Thai Language Grammar: Forming Passive Voice with “thuuk” (ถูก) and “dohn” (โดน)

In this post, we are going to learn how to construct sentences in the passive voice, why we use the passive voice, and when to use the passive voice in Thai. Hopefully, by the end of reading this post, you will understand more about the passive voice and can make informed choices whether or not to use the passive voice during a conversation with your Thai friends – or with me, in class.

Before getting into what is the passive voice, we must first understand that the voice of a verb tells us whether the subject of the sentence performs or receives the action, and that there are two voices: Active Voice and Passive Voice.

So, what’s the difference between active and passive voice?

A sentence in the Active Voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed by the verb, and has a basic construction of subject (doer) + verb (action) + object (recipient of a verb’s action).

PLEASE NOTE: The recipient of a verb’s action can be a person, a thing, or a place, that is the receiver or endpoint of the action.

Observe the following examples below:

– chan tham phid-plaad
(I made a mistake)

– kao ka-moy laptop kawng-chan
(He stole my laptop)

– maa gad rawng-thao kawng-kao
(The dog chewed up his shoes)

– ter gin cookies thang-mud meua-keun-nee
(She ate all the cookies last night)

A sentence in the Passive Voice, the recipient of a verb’s action becomes the subject of the sentence because the person who performed the action is less important than the action itself in the passive voice.

In Thai, we must place the word “thuuk” (ถูก) or “dohn” (โดน) before the verb in order to express that the subject of the sentence is the one who receives the action expressed by the verb – and NOT the one who is performing the action of the verb. Therefore, a sentence in the passive voice in Thai has a basic construction of subject (the person affected by the verb) + thuuk + verb (action).

PLEASE NOTE: Both “thuuk” (ถูก) and “dohn” (โดน) can be used interchangeably, but in my opinion, it is more common to use “thuuk” (ถูก) and somehow, it sounds better.

Now, let’s turn the sentences in the Active Voice above into the Passive Voice….

Observe the following examples below:

kwaam-phid-plaad thuuk tham keun
(A mistake was made)

laptop kawng-chan dohn ka-moy
(My laptop was stolen)

rawng-thao kawng-kao dohn gad
(His shoes were chewed up)

cookies thang-mud thuuk gin meua-keun-nee
(All the cookies were eaten last night)

As you can see from the sentences above, the object in the active sentence becomes the subject in the passive sentence. And the words “thuuk” (ถูก) and “dohn” (โดน) can be translated as “was” or “were” in English, when we are talking about finished actions in the past (Simple Past Tense).

However, it is important to remember that the words “thuuk” (ถูก) and “dohn” (โดน) can also be translated as “is/am/are being“, “will be“, “was being“, “were being“, “have been“, or “had been” etc., depending on the verb tense we are using in English.

In Thai, to help us identify whether we are talking about an action that has already happened (past), or an action that is happening right now or regularly (present), or an action that has yet to happen (future) in the passive sentence, helping verbs such as “mak-ja” (มักจะ), “kuan” (ควร), “ad-ja” (อาจจะ), “dtawng” (ต้อง), “gam-lang” (กำลัง), “ja” (จะ), “dai” (ได้) are used before “thuuk” (ถูก) or “dohn” (โดน).

Observe the following examples below:

– kao ja thuuk jab
(He will be arrested)

– kao kuan thuuk jab
(He should be arrested)

– kao ad-ja thuuk jab
(He might be arrested)

– kao dtawng thuuk jab
(He must be arrested)

– kao gam-lang thuuk jab
(He is being arrested)

– kao dai thuuk jab laeo
(He has already been arrested)

– kao gam-lang thuuk sawb-suan dtawn thee chan thoo haa
(He was being interrogated when I called)

– kao ja mai-mee-wan dai thuuk bploi-dtua
(He will never be released)

– kao ja thuuk kwaen-kaw dtawn chao-meud
(He will be hanged at dawn)

When to use passive voice?

In all the examples given so far, we know what action has been done and whom or what was affected by the action, but the doer of the action remain hidden or unknown. This tells us that the passive voice should ONLY be used in the following situations:

– When you don’t know who did the action
– When you want to hide who did the action
– When you want to emphasise the person or thing the action was done to

PLEASE NOTE: If the ideas we are trying to convey can be made clearer using the Active Voice construction, then the Passive Voice construction should be avoid, especially when the doer is known.

Let’s look at more examples:

– kao ja thuuk lai-awk
(He will be fired)
(By whom is unclear – perhaps by a boss, a manager, or the company)

– naam thuuk tham-hai glaai-bpen-phid
(The water was polluted)
(By whom or what is unclear – perhaps by a waste water from nearby hotels, or accidental oil leakage from a ship)

– kaa-chao kawng-chan dai thuuk pheum-keun
(My rent has been increased)
(By whom is unclear – perhaps by her landlord or the rental agency)

– baan lang nee thuuk saang-keun nai bpee 1899
บ้านหลังนี้ถูกสร้างขึ้นในปี 1899
(The house was built in 1899)
(By whom is unclear – perhaps by the owner or a house building company)

– garn-bplian-bplaeng kawng phum-mi-aa-gaad dai thuuk glaaow-theung meua-keun-nee
(Climate change was being discussed last night)
(By whom is unclear – perhaps by two friends or a group of work colleagues)

I hope you understand how to form the Passive Voice with “thuuk” (ถูก) and “dohn” (โดน) so far, because it is about to get complicated….55555 😂

So, what happens when the performer of an action is known in the passive Voice?

