City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
0 like 0 dislike
21 views
asked Dec 1, 2020 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by Ariel (17,790 points)
edited Dec 2, 2020 by Ariel | 21 views

1 Answer

0 like 0 dislike

The bèi structure in Chinese is similar to the passive voice in English. However, English passive voice sentences are commonly rendered in Chinese as topic-comment sentences.

菜吃完了。

cài chī wán le 。

The food has been eaten.

教室打扫干净了。

jiāo shì dǎ sǎo gàn jìng le 。

The classroom has been swept clean.

The bèi structure comes into play (1) when an ‘agent’ is introduced into the sentence or (2) the speaker adopts a narrative stance and describes how something has happened:

(1) bèi with an agent:

菜被我吃完了。

cài bèi wǒ chī wán le 。

The food was finished by me.

教室被学生们打扫干净了。

jiāo shì bèi xué shēng men dǎ sǎo gàn jìng le 。

The classroom was swept clean by the students.

(2) bèi in a narrative sentence:

菜被吃完了。

cài bèi chī wán le 。

The food was eaten (by someone).

教室被打扫干净了。

jiāo shì bèi dǎ sǎo gàn jìng le 。

The classroom was swept clean (by someone).

In the sentence “菜吃完了。cài chī wán le。”, the speaker takes a commentative stance, observing that the food has been finished and there is none left. By contrast, in the sentence “菜被吃完了。cài bèi chī wán le 。”, the speaker adopts a narrative stance, and is saying what has happened to the food, i.e. it has been eaten by somebody. 

[1] Yip, P. C., Rimmington, D., Xiaoming, Z., & Henson, R. (2009). Basic Chinese: a grammar and workbook. Taylor & Francis.

answered Dec 1, 2020 by Ariel (17,790 points)

1,162 questions

1,454 answers

13 comments

7,389 users

1,162 questions
1,454 answers
13 comments
7,389 users