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Forum Home > Nihongo > Combining causative/passive/potential forms

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This is going to be a rather technical verb transformation query, I'm afraid.

Can one combine causative forms with potential forms, analogous to the causative-passive form? e.g. a causative-potential like


My father forced me to be able to swim. (i.e. he forced me to learn how to swim). Interestingly, replacing を with に ("My father let me be able to swim") could also be interpreted as a causative-passive usage "My father was forced by me to swim." (Ignoring the unnaturalness of using my father rather than myself as the subject of a passive sentence; 私が父を泳がせた。sounds more natural.)

And can we legitimately create a causative-passive-potential beast? e.g.


I was forced by my father to be able to swim.

Combining the passive and the potential is hard, but by using the passive form in the "i was affected" sense could we have


I was affected by my father being able to swim. (Somehow!)


I've never heard anyone actually speak this way, but I'd like to know whether all this is technically valid grammar.

August 8, 2013 at 6:36 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Posts: 1304

父が私を泳がせられた。  My father was able to make me swim.

Your sense of where modality falls in this sentence is incorrect. 


When you change it the first person being 私, causative-passive becomes your choice by default.

→ 私は泳げるようなるために、父に稽古をさせられた。

Passive and the potential is impossible. I can't even think of a situation where the passive voice + potential in English is acceptable. Even if it does sound feasible, ~ことができる would be the closest match.

But, what you have in the English would not translate into Japanese as a "passive+potential". Japanese doesn't allow grammatical items to be doubled next to each other, even if they are used for different things. 

Even the English "I was forced by my father to be able to swim" shows something crucial. "to be able to swim" is an embedded clause. No where in the Japanese you provide is there an embedded clause. However, in the suggestive I give, there is one. So, it appears that on this issue Japanese and English behave similarly. 

The passive is natural intransitive. "To be able to (happen)" by nature is also intransitive.

I can't even understand the last example. "Affected" is a mismatch with the Japanese data. Particles aren't dealt with appropriately. 


Japanese, as you can see, is very agglutinative in nature. Agglutination is the process of having chains of endings put together. However, some combinations are bad. It seems here that the biggest problem was not realizing that the intended meaning didn't reflect the Japanese provided. They were mismatched in some way or another. If you work through the grammar of the English you provided, I think you can see where I'm coming from. Especially in the last example, I believe we differ in interpretation of the English. However, I think too much may be syntactically ellipsed out of the English to get a different reading. 



August 8, 2013 at 11:32 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 3

Thanks very much for your thoughtful reply.

I didn't entirely understand, but I get that one has to rephrase "able to do" into a separate clause. What did you mean by the passive is natural intransitive?

For the last example, I was trying to use the indirect passive. But it looks like the take-home message is that potential forms can only refer to the subject (marked with が).

Hope your dog gets well man.

August 16, 2013 at 9:46 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Posts: 1304

The passive in English and Japanese results in an intransitive phrase, and it means a lot for grammar. When you double られる, you break two rules of Japanese grammar 1. You're doubling the same think. 2. You're doubling transitivity. Though there are instances where this is allowed for semantic reasons (like transitive + causative), Japanese runs away from dealing with the issue for the most part. 

Potential forms are tricky when it comes to particles. The end of Lesson 50 discusses quite a bit about the が・を・には controversy. Adding in the subject is not that important because, remember, what gets chosen as the subject and how in Japanese is very different than in English. 

Think of it this way. In 


You have two layers of modality. You have the causative layer and the potential layer. Each want different things. To illustrate this, I have added brackets. The inside layer has everything it wants grammatical. A causative sentence wants a person to cause something and another something to be caused to do something. You can take out that layer and replace it with another transitive phrase you can think of if you wanted. As this is the bare requirement of a potential sentence in Japanese--having a verb of volition--that layer is satisified. Now, a potential phrase likes having an "object" marked by が・を, but both are already taken in the clause. You can't double them in the clause. If you look at English, the grammar is the same. It's just in a different word order.

My dad [was able to [make me swim]].

In syntax, it's widely believed that at the basic innate structure of a sentence, all languages are the same, and then moving operations result in different surface structures. So, that explains why "my dad" isn't in the brackets. 

This sentence is different from 

虫が食べられる。 I can eat bugs. 



August 16, 2013 at 11:04 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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