‘The L2 Acquisition of Case Absorption Effects in Japanese and English Passives by English and Japanese Speakers'. In W.M. Chan, K.N. Chin, P. Martin-Lau, M. Nagami, T. Suthiwan & M. Suzuki (eds.) Processes and Process-Orientation in Foreign Language Teaching and Learning. pp. 233-252. Singapore: The National University of Singapore.

  • Notes for Indonesian speaking learners of English and for people learning Indonesian

    1)    The passive form or object focus is used more frequently in Indonesian than in English, and that object focus is basically when the object that is being acted upon comes before the verb in the sentence. Object focus is marked with a di- prefix on the verb when the subject is a third person (pronoun) in the Object di-Verb Subject order. For example:

    • Perampok itu merampok dompet perempuan tua itu (Active).
    • The robber stole the old lady’s purse.
    • Dompet perempuan tua itu dirampok oleh Perampok itu (Passive).
    • The old lady’s purse was stolen by the robber.

    Purse stolen

    Illustration by Mariko Sakamoto


    In Indonesian, passive sentences are formed from transitive verbs. Indonesian has a number of intransitive verbs. Thus, we often put me-kan/i to change the intransitive verbs into transitive verbs. However, not all verbs can go with me-kan/i. Attaching me-kan/i sometimes changes the meaning of the root word.

    Root/base word me-i me-kan
    temu (meet) menemui (meet with) menemukan (find/discover)
    tangis (cry) menangisi (cry at) X
    tidur (sleep) meniduri (sleep over/sleep with) menidurkan (put someone to bed)
    bicara X membicarakan (speak about/discuss)
    • Sarah menememui Alex di Café Alberto. (Sarah met Alex at Alberto Café.)
    • Alex ditemui oleh sarah di Café Alberto. (Alex was met by Sarah at Alberto Café.)
    • Sarah menemukan seekor anak kucing di jalan. (Sarah found a kitten on the street.)
    • Seekor anak kucing ditemukan oleh Sarah di jalan. (A kitten was found on the street by Sarah.)

    If the active sentence uses me_             the passive will use     di_

    a)    me-        meminjam (to borrow)                di_ (was borrowed)

    • Mereka akan meminjam uang dari bank. (They will borrow some money from the bank.)
    • Uang akan dipinjam dari bank oleh mereka. (Some money will be borrowed from the bank by them.)

    b)    me_i        memukuli (to beat/hit repeatedly)    di_i (was repeatedly beaten/hit)

    • Abduh memukuli anjing itu. (Abduh hit the dog.)
    • Anjing itu dipukuli Abduh. (The dog was hit by Abduh.)

    c)    me-kan        meminjamkan (to lend)            di_kan (was lent)

    • Dia meminjamkan mobilnya pada kami. (S/he lent her/his car to us.)
    • Mobilnya dipinjamkan pada kami olehnya/oleh dia. (Her/his car was lent to us by her/him.)

    -nya in Indonesian has several meanings. –nya means her/him as an object pronoun. For example:

    • Saya bertemu dengannya. ( I met with her/him.) or
    • Buku ini untuknya (The book is for him/her)

    -nya also indicates a possessive marker in Indonesian. It attaches to the object the person owns. His/her car=mobilnya, rumahnya=his/her house.

    –nya also means the. For example:

    • Where is the teacher? (Dimana gurunya?)

    d)    memper_    memperpanjang (to extend)            diper_ (was extended)

    • Wisatawan itu belum memperpanjang visanya (The tourist has not extended the/his visa yet).
    • Visanya belum diperpanjang oleh wisatawan itu (The/his visa has not been extended yet by the tourist)

    e)    memper_i    memperbaiki (to fix/repair)            diper_i (be fixed)

    • Montir sedang memperbaiki mobilnya Julia. (The mechanic is fixing Julia’s car.)
    • Mobilnya Julia sedang diperbaiki oleh mekanik (Julia’s car is being fixed by the mechanic.)

    f)    memper_kan    memperjuangkan (to fight for)        diper_kan (be fought for)

    • Setiap wanita harus memperjuangkan hak-haknya untuk mendapatkan keadilan. (Every woman has to fight for their own rights for justice.)
    • Hak-haknya untuk mendapatkan keadilan harus diperjuangkan oleh setiap wanita. (Their own rights for justice have to be fought for by every woman.)

    2)    Passive forms for first and second person (pronoun) are constructed by shifting the verb to the end of the sentence in the Object Subject Verb order. The verb is used without a prefix and the word order is a bit different. Look at the examples below.

    • Saya mencuci mobil itu kemarin. (I washed the car yesterday.)
    • Mobil itu saya cuci kemarin. (The car was washed (by me) yesterday.)
    • Kami akan menjual rumah ini. (We will sell this house.)
    • Rumah ini akan kami Jual. (This house will be sold by us.)

