第115課: The Passive I: ~られる & ~れる

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 and ~れる

~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. 

Regular Verbs 

 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)

Irregular Verbs

 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. 

 五段 To take  取る → 取られる 一段 To eat 食べる → 食べられる
 一段 To see 見る → 見られる 五段 To swim 泳ぐ → 泳がれる
 カ変 To come 来(く)る → 来(こ)られる 五段 To buy 買う → 買われる
 サ変 To do する → される 一段 To change 変わる → 変われる
 五段 To carry 運ぶ → 運ばれる 一段 To slip off
 脱げる → 脱げられる
 五段 To steal 盗む → 盗まれる 五段 To indulge 貪(むさぼ)る → 貪られる
 五段 To fasten 繋(つな)ぐ → 繋がれる  五段 To wait 待つ → 待たれる

Note: 五段 verbs that end in -る seem to use -られる, but it's just that their 未然形 is ら-. 

 五段 To take  取る → 取られる 一段 To eat 食べる → 食べられる
 一段 To see 見る → 見られる 五段 To swim 泳ぐ → 泳がれる
 カ変 To come 来(く)る → 来(こ)られる 五段 To buy 買う → 買われる
 サ変 To do する → される 一段 To change 変わる → 変われる
 五段 To carry 運ぶ → 運ばれる 一段 To slip off
 脱げる → 脱げられる
 五段 To steal 盗む → 盗まれる 五段 To indulge 貪(むさぼ)る → 貪られる
 五段 To fasten 繋(つな)ぐ → 繋がれる  五段 To wait 待つ → 待たれる

Note: 五段 verbs that end in -る seem to use -られる, but it's just that their 未然形 is ら-. 

 五段 To take  取る → 取られる 一段 To eat 食べる → 食べられる
 一段 To see 見る → 見られる 五段 To swim 泳ぐ → 泳がれる
 カ変 To come 来(く)る → 来(こ)られる 五段 To buy 買う → 買われる
 サ変 To do する → される 一段 To change 変わる → 変われる
 五段 To carry 運ぶ → 運ばれる 一段 To slip off
 脱げる → 脱げられる
 五段 To steal 盗む → 盗まれる 五段 To indulge 貪(むさぼ)る → 貪られる
 五段 To fasten 繋(つな)ぐ → 繋がれる  五段 To wait 待つ → 待たれる

Note: 五段 verbs that end in -る seem to use -られる, but it's just that their 未然形 is ら-. 

 五段 To take  取る → 取られる 一段 To eat 食べる → 食べられる
 一段 To see 見る → 見られる 五段 To swim 泳ぐ → 泳がれる
 カ変 To come 来(く)る → 来(こ)られる 五段 To buy 買う → 買われる
 サ変 To do する → される 一段 To change 変わる → 変われる
 五段 To carry 運ぶ → 運ばれる 一段 To slip off
 脱げる → 脱げられる
 五段 To steal 盗む → 盗まれる 五段 To indulge 貪(むさぼ)る → 貪られる
 五段 To fasten 繋(つな)ぐ → 繋がれる  五段 To wait 待つ → 待たれる

Note: 五段 verbs that end in -る seem to use -られる, but it's just that their 未然形 is ら-. 

 五段 To take  取る → 取られる 一段 To eat 食べる → 食べられる
 一段 To see 見る → 見られる 五段 To swim 泳ぐ → 泳がれる
 カ変 To come 来(く)る → 来(こ)られる 五段 To buy 買う → 買われる
 サ変 To do する → される 一段 To change 変わる → 変われる
 五段 To carry 運ぶ → 運ばれる 一段 To slip off
 脱げる → 脱げられる
 五段 To steal 盗む → 盗まれる 五段 To indulge 貪(むさぼ)る → 貪られる
 五段 To fasten 繋(つな)ぐ → 繋がれる  五段 To wait 待つ → 待たれる

Note: 五段 verbs that end in -る seem to use -られる, but it's just that their 未然形 is ら-. 

The Passive (受身形)

 'Direct' Passive

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. 

i. カモメが子亀を食べた。

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. 

ii. 子亀がカモメに食べられた。

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.

3. あの蟻塚にいたアリたちはなんと()()われたよ!   
The ants that were living in that ant mound were eaten by my brother!

4. ネックレスが泥棒(どろぼう)()まれました。
    The necklace was stolen by a thief.

