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
Passive form for Ichidan verbs
To conjugate the passive form of Ichidan verbs just change the last Hiragana ~る with ~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.
In this example we see how the verb 飲む (
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
Passive form for irregular verbs
The two irregular verbs する and くる have a particular conjugation for the passive form:
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 降る. This verb is intransitive, since it does not need an object complement. In Japanese you can also use the passive form with this verb:
It rained on us.
In this example the action of raining is experienced by
we 私たち. 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:
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:
The cat eats the mouse.
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 鼠.
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:
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:
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:
The wall that has been painted.
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:
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:
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