    The adverb of time ‘kemarin=yesterday’ can be put at the beginning or at the end of the sentence. The doers of the action are not really important and they often omitted. Please visit this site for a fuller explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FupJMeo5ETs

    3)    The passive can also be shown by the prefix ter_.  Verbs that take ter- refer to a state rather than an action. They cannot occur with an agent. Often they contrast with verbs which indicate an action. Please visit this site for more information: http://tutorialbahasa.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/verbs-ter-in-indonesian-language.html

    • Koran siapa yang diletakkan di atas meja? (Whose newspaper has been put on the table?)
    • Koran siapa yang terletak di atas meja? (Whose newspaper is (located) on the table?)
    • Pemerintah membatasi jumlah mobil yang boleh diimpor.
    • The government has restricted the number of cars which may be imported.
    • Jumlah mobil yang boleh diimpor dibatasi oleh pemerintah.
    • The number of cars which may be imported has been restricted by the government
    • Jumlah mobil yang boleh diimpor terbatas.
    • The number of cars which may be imported is limited.

    4)    Like indirect passive sentences in Japanese,  ‘The mother was adversely affected because the children danced (on the table)’, in Indonesian we tend to say:

    • Ibunya dibuat berdansa oleh anak-anak itu.
    • Their mum was made to dance by her kids. = The kids made their mum dance.

     

    Dancing on the table

     

    Illustration by Mariko Sakamoto

    The illustrations above are adapted from

    Enomoto, K. and M. Sakamoto and K. Watanabe. (2006). ‘The L2 Acquisition of Case Absorption Effects in Japanese and English Passives by English and Japanese Speakers'. In W.M. Chan, K.N. Chin, P. Martin-Lau, M. Nagami, T. Suthiwan & M. Suzuki (eds.) Processes and Process-Orientation in Foreign Language Teaching and Learning. pp. 233-252. Singapore: The National University of Singapore.

  • Notes for Chinese speakers learning English

    1.    There is no specific difficulty for native Chinese speakers learning English passive forms. The main  difference is that passive forms in Chinese are not used as frequently as those in English.

    The typical example is in English, when there is no need to mention the agent or the agent is not specific, the passive form is used. For example:

    • It is said that the saddest thing about youth is that it is wasted on the young.
    • It is reported that the President will visit France on 2nd July.

    But in Chinese, the active voice is used instead:

    • 人们常说 (People always say that),关于青春最悲伤的事情莫过于青春在年轻的时候被浪费掉了。(It is said that the saddest thing about youth is it is wasted on the young.)
    • 据报道 (according to the report),总统将于7月2日访问法国。(It is reported that the President will visit France on 2nd July.)

    When translating English passive forms, we need to change the forms to active if necessary, as in the above examples.

    2.    Chinese causative verbs, like 使(shi), 叫(jiao)  让(rang), 令(ling), 要(yao), 请(qing), 劝(quan), 催(cui), 命令(mingling), cannot be used in the passive form. For example:

    • 他的一番话令(ling)我感动不已。(His words moved me)

    This cannot be expressed in the passive form.

    3.    Some Chinese verbs can follow double objects. So can some English words. The difference is that for some Chinese verbs, when we use passive forms, only the direct object can be used as the subject. For example:

    • 我们给了他(him) 一些书 (some books)。(We gave him some books.)

    This can be used in the passive form:

    • 一些书(some books)被送给他(him)了。 (Some books were given to him.)

    But we cannot say:

    他(he)被我们送了一些书(some books)。 (He was given some books by us.)

    For some English verbs, however, both direct and indirect objects can be changed to the subject in passive form:

    • We gave him some books.
    • He was given some books.
    • Some books were given to him.

    4.    In English, a reflexive pronoun like “himself” cannot be used as the subject. For example:

    • John blamed himself. (Correct)
    • Himself was blamed by John. (Incorrect)

    In Chinese, there is no form change of the pronouns. No matter whether the pronoun is the subject or the object, there is no form change. So we can use the following sentences:

    • 自己被自己吓了一跳。(Himself was frightened by himself.)(自己:himself/herself/themselves/itself)
      自己害了自己 (Himself was harmed by himself.)

    But the word “自己” must be used both for the subject and the object:

    • 自己(himself)被他(he)吓了一跳。(Incorrect)
    • 自己(myself)被我(I)吓了一跳。(Incorrect)
  • Notes for French speakers learning English and English speakers learning French

    The passive voice is used less frequently in French than in English. When the passive IS used in French, however, it is formed in the same way as the English passive (with the verb être [‘to be’] and the past participle – e.g. il a été viré – he has been fired; il sera viré – he will be fired).

    The key difference between the use of the English and French passive is that in French, the past participle varies, agreeing in gender and number with the subject – e.g. elle sera virée – she will be fired; les femmes ne seront pas virées – the ladies will not be fired).

    This means that, as speakers, writers and learners of French, we need to process quite a lot of grammatical information when we use the passive. Not only do we need to use the correct form of the verb être, but we also need to make sure the past participle agrees in gender and number, and is spelled correctly! That’s a lot of grammatical gymnastics…

    In French, the passive voice is useful in a number of contexts, including reporting facts or summarising what happened.

