The passive form in Japanese - られる and れる

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'The passive form in Japanese - られる and れる'

Anna Baffa Volpe

7 min reading time

Updated on 17 December 2022

Today we are dealing with the passive form in Japanese, which is useful and indispensable for understanding texts and also in everyday conversation in Japan.

The conjugation of this form involves the use of the suffixes られる and れる depending on the type of verb: Ichidan verb or Godan.

(うけ)()(けい) ukemikei is the term used to define this verb form

The first kanji represents the verb 受ける which means receive, get, accept.


The passive form of the verb in Japanese

This form is used when the subject of the sentence, which can be a person or a thing, receives, undergoes the action.

The action in turn is performed by the agent expressed in the sentence.

How do you get the passive form?

Now let's see how to create the passive form for the various categories of verbs:

  • Ichidan, with a single base, omit the final syllable る and add the suffix られる, and for the negative られない
Verb without る+られる
  • Godan, with five distinct bases, using the B1 or negative base ending in "a", combined with the suffix れる and for the negative れない
B1 or verb base in a+れる
  • The passive form of する do is される

  • The passive form of ()come is ()られる

Some examples of verbs

  • Ichidan verbs

  • ()べる eat; (たべ)べられる be eaten

  • ()see; ()られる be seen

  • Godan verbs

  • ()write; ()かれる make write

  • ()read; ()まれる make read

  • (つく)prepare; (つく)られる be prepared

Change of kana for verbs ending in う preceded by a vowel; form the negative base by adding (wa):

  • ()う ⇨ ()わ passive ()われる

  • ()う ⇨ ()わ passive ()われる

  • ()(つだ)う ⇨ ()(つだ) passive わ ()(つだ)われる

Active form of the verb and construction of the sentence

In the active sentence we have a subject followed by the particles , an object with the particle and the verb in active form.

(かあ)さんはラーメンを(つく)った。

Mom made ramen.

(せん)(せい)(せい)()()めた。

The teacher praised the pupil.

Passive form of the verb and sentence construction

In the passive sentence construction, we have a subject expressed by the particles who receives or undergoes the action, an agent who performs the action followed by the particles , によって or から and from the verb in its passive form.

Referencing the same examples cited in active form:

ラーメンはお(かあ)さんに(つく)られた。

The ramen was made by mom.

(せい)()(せん)(せい)()められた。

The pupil was commended by the teacher.

Passive form expressing harm or annoyance

A particular use of the passive form is in situations where the subject feels annoyance with respect to the expressed action.

(めい)(わく)(うけ)() meiwaku no ukemi, indicates passive of annoyance, of harm

(わたし)(まえ)(きゃく)()しいものを()われた。

The customer in front of me bought what I wanted.

  • Many languages do not have the passive form for intransitive verbs. Thus it is more natural to translate the sentence into its active form, transforming the agent into the subject of the sentence.

Passive form and intransitive verbs

Continuing with the emphasis on the nuisance or damage that the subject suffers, we have a particular use of the passive form with intransitive verbs.

  • (あめ)()rain

(あめ)()られて、(こま)った。

I am in trouble because of the rain.

We have two forms:

  • (あめ)()った it rained observe the objective fact

  • (あめ)()られた it rained that was bad, I didn't have an umbrella

(いもうと)(さき)(かえ)られた。

My sister left early.

  • The subject expressed by the first person is often omitted in the sentence.

(いもうと)(さき)(かえ)った。

My sister left early.

  • The sentence expressed with the plain past form expresses an objective fact without nuances and interpretations. Instead the use of the passive form implies something more.

  • my sister left early without warning me -my sister left early and she didn't leave me the house keys

Keigo and passive form

The passive form is also widely used in honorific language, keigo.

タクシーに()られて、(かえ)られますか。

Take a taxi home?

The verbs on which the passive form is applied are:

  • タクシーに()take a taxi()られる

  • (かえ)return (home), go away(かえ)られる

Forms expressing (そん)(けい) respect, reverence

(せん)(せい)(はな)される。

Teacher speaks.

Passive and potential form

The formation of the passive recalls exactly the potential form which expresses the ability to do something.

()(のう) potential, ability

Let's consider the passive form ()べられる, if I say:

(なん)でも()べられる。

I eat anything.

I mean that:

  • I can eat anything

  • I have no problem with food preferences

It is thus a potential form.

"Spontaneity" expressed by the passive form

We have another particular use of the passive form in those expressions that in Japanese are defined as spontaneity and concern verbs that indicate emotions and feelings.

  • (しん)(はい)する worry

  • (おどろ)wonder

  • (おも)()remember

  • (かんが)える think

  • (しの)remember with nostalgia

()(はつ) spontaneity, naturalness

They are verbs in which there is no one's will, they are actions that occur spontaneously, naturally.

()どものころが(おも)()される。

My childhood comes to mind.


As you can see the passive form has various applications and it is worth dwelling on this aspect of the language.

Translations into various languages may differ slightly from the original Japanese text; I recall the element of the context in which the action takes place as it provides us with the elements to choose the best translation in our native language.

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