588 - ~られる ([passive])

Since we just powered through all of the different uses of ~させる (NDL's 575, 581, 582, 583, & 584), I thought we should go ahead and finish off ~られる, as well.

You may recall us going over how ~られる is used to express the "potential form" in Japanese:

- [NDL #379] - JLPT N4: ~られる (possibility)
- [NDL #380] - JLPT N3: ~られる (-able)

(You should review lesson #379, which I've linked to above, if you do not remember how to conjugate ~られる verbs. I won't be explaining the conjugation patterns here. However! Be careful, because there was a glaring mistake in that lesson: I mixed up the names of ichidan and godan verbs. Oops. x_x. More on verb types can be found in this lesson: [NDL #482] - Basics: Verb Types. Mistakes like these get corrected when we create course pages for NDL Premium members, by the way.)

...as you've likely guessed by now, ~られる is not only used to express the possibility of something.

It has other uses, too.

Most notably, ~られる serves as the "passive form" in Japanese, which we'll start delving into in this lesson...

JLPT N4: ~られる ([the passive form])

The passive form, or 受身形 (うけみけい), is used when something was done to you (or someone psychologically close to you). In other words, it's like saying "was done."

(Kanji Nerds: I've noticed that 受身形 [うけみけい // the passive form] is usually written without the け, but the け tends to be included when just saying 受け身 [うけみ // passivity; the passive (voice)]. One time I used the word 受身形 with a Japanese friend, and he had no idea what I was talking about... I guess grammar terms aren't all that popular in the real world. ^^)

Here's an example:

きのう、 いし に うつびょう と しんだん されました。
Yesterday, my doctor diagnosed me with depression.
Literally: “yesterday, + physician + に + depression と + diagnosis + was done.”

In a more literal translation, we could have said: "Yesterday, I was diagnosed with depression by my physician." Or something like that.

診断する(しんだんする // to diagnose
↓ ↓ ↓
診断されるしんだんされる // to be diagnosed; to get diagnosed

Make sense?

By the way, I think it's curious that 診断する means "to diagnose," but the word 健康診断 (けんこうしんだん), literally "health + diagnosis," means "physical examination" or "health checkup."

Speaking of 健康診断, if you work at a company in Japan, chances are that they will require you to get a 健康診断 once a year. When I taught English in Japan, they even set up my appointment for me, which was cool. What was not cool, however, is that the clinic sent the exam results to our office, so the Japanese office staff all got to look at my health report before I did. I thought it was a bit odd. One of my coworkers was pretty upset about it, saying it was a breach of privacy. But hey, at least they paid for it. ^_^

Note that the "subject" of the sentence when using the passive form is usually "I," though it can also be someone close to the speaker. In the sentence that we saw above, we simply infer that the speaker is "I" from context, even though the word "I" is not being used anywhere:

きのう、 いし に うつびょう と しんだん されました。
Yesterday, my doctor diagnosed me with depression.
Literally: “yesterday, + physician + に + depression と + diagnosis + was done.”

Here's the confusing thing: The subject is "I," but the person performing the action is not the speaker. So in the above example, "I" is the unspoken subject, but the performer of the action (diagnosing) is a doctor.

The person performing the action is typically marked by the particle .

Here's another example of that:

よみち で とつぜん しらない ひと に こえ を かけられて、 とても びっくり した。
I was walking at night when a stranger suddenly started talking to me. It really startled me.
Literally: “street at night + で + suddenly + don’t know + person + に + voice + を + was put on (me) (and), + very + being surprised / being startled + did.”
Note: I'm just guessing that the speaker "was walking" because of the word 夜道, "a street at night."

Again, more literally that first sentence would be something like: "I was walking at night when I suddenly had a stranger start talking to me."

As mentioned in our previous example, "I" is the unspoken subject, and the person performing the action is marked by に.

The next example has two passive-form verbs in a row!

さいきん ちこく が おおかった ので、 たんにん の せんせい に よびだされて、 ちゅうい された。
I’ve been late a lot lately, so my (main) teacher called me aside and warned me about it [so I was called aside by my teacher and warned about it].
Literally: “recently + arriving late + が + was many + because (=ので), + (my) main teacher (=in charge + の + teacher) + に + was summoned (and), + warning + was done.”

Sometimes it's possible to simply infer both the recipient (i.e. the subject) and the performer of an action in a passive sentence:

ちち の くるま に きず を つけて しまった とき は、 ひどく しかられました。
My father got really angry at me the time that I scratched his car. // I was scolded severely by my father the time that I scratched his car.
Literally: “father + の + car + に + scratch / wound + を + (unfortunately) affixed / added + time + は, + very much / terribly + was scolded.”

Perhaps the translation with "was scolded" above is more accurate, but I prefer the "got... angry" translation.

The word 叱る (しかる // to scold) is used much more often in Japanese than the word "scold" is used in English. Sometimes for my other job, I need to proofread English textbooks written by Japanese people for elementary and middle school students. They use the word "scold" way too much! It drives me crazy! *_*

Here's an example where the subject is not "I," but rather someone that is psychologically close to the speaker:

ちょうなん が しょうがっこう の せんせい に じ が きれい だ と ほめられた そうだ。
Apparently my (oldest) son’s elementary school teacher praised him on his nice handwriting. // Apparently my (oldest) son was praised by his elementary school teacher on his nice handwriting.
Literally: “eldest son + が + elementary school + の + teacher + に + handwriting + が + pretty / clean + だ + と + was praised / was admired + そうだ (=[hearsay marker]).”

If we're gonna be real sticklers for proper grammar, then we should keep the following in mind:

The particle から, not に, should be used to mark the agent performing a passive action when it is not a person (e.g. when it's a company, school, etc.).


The person performing a passive action is marked by the particle に.

The non-person performing a passive action is marked by the particle から.

Here's an example:

ビーチサンダル を はいていた ので、 レストラン から にゅうてん を きょひ されました。
I wasn’t allowed into the restaurant because I was wearing flip-flops.
Literally: “beach sandals / flip-flops + を + was wearing ([for lower-body clothing only]) + because (=ので), + restaurant + from (=から) + going inside a shop + を + refusal + was done.”

↑ That's the rule, so you may want to remember it for the JLPT test.

In real life, though, native speakers typically use に in all cases.

Curse you, useless grammar rules!

We're not finished with ~られる yet. In fact, we still have FIVE more ~られる lessons to cover.

Hang in there, yo. (*o*)

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