하다, 되다, & passive verbs

Let’s talk about two words you see a lot in Korean: 하다 and 되다.

하다 means “to do”.

되다 means “to become”


하다 – to do

You might notice that a lot of Korean verbs and adjectives (which – you may remember – are essentially descriptive verbs) end in 하다. When you see a Korean verb or adjective that ends in 하다, that word has been constructed by taking a noun and adding “to do” at the end of it.

Example: 노래 is a noun that means “a song”, or “the act of singing”. If we add 하다 to this, we get 노래하다, which means “to do singing” or in plain English, “to sing”.

The point of knowing this is that when you see a verb or adjective that ends in 하다, you prettymuch know that if you drop the 하다 you are left with a fully functional noun form of that verb. You will see these nouns used a TON in Korean variety shows, in those quirky captions that pop up all over the screen. And they sound much punchier in Korean than they do when they’re translated over to English, because although we often have noun forms of verbs, we tend not to use our noun forms in regular conversation as much as they do in Korean.

For example, in a Run BTS episode where they ask Yoongi to do something cutesy, suddenly words will pop up around his head like, 당황 and 민망, which mean, essentially, “flusteredness” and “feeling embarrassed”. The translation is always clunky. That’s why I think it’s kind of fun to learn this and realize why that translation feels clunky.

A few more examples:

궁금(하다) = curiosity / to be curious

공연(하다) = a show, a performance / to perform

여행(하다) = travel, a trip / to travel

되다 – to become

Remember what a subject and object are? Well, 하다 is an active verb, so any verb or adjective ending in 하다 either acts on an object, or is simply something that a subject does (acts) in a sentence with no object.

Examples:

00:00 (Zero O’Clock):
문득 시곌 봐. ~ “Suddenly I look at the clock.”
The object is the clock, and the verb “to look” is acting on that object.

Mikrokosmos:
우린 빛나고 있네. ~ “We are shining.”
“We” is the subject performing the action of “to shine”, but there’s no object being acted on.

But there’s a third kind of sentence construction: a passive one, one in which the subject is being acted on. That’s where 되다 comes in.

Many 하다 verbs can be turned from an active verb into a passive one by swapping the 하다 for 되다. This makes a lot of sense when you remember that these are being added to nouns. So we’ve taken the contruction “to do X” and turned it into “to become X”, simply put.

As an example, look at the song Seesaw. It contains the word 반복되다 multiple times.

반복 = repetition, repeating (noun)

반복하다 = to repeat (something) Eg: “I repeated the chorus three times.”

반복되다 = to be repeated Eg: “The chorus was repeated three times.”

Notice that in English we do this by adding the verb “to be” in most cases. Sometimes we just use the original active verb and know that it’s passive from context. In the example above, “The chorus repeated three times.” would also be an acceptable way to say the same thing.

But in Korean a passive verb is not created by screwing around with the active verb, it is its own entity. For 하다 verbs, it’s simply a matter of swapping 하다 for 되다. For other words… well, you just have to memorize them one at a time.

I’ll give you a couple of examples for fun:

보다 = to see보이다 = to be seen
속이다 = to trick/to deceive속다 = to be tricked/deceived
떨어뜨리다 = to drop (something)떨어지다 = to be dropped
차다 = to kick차이다 = to be kicked