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I know that with a 被 (bèi) sentence, you are allowed omit the object: S + 被 + (O) + Other elements, e.g. 河里的鱼都被毒死了 (Hé lǐ de yú dōu bèi dú sǐ le) whereas, when using 叫 (jiào) or 让 (ràng,) the object cannot be omitted, it must be included, so:

我的自行车被小偷偷走了。 (Wǒ de zìxíngchē bèi xiǎotōu tōu zǒu le.) -- OK

我的自行车被偷走了。 (Wǒ de zìxíngchē bèi tōu zǒu le.) -- ALSO OK

我的自行车叫小偷偷走了。 (Wǒ de zìxíngchē jiào xiǎotōu tōu zǒu le.) -- OK

我的自行车叫偷走了。 (Wǒ de zìxíngchē jiào tōu zǒu le.) -- NOT OK

我的自行车让小偷偷走了。 (Wǒ de zìxíngchē ràng xiǎotōu tōu zǒu le.) -- OK

我的自行车让偷走了。 (Wǒ de zìxíngchē ràng tōu zǒu le.) -- NOT OK

What I want to know is, are 叫 (jiào) and 让 (ràng) more colloquial, more spoken, less formal, more Northern, more Southern, or anything different (besides what I just outlined)?

If possible, does anybody know what the reason is they exist? Why these variants exist, and why they're slightly different to 被 (bèi)?

Cheers

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I think 叫 and 让 are regional. I've never heard of that in my hometown in SE China... –  user58955 Jun 10 at 10:55

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This answer is mostly based on this paper, adding some of my own experience as a Beijing'er.

Syntax:

被 can be used without being followed the subject. 让 and 叫 should be followed by the subject.

It may sound strange to ears from Southern China, but as a Beijing'er I've heard usages of 让/叫 without the subject. For example 我的自行车叫偷走了, a rare usage but there are people saying it this way.

Ambiguity Issue:

They have the same meaning. However, since 让 and 叫 have other meanings and these meanings are actually their primary usages, using those words as the passive particle can lead to ambiguity. For example:

桌子没叫他搬走

could be interpreted as

  1. No one asked him to pick up the table.

  2. No one allowed him to pick up the table.

  3. The table wasn't picked up by him.

让 has similar issue but 被 won't cause ambiguity at all.

Regional Usage:

让 and 叫 are Beijing/Northern China usage.

According to the paper, in spoken language sampled from Beijing drama and cross-talks as well as another effort sourcing from Beijing modern novels, 让 has the most (>40%) appearances among the three, while the other two has similar, lower usage (25%-30%). In written language though, 被 is dominating with >99% usage even in Beijing.

The paper also pointed out that the new generation in Beijing (whose parents may have come from different parts of China) tend to use 被 more than the older generation, and they tend to use 被 over the other two when they speak serious matters even in colloquial language. This fact can be seen as an evidence that the 让/叫 usage are indeed dialectal from old Beijing.

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Here're two good references too, although I'm not 100% agree with. It's difficult to summarize the grammar, especially for spoken language. 被动标记_被_叫_让_给_语法化程度的差异 and “被,给,叫,让”的意愿性与其宾语从缺的关系 –  songyuanyao Jun 11 at 7:49
    
+1 this answer is explained beautifully (and answers all my queries,) also it has references, so it really is the best answer. Thank you! –  Ming Jun 12 at 1:04

Good question.

Although I am a native chinese speaker, it is difficult for me to answer your questions.

Generally, when talking about formality difference, 被 is more formal than the other two, 叫 and 让. However, it is still very often for us to use 被 in some oral conversation. But I don't know which one among these three is more northern or more southern. I live in the north part of China and personally, I use 让 more often.

About the difference among these three, I think one important point is that 叫 and 让 are more often used when you know who or what is the objective. Just as the examples you give above, we would often say: 我的自行车被偷走了 but rarely say 我的自行车叫小偷偷走了 nor 我的自行车让小偷偷走了, because actually we do not know who is the thief. But when we want to express that some specific person borrows my bike, we would say: 我的自行车让Mike借走了. All in all, there are only slight differences among them in terms of meaning and you can try to use any one in daily life.

