I've been going through the "howtostudykorean.com" lessons and I'm really struggling with passive construction. These examples are given as passive:

저는 그것이 기억나요! = I remember that! 저는 땀이 나요! = I’m sweating! 저는 화가 났어요 = I was/I am angry

Assuming the translations are correct, how are these passive? In English passive requires to be + pp so I'm just wondering, firstly why these translations are given as such?

Secondly, I really struggle to see how 나다 is even a passive verb? I can understand the likes of "끝나다 = to be finished" - that makes perfect sense. But "내다 = to make something come up/arise/occur" just doesn't seem passive to me. Perhaps I'm overthinking and need to stop thinking along English rules, but there must surely be some passive element to it for it to be deemed as such.

If anyone could explain it extremely simply I would appreciate it. Thank you.

source: https://www.howtostudykorean.com/unit1/unit-1-lessons-9-16/lesson-14-korean-passive-verbs/

  • 1
    You're right, there's nothing passive about "나다". I didn't read the entire source (sorry, too long!) but it might be that they were trying to show examples that have a similar meaning as some English passive constructions, and then somehow got carried away.
    – jick
    Feb 16, 2021 at 21:17
  • 1
    나다 is an intransitive active verb; 내다 is the causative of this verb, and is transitive active. That's probably the source of the confusion here.
    – Michaelyus
    Feb 17, 2021 at 10:43

2 Answers 2


I am a native Korean. Please forgive my English if there are any mistakes.

Let's look at the three examples that you've written.

The translation is correct. However, the subjects of these sentences are different between the Korean and the translated one.

'저' is not a subject, because '이/가' which marks the subject of a clause is located after '그것', '땀', '화'. '그것', '땀', '화' must be subjects.

Also, '나다' can be translated as 'be revealed', 'be exposed' (not sure).

Understanding this, I will suggest really strict direct translations of these examples (which might seem really awkward):

  • That memory is revealed to me.

  • Sweat is revealed to me.

  • Anger is revealed to me.

In addition, '끝나다' can be interpreted as '끝'+'나다' Which can be translated as 'End is revealed'. (Passive voice) '끝내다' = 'reveal end' = 'finish' = active voice

Therefore, the three sentence are passive.

I Hope my answer helps you. Good luck.

  • I'm not sure about the logic. That's like saying "The show ended" is passive because it's the same as "The show's end was revealed."
    – jick
    Feb 18, 2021 at 19:10
  • #jick The fundamental reason of active/passive problem is choice of subject. Subject of sentence '저는 땀이 나요' is clearly '땀', since 'subject making postpositon '이/가' is coming after '땀'. However in the sentence 'I'm sweating' the subject is 'I' which is different.
    – YHJ
    Feb 19, 2021 at 2:17
  • If a subject is 'the show', it will be active voice. Passive voice for 'the show's end'
    – YHJ
    Feb 19, 2021 at 2:23

Disclaimer: I am a learner, not a native speaker.

Simply put, this particular part of the tutorial confuses the concept of "passive" (피동) with another concept, "causative" (사동).

To give you more details, I will try to discuss this question from the following three aspects: First, the conceptual difference between passive and causative. Second, how Korean forms passive and causative. Third, why word pairs like 끝나다 -> 끝내다 should be classified as causative, rather than passive.

First, let's illustrate the difference between passive and causative with an example. Consider the verb "먹다" (to eat). The passive form of "먹다" is "먹히다" (to be eaten up). So you can say

동생이 밥을 먹어요. My brother is eating the meal. (1)
밥이 동생에게 먹혀요. The meal is eaten by my brother. (2)

Conceptually this is the same as in English, to eat -> eaten.

