Passive form れる・られる in Japanese

Passive form れる・られる in Japanese

The passive form is used when the person towards whom the action is performed becomes the subject of the sentence instead of being the object.

A sentence in the active form such as I read a book has:

  • I: subject, the one who performs the action
  • book: object, the one towards whom the action is performed

If we want to rephrase this sentence in the passive we have to make the object book the subject of the sentence: the book is read by me.

The passive form in Japanese

In Japanese the principle is the same: we want to make the person towards whom the action is performed the subject of the sentence.

Since the subject and object of the sentence are expressed using particles, it will be necessary to change the order of the particles as well as conjugate the verb in the passive form.

How to conjugate the passive form in Japanese

The passive form is simple to conjugate in Japanese. We must make a distinction between Ichidan verbs, Godan verbs, and irregular verbs.

Passive form for Ichidan verbs

To conjugate the passive form of Ichidan verbs just change the last Hiragana ~る with ~られる.

()べる
()
()られる
()
()
()られる
()
()
()られる
Remember that all verbs in the Ichidan category end with the symbol Hiragana る

Passive form for Godan verbs

To conjugate the passive form of the Godan verbs we have to modify the last Hiragana in the Base B1 (Negative) and add ~れる.

()
()
()
()れる

In this example we see how the verb ()む (drink) is conjugated in its Base B1 by removing む mu and adding ま ma, that is the Hiragana symbol that is part of the same series as む mu (both start with the character m) but ending in a: ま ma.

()
()
()
()れる
()
()
()
()れる
(ある)
(ある)
(ある)
(ある)れる
(はな)
(はな)
(はな)
(はな)れる
(すわ)
(すわ)
(すわ)
(すわ)れる
()
()
()
()れる
()
()
()
()れる
(およ)
(およ)
(およ)
(およ)れる

Passive form for irregular verbs

The two irregular verbs する and くる have a particular conjugation for the passive form:

する
される
くる
こられる

Passive form: transitive and intransitive verbs

In Japanese it is possible to conjugate the passive form for both transitive and intransitive verbs.

When an intransitive verb is conjugated to the passive, the resulting form is also called "Indirect Passive"

An example is the verb to rain ()る. This verb is intransitive, since it does not need an object complement. In Japanese you can also use the passive form with this verb:

(わたし)たち
(あめ)
()られた。

It rained on us.

In this example the action of raining is experienced by we (わたし)たち. A more literal translation would be We have suffered the action of raining from the rain.

There are also cases where using verbs in the passive form is unnatural, and the active form is more appropriate:

ミルク
ヴィニー
()まれた。

The milk was drunk by Vinnie.

How to use the passive form in Japanese

Let's take a sentence as an example and see how to conjugate it from the active form to the passive form:

(ねこ)
(ねすみ)
()べた。

The cat eats the mouse.

In this sentence in the active form the subject is the cat (indicated by the particle が) and the object is the mouse (indicated by the particle を).

In the passive form we want to make the mouse the subject of the sentence. To do this we just need to use the particle が with (ねすみ).

However, the cat cannot be indicated by the particle を. This is because the cat does not suffer any actions; the cat is always the one who performs the action. For this reason in this case we use the particle に (ni) in the passive form:

(ねすみ)
(ねこ)
()べられた。

The mouse is eaten by the cat.

In the passive form we have who performs the action and who undergoes the action. The action suffered, that is the verb in the passive form, is always present.

Who undergoes the action and who performs the action may not be indicated when it is clear from the context.

As a general rule, in Japanese a complete sentence just needs a verb

When using the passive form in Japanese

The passive form られる can be used in many situations in Japanese.

Something happens to the subject as a result of an external action

This is the typical case we saw in the previous example. As mentioned, the subject of the sentence becomes the one who undergoes the action.

Describe how something works in general

When we want to indicate a general reality, we can use the passive form:

この
(りょう)()
(とう)(ほく)()
(ほう)
()べられます。

This dish is eaten in the Tōhoku area.

In this example we do not specify who eats the dish. Instead, we want to say that this dish is eaten (passive) in the Tōhoku area.

When we don't know or don't want to specify who performed an action

When we want to avoid naming a person directly or simply do not know who performed a certain action, then in these cases we use the passive form:

(あたら)しい
ペンキ
()られた
(かべ)

The wall that has been painted.

(わたし)
牛乳(ぎゅうにゅう)
(ぜん)()
(だれ)
()まれた。

Someone drank all my milk.

The passive form to indicate feelings

When someone does something that causes you problems or that affects you in a negative way, then you can use the passive form to show this emphasis without additional words:

(あめ)
()られたった。

It rained.

This sentence, without the passive form, does not convey any sentiment: it simply states a fact.

If for some reason the rain has caused you problems or bad feelings, then you can use the passive form to emphasize this fact:

(あめ)
()られた。

It rained on me.

We can see the use of the particle に (ni) in the passive sentence (instead of が). This particle indicates that she rained on me when used with the verb in the passive form

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