590 - ~られる ([naturally] thought, felt, etc.)

Lessons we've had on ~られる so far:

- [NDL #379] - JLPT N4: ~られる (possibility)
- [NDL #380] - JLPT N3: ~られる (-able)
- [NDL #588] - JLPT N4: ~られる ([passive])
- [NDL #589] - JLPT N4: ~られる ([passive for possessions])

In the lessons linked to above, we saw how ~られる can be used in the potential form or in the passive form.

Like a fool, I forgot to mention some conjugation differences between these two forms.

🙇 ごめんなさい。

(。-人-。) ゴメンネ

_(._.)_

Well, I suppose it's better to explain the differences late than never...


The following verb (types) are the same in the potential and passive forms.

Ichidan (Group II) Verbs:
食べる(たべる // to eat
食べられるたべられる // to be able to eat
食べられるたべられる // to be eaten

見る(みる // to see; to watch
見られるみられる // to be able to see; to be able to watch
見られるみられる // to be seen; to be watched

Irregular (Group III) Verbs:
来る(くる // to come
来られるこられる // to be able to come
来られるこられる // to have come


The following verb (types) differ in the potential and passive forms.

Godan (Group I) Verbs:
飲む(のむ // to drink
飲めるのめる // to be able to drink
飲まれるのまれる // to be drunk

言う(いう // to say; to tell
言えるいえる // to be able to say; to be able to tell
言われるいわれる // to be said; to be told

Irregular (Group III) Verbs:
する(する // to do
出来るできる // to be able to do
されるされる // to be done


As can be inferred from the overview above, we only need to worry about the differences between conjugations for godan (Group I) verbs.

Here are the conjugation rules:

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The potential form of godan verbs - The final う (u) sound is changed to an え (e) sound, and then we add る.
The passive form of godan verbs - The final う (u) sound is changed to an あ (a) sound, and then we add れる.

So here are some godan verbs:

飲む(のむ // to drink
弾く(ひく // to play [an instrument]
使う(つかう // to use
行く(いく // to go
釣る(つる // to catch [a fish]; to fish
話す(はなす // to speak

Step #1
Potential: Change the う (u) sound to an え (e) sound:
Passive: Change the う (u) sound to an あ (a) sound:

-のめ-
-のま-

-ひけ-
-ひか-

使-つかえ-
使-つかわ-

-いけ-
-いか-

-つれ-
-つら-

-はなせ-
-はなさ-

Step #2

Potential: Add る.
Passive: Add れる.

飲めるのめる // to be able to drink
飲まれるのまれる // to be drunk

弾けるひける // to be able to play [an instrument]
弾かれるひかれる // to be played [e.g. an instrument]

使えるつかえる // to be able to use
使われるつかわれる // to be used

行けるいける // to be able to go
行かれるいかれる // to have gone

釣れるつれる // to be able to catch [a fish]
釣られるつられる // to be caught [e.g. a fish]

話せるはなせる // to be able to speak
話されるはなされる // to be spoken to

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Sorry I didn't point that out two lessons ago!

With that out of the way, we can talk about a ~られる verb usage that does not express passivity or potential:


JLPT N3: ~られる (is [naturally] thought, felt, etc.)

Before we get into any more trouble, note that the conjugation rules being followed for this ~られる usage match up with passive verb conjugation rules.

Specifically, we can conjugate a verb into its passive form when we want to express that a certain thought or feeling is experienced naturally.

Like this:


海に行くと、漁師だった父との思い出が鮮明に思い出されます
うみ に いくと、 りょうし だった ちち と の おもいで が せんめい に おもいだされます。
When I go to beach, it brings back vivid memories of my father, who was a fisherman.
Literally: “sea + に + go + と, + fisherman + was + father + と + の + memory + が + vivid + に + are recalled.”

Now, why didn't we just say 思い出します (おもいだします // recall; remember) in this sentence?

That is a very tricky question to answer.

In Japanese, this usage of ~られる is referred to as 自発 (じはつ). Dictionaries tend to translate 自発 as "spontaneous."

This is not quite "spontaneous" in the sense of "a spontaneous trip to Puerto Rico." Rather, this is "spontaneous" the way we can have a "spontaneous mutation in a gene." Your English dictionary might lump both of these meanings together by saying "spontaneous = something done or said in a natural and often sudden way and without a lot of thought or planning."

Let's apply that to our sentence above. The recalling of these memories of the speaker's father does not involve any mental effort. Rather, the memories float to the surface naturally. That's why I translated it as "it brings back vivid memories" and not "I recall vivid memories."


The distinction between 思い出します and 思い出されます might make it seem like it's easy to decide when to use the "naturally occurring ~られる."

Some sentences still give me some problems, though.

For example:

日本国内の移動なら新幹線が一番便利だと思われます
にほん こくない の いどう なら しんかんせん が いちばん べんり だ と おもわれます。
It seems to me that the Shinkansen is the most convenient method of transport within Japan.
Literally: “Japan + within the country + の + moving + if (it is the case that) + Shinkansen / bullet train + が + the most + convenient + だ + と + (it) is thought.”

After a lot of debating, I decided that "It seems to me that..." did an OK job of expressing the nuance of 思われます in this sentence.

If it had just said 思います, I would have put "I think that...

That is because the thought that the Shinkansen is the most convenient method of transport is occurring naturally for the speaker.

I'm trying to do something similar when I translate 考えられます as "I would argue that..." instead of "I think that..." or "I consider..." in the following sentence:


クローン人間の作製は生命への冒涜だと考えられます
クローン にんげん の さくせい は せいめい へ の ぼうとく だ と かんがえられます。
I would argue that the cloning of humans is a crime against nature.
Literally: “clone + human + の + manufacturing + は + life + へ + の + blasphemy / sacrilege + だ + と + (it) is considered.”


Sometimes, I really can't imagine how I would translate a sentence differently if it had simply been using verbs in ます-form or in plain form and not in passive form.

Our last two sentences are great examples of such cases...


若くして薬物依存症になってしまった友人の将来が案じられる
わかく して やくぶつ いぞんしょう に なって しまった ゆうじん の しょうらい が あんじられる。
I'm worried about the future of my friend who got addicted to drugs at a young age.
Literally: “while still young (=young + do [and]) + drugs / medicine + dependence + に + (unfortunately) became + friend + の + future + が + is concerned about / is feared for.”

大きな滝を見ると、地球の歴史の長さが感じられる
おおきな たき を みる と、 ちきゅう の れきし の ながさ が かんじられる。
Looking at that huge waterfall, I really felt just how long the Earth has been around for.
Literally: “large + waterfall + を + look at + と, + the Earth + の + history + が + is felt.”


Personally, I think the "naturally occurring ~られる," or 「自発 ~られる」is a bit stiff-sounding.

I don't find myself using it, well... ever. But you do hear it on TV and whatnot sometimes.

Grasping the nuance of this grammar point is a bit tricky, but I hope that this lesson serves as a good primer for doing so.

Oh, and sorry again about the conjugation slip mentioned above.

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