    1. La maison a été vendue hier. – The house was sold yesterday.

    2. Ce roman a été écrit par Charles Dickens. – This novel was written by Charles Dickens.

    Note the differences here between the active and the passive voice:

    ACTIVE: La lettre a été distribuée par le facteur. The letter was delivered by the postman.

    PASSIVE: Le facteur a distribué la lettre – The postman delivered the letter.

     

    Postman

    In an active construction, the word order is normal – the subject of the sentence performs the action and the object receives the action. In the passive voice construction, the subject is acted upon by the object (called ‘the agent’) and thus switches roles with the object.

    An agent is not always mentioned. If one is expressed, it is often introduced by par (such as the example with the postman above).

    Sometimes, de is used when the passive voice denotes a state. Past participles that are usually followed by the preposition de are: aimé, respecté, connu, entouré and couvert.

    e.g. Ce professeur est aimé de ses étudiants.This teacher is loved by his students.

    La montagne est couverte de neige. – The mountain is covered with snow.

    Avoiding the passive voice

    As we have noted, the passive voice is much less common in French than in English. These are alternatives to using the passive voice in French:

    1. If an agent is expressed, turn the sentence into the active voice.

    e.g. passive – 'Hamlet' a été écrit par Shakespeare.‘Hamlet’ was written by Shakespeare.

    active – Shakespeare a écrit 'Hamlet'. – Shakespeare wrote ‘Hamlet’.

    2. If an agent is not expressed, and the agent is a person, use the indefinite pronoun on as the subject, followed by the active verb in the third-person singular form.

    e.g. passive – La pièce est connue dans de nombreux pays.The play is known in many countries.

    active – On connait la pièce dans de nombreux pays./We know the play in many countries.

    3. Certain common actions in English expressed in the passive voice can be rendered in French by pronominal verbs, assuming that the subject is inanimate. Common pronominal verbs used in this context include se boire, se parler, se fermer, se dire and se vendre.

    e.g. Ce roman se vend partout. – This book is sold everywhere. Ce vin blanc se boit froid. – This white wine is best drunk chilled.

    References

    L.S.R Byrne and E.L. Churchill (1986). A Comprehensive French Grammar, 4th edition, completely revised by G. Price, Oxford, Blackwell.

    Mary E. Coffman Crocker (2009). Schaum’s Outlines: French Grammar, 5th edition, New York, McGraw-Hill.

    Charles Carlut and Walter Meiden (1993). French for Oral and Written Review, 5th edition, Fort Worth, TX, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

  • Notes for Portuguese speaking learners of English and English learners of Portuguese

    The passive voice is used less in Portuguese than in English. There are different ways to avoid the passive:

    1. Reflexive verbs

        Chamo-me Bobby Dylan.     (translates as I am called Bobby Dylan.)
        Não se via nada.                 (translates as Nothing could be seen.)

    Reflexive verbs are also used instead of ergative verbs in Portuguese.

        Abriu-se a porta.                 (translates as The door opened.)

    2. Verbs in the third person plural

        Fecharam a loja ás seis.       (translates as The shop was closed at six.)

    3. É preciso (it is necessary)

        É preciso fechar as janelas antes de partir.    (translates as The windows must be closed before you leave.)

    In Portuguese, you can form the passive with the auxiliary verbs ser or estar plus a past participle. The past participle has to agree in number and gender with the subject.

    e.g.  Os livros foram escritos por Professor Grahamarian. (livros is masculine plural, so escritos is also masculine plural)

        Esta canção foi escrita por Bobby Dylan. (canção is feminine singular, so escrita is also feminine singular)

    Ser + past participle acts like a passive form in English, describing an action:

        Esta canção foi escrita por Bobby Dylan. (=This song was written by Bobby Dylan.)

    Estar + past participle acts like a description in English, and the past participle acts like an adjective:

        Esta canção está escrita em ingles. (=This song was written in English.)

    If you’re not sure which form to use in Portuguese, try substituting an ordinary adjective for the past participle.

        Esta canção foi escrita por Bobby Dylan.Esta canção foi boa por Bobby Dylan. (Incorrect; you can’t substitute an adjective here, so it is an ordinary passive.)

        Esta canção está escrita em ingles.        → Esta canção está bela em ingles. (Correct; you can substitute an adjective here, so this is the verb to be with a past participle acting as an adjective.)

    The verb ficar is used instead of ser or estar when there is no agent (no word por) and there is an emotion involved.

        Fiquei muito satisfeita ao ouvir as notícias. (=I was very pleased to hear the news.)

    You cannot write sentences like Bobby was served a drink in Portuguese.
     
    This would be translated as:

        O empregado serviu uma bebida a Bobby. (The employee served Bobby a drink.)

    or

        Serviu-se uma bebida a Bobby. (This uses the reflexive form.)

    This information was compiled by Julia Miller but is closely based on Willis, R.C. (1971). An essential course in modern Portuguese. Nelson: Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, UK.

  • Acknowledgements

    Materials on Japanese: Kayoko Enomoto

    Materials on Chinese: Wang LiJuan

    Materials on Indonesian: Silvana Sandi

    Materials on French: Benjamin McCann

     

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