5. 集団感染が確認されました。 
    Mass infection has been confirmed. 

6. ボールが彼女にパスされた。
    The ball was passed to her.

7. 子供()が年老いた猫に()()かれて、泣き出した。
     The kid cried out after being scratched by an elderly cat.

8. いつ誰に見られたのかわからない。
     I don't know when or by whom I would have been seen. 

9. このため開発()()がれている。
     Because of this, development is being rushed.

10. 彼女()(だま)されたよ。
      I got deceived by my girlfriend.

11. この書店では、雑誌が多く売られています。
    A lot of magazines are sold at the bookstore.  

12. 二人ふたりだけ取りのこされた。
      The two (of us) were left all alone.

13. もしタバコがその辺に捨てられていたら、それが燃えて火事になってしまうことがあり得る。
      If cigarettes were to constantly be thrown out there, those could burn and cause a fire. 

14.  禁じられた行為をしてしまう。
       To accidentally do something that is banned.

15. 彼女は(やと)われて()()()もしないうちに(くび)になったさ。
      She hadn't been employed for five months before she got fired.

16. このとう200年前てられました。
      This tower was built two hundred years ago.

17. その患者は病院に搬送されました。
      That patient was transported to the hospital. 
 

18. すりに財布(さいふ)をすられた。 
       I got my wallet pickpocketed by a pickpocket. 

19. 上司じょうししかられました。
      I got scolded by my boss.

20. のろわれただよ。
      It's a cursed island.

21. 日本()()世界中(せかいじゅう)輸出()されています。
      Japanese cars are exported throughout the world.  

22. あの子は幼いうちに両親から離された。
      That child was removed from his parents when he was young. 

23. あの()はコロンブスによって()づけられた。
      That island was named by Columbus.

24. 渋滞じゅうたいまれたからだよ。
       (It's) because I got stuck in traffic!

25. この()英語()()われました。
      This song was sung in English.

26. アジア系の外国人に道()を自然な日本語で()かれました。
      I was asked the way by an Asian foreigner in natural Japanese.

27. 事業計画がしに変更された。
      The business plan was changed little by little. 

28. 彼()名前()()して()れられないだろう。
      His name will never be forgotten.

29. 昔、日本()()木だけ()(つく)られました。
      In the past Japanese homes were made just with wood.

30. 彼はその議員に発言の真意を何回も問われた。
He was questioned as to the true intent of his comment by the legislature many times. 

31. 保管庫()(かぎ)がかけられた。
      The vault was locked with a key.

32. 反応の機会も与えられませんでした。
      No chance to even respond was given.  

33. 避難指示は解除されました。
  The evacuation order was lifted.

34. 先生()()られて()いている。
      He is crying because he was scolded by his teacher.

35. 私は先生()()められました。
      I was praised by my teacher. 

36.容疑者はようやく逮捕されたらしいです。
       It seems that the suspect has finally been arrested.

37
. 子供の頃は、公的な予防接種が行われていませんでした。
      During childhood, public vaccination hadn't been carried out. 

38. 税金は含まれていません。
       Tax is not included.

39. 私はウズベキスタンで生まれました。
      I was born in Uzbekistan. 
 

40. これは使われるのですか。 
      What is this used for?


 ~によって

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.  

41. 火山灰が雨によって海に押し流された。
The volcanic ash was washed away into the sea by the rain. 

42. 岡田さんによって、鈴木さんに手紙が送られた。
A letter was sent to Suzuki-san by Okada-san.

43. 旧約聖書はいつ頃、誰によって書かれたものでしょうか。
When and by whom was the Old Testament written?

44. この元素は、アメリカの研究チームに発見されたものです。 
This element is something that was discovered by an American research team.


 ~とされる

  ~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.

45. 風疹はインフルエンザよりも強い感染力があるとされている。
  It is believed that rubella has a stronger infectious capacity than even influenza. 

46. 一般いっぱん成功しいとされている。
      It is believed that success is generally difficult.

The Potential

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.    

47. 国は自治体を通じて無料で検査を受けられるクーポンを配布している。  
The government is distributing coupons through municipalities (where you can be/for being) examined for free. 

48. 検査が受けられる医療機関をネットで確認(することが)できます。
      You can verify online which medical institutions you can be examined for free.

49. その影響は避けられない。
      Its effect is/will be unavoidable.  

50. 鬼が怖くて行かれない。(Old-fashioned)
      The oni is scared and cannot move.