As you can see from all the examples, passive sentences do not reveal the identity of the WHO or WHAT is doing the action. However, sometimes it is important to give the identity of the person, even when using the Passive Voice. When this is the case, English speakers often use a “by-phrase” – by followed by a noun or noun phrase.

In Thai, however, there are several possible structures to express the “by-phrase” 😕. First, we must identify the agent of an action, which could be an individual person, an instrument, a group of people, an organisation, or even natural disasters such as flood, fire, earthquake, tornado or windstorm.

When the agent of an action is an person, a group of people or an animal, the basic construction is subject (the person affected by the verb) (+ helping verb) + thuuk / dohn + doer (the person doing the verb) + verb (action).

PLEASE NOTE: The main purpose of this structure is to show that someone or something is being affected by someone else’s action.

Observe the following examples below:

kao thuuk gang tham-raai
(He was assaulted by the gang)

ter mak-ja dohn mae dtee boi
(She is often hit by her mum)

kao thuuk phoo-jad-garn lai-awk
(He was fired by the manager)

kao dohn maa gad meua-keun-nee
(He was bitten by a dog last night)

kon-raai dai thuuk dtam-ruad jab laeo wan-nee
(The criminal has been arrested by the police today)

When the agent of an action is an person, a group of people or an animal, and we say who did the action, we use “doy” (โดย – by) to form the “by-phrase“. The basic construction is subject (the person affected by the verb) (+ helping verb) + thuuk / dohn + verb (action) + doy + doer (the person who did the verb)

tha-noun mai thuuk bpeud doy naa-yok-thaed-sa-mon-dtree
(The new street was opened by the Mayor)

John F. Kennedy thuuk lawb-sang-harn doy krai-baang-kon
(John F. Kennedy was assassinated by someone)

mae kawng-kao dai thuuk liang-doo keun-maa doy phaw-mae bun-tam nai India
(His mother had been brought up by adoptive parents in India)

When the agent of an action is a substance or natural disaster such as flood, fire, earthquake, tornado, or windstorm, we use “jaak” (จาก – from) to form the “by-phrase“, to show the origin of the effect of the action that happened. In this case, the construction is subject (the person affected by the verb) (+ helping verb) + thuuk / dohn + verb (action) + jaak + doer (the origin of the verb)

Observe the following examples below:

aa-karn thuuk tham-laai jaak naam-thuam
(The buildings were destroyed by the flood)

naam dai thuuk tham-hai bpen-phid jaak sarn-phid
(Water has been poisoned by toxin substances)

u-bat-hade thaang rot-yon jam-nuan maak thuuk tham-hai geud-ken jaak maow-laeo-kap
(Many car accidents were caused by drunk driving)

When the agent of an action is an instrument, we use “duay” (ด้วย – with) to form the “by-phrase“, to indicate the method of the action. The construction stays the same as the one above – subject (the person affected by the verb) (+ helping verb) + thuuk / dohn + verb (action) + duay + doer (the method of the verb).

PLEASE NOTE: It is important to bear in mind here that, even in English, we will often use “with” rather than “by” when the doer or agent of the action is an instrument.

Observe the following examples below:

bpra-dtoo thuuk tub bpeud duay kawn
(The door was smashed open with a hammer)

kao thuuk nam-sung rong-pha-yaa-baan duay rot-pha-yaa-baan
(He was rushed to hospital by the ambulance)

dto thuuk tham-kwaam-sa-aad duay phaa thee kao haa-jeuh nai hawng-krua
(The table was cleaned with a cloth he found in the kitchen)

And that is Passive Voice! I hope you now have a better understanding of the main idea of the passive voice and when to use it. I know it is difficult, but it is really a matter of practice – like everything else you have learned so far about Thai language….Enjoy your practice below!

Practice Exercise: Translate the following sentences into Thai and bring in to your next lesson, so we can go through them together.

1. The employees were laid off.
2. The fish was caught by the seagull.
3. The new policy is being established.
4. He was taken to school by his mother.
5. This lesson was written by Urai Khomkham.
6. She wasn’t sure how long she had been followed.
7. The report was submitted by the team on Friday.
8. You purse might have been stolen at the market.
9. After their house was invaded, they were scared.
10. All the merchandise will have been shipped by tomorrow.
11. Every year thousands of people are killed on our roads.
12. Over 120 different contaminants have been dumped into the river.

Miss Urai Khomkham
Course Co-ordinator & Personal Tutor
Thai Language Tuition UK