Now consider another verb: "먹이다". This is the so-called "causative" form of "먹다". It can be translated as "to let (somebody) eat". For example,

엄마가 동생에게 밥을 먹여요. Mom is letting my brother eat (say, feeding him, or telling him to eat). (3)

Note that, the particle "에게" is used in both (2) and (3). In a passive construction like (2), the English "by X" is expressed in Korean as X에게. In a causative construction like (3), the English "let X" is expressed in Korean as X에게. But there's a catch: if the original verb is intransitive, the "let X" part will be expressed, not as X에게, but as X을/를. For example:

동생이 울어요. The brother is crying. (4) (active)
누나가 동생 울려요. The sister lets (makes) her brother cry. (5) (causative)

This will become important later.

Second, let's review the different ways of forming passive and causative in Korean:

For passive, you have "-이다", "-히다", "-리다", "-기다", "-되다", "-받다", "-당하다", "-어지다" and "-개 되다".

For causative, you have "-이다", "-히다", "-리다", "-기다", "-우다", "-구다", "-추다", "-이우다", "-시키다" and "-게 하다".

Here you can see that "-이다", "-히다", "-리다", "-기다" exist in both the passive and the causative, and this may lead to some confusion.

(These forms are taken from the book <재미있는 국어 문법> published by 천재교육 in 2019. I believe this book is used as a reference book for Korean middle school.)

Finally, let's consider the pair of verbs 끝나다 -> 끝내다 with the help of the following example sentences:

수업이 끝났다. The lesson is over. (6)
선생님이 수업을 끝냈다. The teacher finished the lesson. (7)

You might think that (6) is a passive form of (7) but this is not correct, as there is no way to go from (7) to (6) by adding any of the endings listed above. It can only go the other way around:

끝내다 = 끝나- + -이다,

and -이다 here can only be explained as a causative ending, as the teacher "lets" the lesson to come to an end.

One can also look at this in another way: if (6) were the passive of (7), then the agent would be expressible as "X에게". But

수업이 선생님에게 끝났다.

is a weird, perhaps not grammatical, sentence. However, if you think of (7) as the causative of (6), the 수업을 part just corresponds to the 동생을 part in (5). This is exactly how you express "let X" in a causative construction.

Therefore, in conclusion, 끝나다 is not a passive form of 끝내다. Rather, we should think of 끝내다 as the causative form of 끝나다.

Added: As for your first 3 examples,

그것이 기억나요. literally, that thing comes (to mind). active.
땀이 나요. literally, sweat comes out. active.
화가 났어요. literally, fire came out. active.

  • I cannot than you enough for you response, the amount of detail and effort you went to was superb. I'm still trying to take it all in. Can you clarify two points: 1. If we are to think of 끝내다 as the causative form of 끝나다, then what are we to think of 끝나다? 2. Based on what you have said, would you disagree with these conclusions in this video (time stamp 5:40) youtu.be/ZzL3yyK-cGk?t=340
    – user130067
    Apr 6, 2021 at 20:24
  • I am no expert, so I don't think I am in a position to judge Mr. Billy's teaching. Perhaps the best way to put this is that, the grammar system Mr. Billy is teaching is slightly different from the standard one taught in Korean schools. In the standard system 끝나다 is definitely not treated as the passive of 끝내다 as I have explained above. As for the other question, it's a bit like asking "if 먹이다 is the causative of 먹다, what should we think of 먹다". I guess 끝나다 and 먹다 are just like "prime numbers" in math that you can't really analyze further in terms of grammar.
    – user23823
    Apr 11, 2021 at 11:29
  • Allow me to add something: First, the dictionary of standard Korean specifically defines 끝내다 as "끝나다의 사동사" (literally, causative form of 끝나다). Second, it may be helpful to consider 나다 (to come out) and its causative form 내다 (to put out, literally to make something come out). When you add "끝" in front of them, then 끝+나다 just means "the end comes out", and 끝+내다 means "to let the end come out". So this may serve as an answer your question "what are we to think of 끝나다". But I think this is more of an etymological analysis rather than a grammatical one.
    – user23823
    Apr 11, 2021 at 11:36

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