There's a pattern in Korean where one verb changes from passive to active or vice versa when '이' is inserted. For example,

  • 죽다 (to die) : 죽이다 (to kill)
  • 먹다 (to eat) : 먹이다 (to feed)
  • 살다 (to live) : 살리다 (to save life)
  • 듣다 (to (actively) listen) : 들리다 (to (passively) hear)

Obviously, you can't do this for every single verb, but I would like to know (1) what this language phenomenon is called, and (2) if there's a list of such verbs.


1 Answer 1



Your examples 죽이다 (to kill), 먹이다 (to feed), and 살리다 (to save), and 들리다 (to be heard, to 'make hear') aren't actually passive, but causative forms. Just to make the distinction clear in English: For a basic active verb 'die', the causative counterpart is 'kill', while the passive is 'to be killed'.

Causatives aren't only formed with '이' - this page from language.berkeley.edu contains a causative verbs chart (section 7, about half way down) listing 40 such verbs, and says tantalisingly "there are approximately 132 verbs that can be made into a causative verb using the suffixes 이, 히, 리, 기, 우, and 추". (I myself would be interested in an table of them all!)

Long form causatives

As you note, not all verbs have a ready-made causative counterpart. For the general case, long-form causatives can be made with – 게 하다:

기다리게 해서 죄송해요. => I am sorry that I made you wait.

학생들에게 한국어로만 말하게 해요. => I make the students speak only in Korean.


As I mentioned, your examples are causatives, rather than passives. However, many verbs do have passive forms made with '이' - and 히, 리, and 기. Some examples:

놓다 (to put) --> 놓이다 (to be put)
보다 (to see) --> 보이다 (to be seen)
바꾸다 (to change) --> 바뀌다 (to be changed)
쓰다 (use / write) --~> 쓰이다 (be used / written)
섞다 (mix) --- 섞이다 (get mixed)
쌓다 (stack/pile) 쌓이다 (get stacked/piled)
꺾다 (break off) --- 꺾이다 (get broken off)
파다 (dig) --- 파이다 (to be dug)
나누다 (to divide) -- 나뉘다 (to be divided)
덮다 (to cover) -- 덮이다 (to be covered)
치다 (to run over) -- 치(이)다 (to be run over)

The year is changed: 해가 바뀐다
A lot of money is spent on a house: 집에 돈이 많이 쓰인다
This word is not used now: 이 말은 현재 쓰이지 않은다
The sky is covered with clouds: 하늘이 구름으로 덮여있다
To be run over by a car: 자동차에 치이다

닫다 (to close) --> 닫히다 (to be closed)
잡다 (to catch) --> 잡히다 (to be caught)
읽다 (to read) --> 읽히다 (to be read)
먹다 (to eat) --> 먹히다 (to be eaten)
밟다 (step on) --- 밟히다 (be stepped on)
업다 (to carry on the back) – 업히다 (to be carried on the back)
뽑다 (to pick, select) ---- 뽑히다 (to get picked, selected)
앉다 (to sit) --- 앉히다 (to be placed)
묻다 (to bury) --- 묻히다 (to be buried)
찍다 (to take a pic)--- 찍히다 (picture) to be taken
막다 (to block) --- 막히다 (to be blocked)
박다 (to peg) -- 박히다 (to be pegged)
씹다 (to chew) -- 씹히다 (to be chewed)
꽂다 (to insert) – 꽂히다 (to be inserted)

The door was slammed shut by the wind: 바람에 문이 광 닫혔다
One squirrel was caught 다림쥐가 한 마리 잡혔다
An ‘eat or be eaten’ fight: 먹느냐 먹히느냐 싸음
For a rat to be eaten by a cat: 쥐가 고양이한테 먹히다
To be elected monitor: 반장으로 뽑히다
For a nose to be blocked: 코가 막히다
There is a nail wedged in the wall: 벽에 못이 박혀 있다
The photo came out (‘was printed’) well: 사진이 잘 박혔다
To be not easy to chew (‘not easily chewed’) 잘 씹히지 않다

