Japanese Language and Culture

Passive

Production Rules:

Rule Meaning
Infinitive (Plain Nonpast Indicative) Ichidan: [root] + られる
[root] + rareru
Godan: [あ-stem] + れる
[a-stem] + reru
is [done] (by ...); will be [done] (by ...)

Inflection Examples:

Infinitive (Plain Nonpast Indicative)
食べる
taberu (to eat)
食べられる
taberareru
話す
hanasu (to speak)
話される
hanasareru
歩く
aruku (to walk)
歩かれる
arukareru
泳ぐ
oyogu (to swim)
泳がれる
oyogareru
呼ぶ
yobu (to call)
呼ばれる
yobareru
飲む
nomu (to drink)
飲まれる
nomareru
死ぬ
shinu (to die)
死なれる
shinareru
作る
tsukuru (to make)
作られる
tsukurareru
待つ
matsu (to wait)
待たれる
matareru
洗う
arau (to wash)
洗われる
arawareru

Irregulars:

Infinitive (Plain Nonpast Indicative)
する
suru
(to do)
される
sareru
くる
kuru
(to come)
来られる
korareru

Usage Notes & Examples:

  1. Conjugating to the passive form results in the creation of a new ichidan verb (even if the starting verb was godan). This resulting verb can be conjugated to give negatives, past tenses, presumptives, provisionals, polite forms, etc., just as any other ichidan verb. Of course, you must be careful, as there are conjugations that wouldn't make logical sense for a passive verb.
  2. There are two types of passive in Japanese. One form is similar in use to English and follows this pattern:

        [subject] wa [agent] ni [transitive verb in passive form].

    In this sentence pattern, the subject marked by "wa" (は) is the recipient of the passive action which is taken by the agent, for instance:
        kono keeki ha amerikajin ni yoku taberarete iru.
        This cake is often eaten by Americans.
  3. Japanese has another kind of passive which conveys a notion of misfortune occurring to the subject. It is a form which does not directly correspond to anything in English grammar. You can distinguish it from the other case because it either uses a transitive verb which takes an object, or else uses an intransitive verb. Neither is possible for equivalent verbs in English. For a transitive verb, the pattern is:

        [subject] wa [agent] ni [direct object] wo [transitive verb in passive form].

    For example:
        watashi wa inu ni te wo kamareta.
        My hand was bitten by a dog.

    For an intransitive verb, the pattern is:

        [subject] wa [agent] ni [intransitive verb in passive form].

    For example:
        ano ko ha ryoushin ni shinareta.
        That child had his parents die on him.

    Because of the misfortune conveyed by these sentences the subject of this kind of passive must almost always be animate. To use an inanimate subject almost causes it to become anthropomorphized (if it doesn't sound wrong outright).
  4. The passive form is also used as an expression of respect when directly inquiring about or describing another person's actions or state of being. In this sense, it is a type of honorific. When used like this, the subject of the sentence is elevated for an additional kick of politeness. On the scale of honorifics, this one ranks slightly below the ones presented on the honorifics page. Be careful not to combine this form with other honorific forms (for instance, by saying something like "osshararemasu" — "ossharu" is already honorific, so "osshaimasu" suffices).
  5. You may occasionally hear technically incorrect forms like "oraremasu". The verb "oru" from which this comes is typically the humble form of the verb "iru", which means you would not normally use it to refer to others. In certain dialects, however, "oru" replaces "iru". At the same time, honorific language is hard even for native Japanese speakers, so occasionally incongruent or incorrect forms are used. When "oraremasu" is used in this way it is not intended to display humble aspect — the honorific suffix takes over. Foreign learners of Japanese not situated in dialect regions that use "oru" should generally use "irasshaimasu" when this level of respect is intended, as it is both very polite and cannot be misinterpreted.

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