One more word is that you can also use 给 to express similar meaning, such as 我的自行车给小偷偷走了.

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There's another one?! cries –  Ming Jun 10 at 5:59
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@Ming Even more. There are 5 common ones: 让使叫被令 and there are also 给, 遭, 教, etc. –  NS.X. Jun 10 at 7:00
    
@NS.X. you're hurting my brain lol :) Thanks though! –  Ming Jun 10 at 7:02
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If I'm not mistaken, 我的自行车 小偷 偷走了 is also legal. –  nneonneo Jun 10 at 7:13
    
Hi @NS.X. So Chitanda explains that 给 can have exact same usage as 被 (with or without object,) can you tell me if the others you mentioned (使, 令, 遭, 教) are the same, or if they are like 叫 and 让 and require the object? Or any other differences? Are they regional? –  Ming Jun 11 at 6:26

被 is suitable for both formal and informal situations. In contrast 叫 and 让 are more colloquial, more spoken. There's also a regional element in that using 让/叫 in this way is rarely seen in Taiwan, while much more common place in mainland China.

The words however are not strictly identical. Chinese prepositions are, generally, verbs that has became syntactical expletives when used as prepositions. This means that there could be ambiguity when meanings bleed through, or when it is unclear if the character is intended as a verb or a preposition.

For instance, 他让小偷打了一拳 could be "he let the thief punch him once", or "he was punched once by the thief". That's because 让 can be used to mean "to let". Similarly, 叫 is "to tell" and 給 is "to give (let)". So either one of the three would probably be avoided here.

Using 被 instead in that sentence suffers from no such ambiguity.

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That's a really good point, and makes me think that avoiding using 叫 (jiào) or 让 (ràng) would be a good thing, to not have an ambiguous meaning: to know they exist and people say them, but not to use them yourself. –  Ming Jun 10 at 6:37
    
+1 for explaining the ambiguity, thanks! –  Ming Jun 12 at 1:03

as an Chinese, i never heard 我的自行车叫小偷偷走了。 nor 我的自行车叫偷走了。. 叫 used in this way is somehow like being asked. I will never asked a thief to steal my bicycle.

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I don't agree. "我的自行车叫小偷偷走了。" looks good for me. –  songyuanyao Jun 10 at 9:22
    
Without references, and not having heard this yourself, this probably should be a comment and not an answer, sorry! –  Ming Jun 11 at 7:50

All of them can express a passive voice, but there're something different in grammar (let's compare them in English one):

1) 被:Very normal usage and it's nearly used very frequently, something like the English's passive voice: Subject+Be+Past Participle…… (The bold one's combination means “被")

2) 叫 means “by" ONLY: Subject + Be + Past Participle + by someOne/ect(The bold one's combination means “叫”), this means “让”.

All in all:"给”,"被" can means: 1) by someone/subject 2) Be+Past participle. You can use it like:

**XXX 给/被/(可以省略的主语)VVV(行为,不可省略)**

However, "让","叫" must follow a subject with a verb, both of them cannot be ignored!

 **XXX 让/叫(不可以省略的主语)VVV(行为,不可省略)**

Compare them: 3.1) 我的手机**给**偷了(My phone is stolen)

3.2) 我的手机被(小偷)偷了(My phone is stolen by a thief)

But you CANNOT say:

3.3) 我的手机让偷了(缺少动词的主题,错误!)

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When you use 叫 (jiào) and 让 (ràng), you have to put a "whom" behind. But for 被 (bèi), it is ok not to have the "whom".

The reason behind the existence of 叫 (jiào) and 让 (ràng) is probably the casual use of language. When someone uses 被 (bèi), it sounds very formal, and there is no misunderstanding. But for 叫 (jiào) and 让 (ràng), they are more relaxing and can, sometimes if the listener is from another region, cause misunderstanding. Try to think about the following examples:

我叫他打了。 I was beaten by him.
我叫他给打了。 I was beaten by him.
我让他打了。 I was beaten by him.
我让他给打了。 I was beaten by him.
我叫他打(电话)了。 I have asked him to call.
我让他打(电话)了。I have made him to call.
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Sorry, this didn't answer my question at all ... I already outlined the usage in my post. Thanks anyway –  Ming Jun 11 at 7:48

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