Causative vs causative-passive

Going back over these two tenses in Tae Kims grammar guide I am a bit confused as to what the difference is between them.

Taking an example, wouldn’t:




both mean I made him eat? If yes, is there a difference?



The first one means “He made me eat.”

The second one means “He was made to eat by me.”



I know that pronouns are often excluded but it might help if Tae Kim has left more in with the examples to make it clearer who was doing what to whom! Or perhaps it is just me that finds it confusing.

1 Like

It’s definitely confusing (to me anyway), but using 彼 is already one more pronoun than you’d often see in a typical Japanese sentence. Not to mention 私.

I think its just you (not literally), but rightfully so since this stuff is pretty confusing. The info is all there, however. The important thing to remember is that に can work in both directions. It can either point to the direction some action is going or the source.

Here, 彼 is the subject and the verb is in causative tense. With causative, the subject is the one causing it to happen. 私 tells us who he is causing it to happen to.

Again, 彼 is the subject here as well. This time, the verb is also conjugated into the passive. Now passive is sometimes called the suffering passive, and for a specific reason. The subject is suffering from that action. In other words, that verb is happening to that subject. So here, 彼 is being made to eat and に is working in the opposite direction to tell us the source from which that action is originating: 私.


This is a good explanation. I’ll only add that in the case of the suffering passive (or any passive really) I find it easier to understand who is the subject and object if I remember that the れた part of 食べられた means something like received.

So following that, you could translate the second sentence clumsily but directly as “He received being made to eat from me.”

1 Like

Yeah, that sounds like a good way of remembering! So long as you get that its all about stuff happening to the speaker, any method that works for you is gonna be best. I do something similar with しか where rather than remembering it as “only” i remember it as “other than”. This saves me confusion when I see it paired with a negative.

I’ve also seen stuff like the subject is either causing stuff to happen (action is happen outwards) or something is being passed on to the subject like a baton (action happening to the subject).


:thinking:But if something is being passed to the subject, doesn’t that make the subject the object?

I skipped most of the posts, but focusing on the subject/object can be problematic sometimes. What if the baton is the actual subject? Then everything changes around.

Excerpt from my notes:

My mother was handed flowers by my father.

Flowers were handed from my father to my mother.

If you remember, I previously stated that with the passive tense, you would use the particle に to identify the doer. However, if you check sentence (1.2), you’ll see that に is actually targeting the receiver. This happens exclusively when the object being transmitted becomes the subject. In this situation, you’ll use から to target the doer and に to target the receiver. In order to better understand this, notice the way I translated both sentences above.


It’s true that に can be translated depending on the context as to or by or in, so that lends confusion, but you can still use my formulation of れた as received with these sentences:

My mother received passing flowers by my father.

Flowers received passing from my father to my mother.

This is certainly not a natural-sounding translation to English, but perhaps conveys the feeling of the Japanese. And for the purposes of a Japanese learner more importantly allows the reader to identify the subject marked by は or が (or often an unmarked “I”), see the れた at the end of the verb phrase, and then understand that the subject received the action being described.

1 Like

Just to add to this, られる (れる in some other verbs) acts as an auxillary verb to provide the passive aspect to verbs. As mentioned in the previous posts, with this kind of grammar the subject is meant to be the focus for various reasons; such as the agent (the one who does the action) is unknown, unimportant, or too general, Japanese is spoken taking into account that the speaker’s perspective since the speaker is almost always the subject (when it’s not specified), or using an active sentence construction (e.g., I gave her flowers) is too direct.


We call these ‘donatory’ verbs, and it works with verbs like 渡す or 送る but it’s worth noting that verbs that directly mean “to give” - 上げる, 下さる, くれる and やる - never themselves take the passive form (use a verb meaning “to receive” instead). This is only for verbs that involve giving, but don’t actually mean “to give”. If that makes sense.

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.