The passive form is a very important grammatical construction in Japanese just as it is in English. Unlike in English in which its use is frowned upon in formal writing, the passive form in Japanese is both common written and spoken, but it does have its own twerks to it.
So, what is the passive voice? Suppose you're on a beach and you see a cute little turtle and, all of a sudden, it gets swooped up and eaten by a seagull. As sad as this is, being "eaten" is an example of passivization. In Japanese, you don't have to learn tons of different forms for all sorts of verbs to express the passive voice like in English, but there are some peculiarities that have to be noted.
There are only two passive endings in Japanese: ～られる and ～れる. There is no difference in meaning between the two, and the choice between the two is based on the class of verb. With that being said, before we delve into semantics, let's learn the conjugations first.
～られる attaches to 一段 (ru-verbs) and ～れる attaches to 五段 (u-verbs). We then have the exceptional verbs する and 来る, which use these endings but are deemed irregular because the vowel in their stems changes when turned passive.
|Plain (ru)||Passive (ru)||Plain (u)||Passive (u)|
|見る (to see)||見られる (to be seen)||叱る (to scold)||叱られる (to be scolded)|
|食べる (to eat)||食べられる (to be eaten)||売る (to sell)||売られる (to be sold)|
|変える (to change)||変えられる (to be changed)||取る (to take)||取られる (to be taken)|
|褒める (to praise)||褒められる (to be praised)||盗む (to steal)||盗まれる (to be stolen)|
|信じる (to believe)||信じられる (to be believed)||書く (to write)||書かれる (to be written)|
|捨てる (to throw away)||捨てられる (to be thrown away)||離す (to separate)||離される (to be separated)|
|見つける (to find)||見つけられる (to be found)||使う (to use)||使われる (to be used)|
|禁じる (to ban)||禁じられる (to be banned)||運ぶ (to carry)||運ばれる (to be carried)|
|加える (to add)||加えられる (to be added)||買う (to buy)||買われる (to be bought)|
|調べる (to investigate)||調べられる (to be investigated)||残す (to leave)||残される (to be left)|
|する (to do)||される* (to be done)|
|来る (to come)||来られる (to have come**)|
*: される is not the only passive form of する. The older form せられる is still occasionally found in both speech and the written language with a handle of verbs, the choice being more so idiomatic in nature. You'll see some examples of this toward the end of the lesson.
**: In English, the passive verb can only be made with transitive verbs (those with a direct object the subject actively does something to). This restriction, however, does not exist in Japanese, resulting in all verbs (minus the copula verb) technically being able to take these passive endings. The resulting expressions are referred sometimes as "indirect passive" or "painful passive," and they will be the focus of our next lesson. For now, we will focus on "direct passive" expressions, those which use transitive verbs.
In the introduction to this lesson, we heard the fate of a turtle that got eaten by a seagull. "Eaten" is the passive form of the verb "to eat" in English. For contrast, consider the following.
i. The seagull ate the little turtle. (Non-passive)
ii. The little turtle was eaten by a seagull. (Passive)
One thing to note is that the object of the non-passive sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence. Additionally, the subject of the non-passive sentences becomes the indirect agent of the passive sentence, which is marked in English with the preposition "by."
So, what happens in Japanese? First, you need to know which particles follow each noun phrase in the sentence in question. When dealing with non-passive sentences, nothing out of the ordinary occurs.
In the passive, we know that 子亀 would then get marked by が, but カモメ can't be marked by を because that marks a direct object. Therefore, another particle must be used to mark the action performer (indirect agent). That particle is the particle に．
In a passive sentence there is an action receiver and an action performer. The action received is always there: it's the passive verb. What may or may not be there is the receiver and or the performer. This is because the standard rule of Japanese grammar that allows for the omission of understood information equally applies to passive structures.
The ants that were living in that ant mound were eaten by my brother!
The necklace was stolen by a thief.
Mass infection has been confirmed.
The ball was passed to her.
The kid cried out after being scratched by an elderly cat.
I don't know when or by whom I would have been seen.
Because of this, development is being rushed.
I got deceived by my girlfriend.
A lot of magazines are sold at the bookstore.
The two (of us) were left all alone.
If cigarettes were to constantly be thrown out there, those could burn and cause a fire.
To accidentally do something that is banned.
This tower was built two hundred years ago.
That patient was transported to the hospital.
I got my wallet pickpocketed by a pickpocket.
I got scolded by my boss.
It's a cursed island.
Japanese cars are exported throughout the world.
That child was removed from his parents when he was young.
That island was named by Columbus.
(It's) because I got stuck in traffic!
This song was sung in English.
I was asked the way by an Asian foreigner in natural Japanese.
The business plan was changed little by little.
His name will never be forgotten.
In the past Japanese homes were made just with wood.
He was questioned as to the true intent of his comment by the legislature many times.
The vault was locked with a key.
No chance to even respond was given.
The evacuation order was lifted.
He is crying because he was scolded by his teacher.
I was praised by my teacher.
It seems that the suspect has finally been arrested.
During childhood, public vaccination hadn't been carried out.
Tax is not included.
I was born in Uzbekistan.
What is this used for?
Sometimes instead of just using the particle に, the action doer of a passive expression is marked with によって. This can be understood as the direct equivalent to the preposition "by." This compound particle utilizes the verb よる, which in this context literally translates to "to be due to."
One situation in which ～によって must be used instead of に is when に is already being used to mark the indirect object or direction. In which case, the passive agent must be marked by によって. Otherwise, the insertion of よって can be seen as a more emphatic means of marking the agent.
The volcanic ash was washed away into the sea by the rain.
A letter was sent to Suzuki-san by Okada-san.
When and by whom was the Old Testament written?
This element is something that was discovered by an American research team.
～とされる shows that an idea is held by people in general. This is in contrast to 信じられる, which would be used to refer into the belief in something or someone.
It is believed that rubella has a stronger infectious capacity than even influenza.
It is believed that success is generally difficult.
The potential and passive verbs go hand in hand. For the majority of Japanese's history, these two things were expressed by the same endings, with context being the deciding factor as to how interpret them. This is certainly still the case for ～られる, which remains the standard ending for both the passive and potential for 一段 verbs and 来る.
However, ever since the invent of the shorter potential forms of 五段 verbs, the ending ～れる is rarely used to mean "to be able to." Using 行ける, for instance, instead of 行かれる has become standard within the last century. There are still speakers who use the traditional ～れる for these verbs, but you are more likely to see this in literature.
Distinguishing between the passive and potential meanings of ～られる and ～れる may seem confusing, but context and particle usage will always help in determining which is meant. Ex. 47 is a great example of a bridging context between the two meanings as there is logical overlap between the two, whereas only the potential meaning is possible in the very similar Ex. 48. This is because the receiver of the medical exam is a person, not the medical institution. Careful analysis of who is doing what, or is capable of, will be necessary for you to read these ambiguous sentences correctly.
The government is distributing coupons through municipalities (where you can be/for being) examined for free.
You can verify online which medical institutions you can be examined for free.
Its effect is/will be unavoidable.
The oni is scared and cannot move.