열다 (to open) --> 열리다 (to be opened)
듣다 (to hear) --> 들리다 (to be heard)
걸다 (to hang) --> 걸리다 (to be hung)*
물다 (bite) -- 물리다 (be bitten)
밀다 (push) -- 밀리다 (be pushed)
팔다 (sell) -- 팔리다 (be sold)
풀다 (untie) --- 풀리다 (be untied)
빨다 (to suck) --- 빨리다 (to be sucked)
뚫다 (to pierce) --- 뚫리다 (to get pierced)
누르다 (to press) ---- 눌리다 (to get pressed)
끌다 (to pull) --- 끌리다 (to be pulled)
*NB This is where 감기에 걸리다 comes from – ‘to be hooked by a cold’

To be crushed to death: 늘려 죽다
I was dragged there: 나는 그곳에 끌려갔다
The telephone isn’t clear (‘heard well’) 전화기 잘들리지 않다
For a hat to be hung on a peg: 모자가 못에 걸려 있다
To die from being bitten by a snake: 뱀에 물려서 죽다
To be thrown about by the waves: 물결에 이리저리 밀리다
It will still be about one year before that tunnel is built: 그 터널이 뚫리기까지는 아직 1 년 좀 더 남았다.

안다 (hug, hold) --- 안기다 (be hugged, held in the arms)
쫓다 (chase) --- 쫓기다 (be chased)
끊다 (cut (off)) 끊기다 (get cut (off))
빼앗다 (steal, deprive) --- 빼앗기다 (be robbed of)
찢다 (tear) --- 찢기다 (be torn)
감다 (wrap) – 감기다 (to be wrapped)
씻다 (to wash) --- 씻기다 (to be washed)
잠그다 (to lock) --- 잠기다 (to be locked)
감다 (to wind, tie, wrap) --- 감기다 (be wrapped)

He is being chased by the police: 그는 경찰에 쫓기고 있다
To be robbed of one’s watch: 시계를 빼앗기다
Many people were robbed of their lives by that accident: 그 사고로 많은 사람이 목슴을 빼앗겼다.
This door is locked automatically: 이 문은 자동적으로 잠긴다
For wet clothes to cling (‘be wrapped’) to one’s body: 젖은 옷이몸에 감기다

Long form passives

As with causatives, not all verbs have a ready-made passive counterpart. For the general case, long-form passives can be made with 어/아/여 지다:

아이들이 던진 공에 유리창이 깨졌어요 – The window was broken by the ball that was thrown by the children.
물이 고양이에 의해 엎질러졌어요 – the water was split by the cat.
글씨가 지워졌다. => The characters were erased.
숨이 끊어졌다가 다시 살아났어요 – Her breath got cut off, but she revived again.

  • @Memming The list of passives is one I had from a while back; I can't remember if I made it myself, but if I got it from the internet, I can't find where. hopefully a native speaker will be along soon to correct any copying mistakes! Oct 21, 2016 at 20:38
  • Two more kinds of passives can be added here. In the case of some 하다 ending verbs, changing 하다 to 되다 creates a passive form, for example 발견되다 be discovered (발견하다 to discover). The other is adding 게 되다 to a verb root...this creates a meaning of "to become or turn out (some way) and is somewhat similar to 어지다 in many cases. Not all of these passives work with all verbs, and the meanings are not always precisely the same with the different methods.
    – B. Alvn
    Jan 13, 2017 at 17:56
  • @B.Alvn Sure - this answer wasn't intended to list every passive form, just the cases where there's a specific different word that denotes the passive. Hopefully as we build up our answers on this site we'll end up with information about all forms, but if you think it would be useful you could ask (and answer?) a question asking what groups of passive-equivalent forms exist in Korean. Jan 13, 2017 at 18:11
  • This is why I just wrote a brief comment outlining more about what the answer started on by introducing the 어지다 form the OP didn't ask about. If someone asks a question about this in more detail, I will give more detail about my knowledge of various passive forms and their nuances and meanings...there are still more yet...verbs ending in 내다 (vs. 나다) come to mind...as well as some ending in 들다 too, if I remember correctly. Let's hope someone asks for the full story and you and I can both share our knowledge, ok?
    – B. Alvn
    Jan 13, 2017 at 19:56
  • @B.Alvn sounds good. After we were talking about tags I was slightly surprised how few questions we have about the passive! Jan 13, 2017 at 23:00

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