Indirect passive sentences and the particles に and へ

While reading about passive sentences, I came across this example (from

Kawada introducing Fujiwara to Suito was inconvenient to me.

My basic understanding of this “indirect passive” sentence is as follows: the action “introduce Fujiwara to Suito” (水藤へ藤原を紹介する), was done ‘to me’ by Kawada (私が河田に combined with passive verb), where the action being done ‘to me’ implies that it indirectly affects me in a possibly unforeseen or unwanted way. Is this a good way of thinking about it?

This particular sentence struck me because the directional particle へ is used with 紹介する, which as far as I can tell is not usually considered a verb of motion. Surely “introduce Fujiwara to Suito” would normally be 水藤藤原を紹介する, and as such I might be tempted to rewrite the example sentence as


Now, since the two targets marked with に have completely different roles, would this sentence be ambiguous? If so, I can see why it would make sense to change the second に into an へ in order to differentiate. The grammatical role of 水藤 is certainly much more similar to “directional target” than that of 河田. This raises the question of when this change is allowed. Is it particular to 紹介する? Or maybe, in indirect passive sentences where the agent performing the action is marked with に, is it always correct to change occurrences of に marking direct targets of the action to へ? This would give examples such as

My friend told everyone my secret. (I wasn’t happy about this.)

Since I find this interesting, I spent some time thinking about how far I could push it. Is it possible to make this change from に to へ even if the に is being used to convert an adjective into an adverb? So:

The room went pitch black.

The room went pitch black on me.

I’m fairly skeptical about this last sentence, since even without changing に to へ, it’s probably clear to any reader that it is the room which becoming pitch black, not the pitch black which is becoming a room. But I’m sure there are similar situations (maybe with a verb other than なる) where such ambiguity could exist.

One final question, if I’m not completely misinterpreting this: are there any other situations where に can be changed to へ for grammatical reasons?

Sorry for the long post. I’m still relatively new to learning Japanese, so all of this might be entirely wrong. Any clarifications or references related to the these topics would be much appreciated!

I wouldn’t say that it is being done to the subject, but the action has a negative influence to the subject. From the speaker’s perspective, the intention of the person/object doing the action can be irrelevant; the fact it has caused a problem to the subject is the focus. Please refer to this page for an explanation in English, if you want to wade through more detail here’s the Japanese version.

Yes, because there are two people who could have done the action and since both are marked with に it would only be distinguishable by seeing this instance in context. After searching around for other examples, I couldn’t find anything in particular. I would also argue that the example is probably not something one would come across often when speaking so I don’t think it has a special connection to the verb 紹介する. Additionally I cannot verify whether it’s safe to assume that this is a standard substitution when this kind of ambiguity comes up.

According to “All About Particles: A Handbook of Japanese Function Words” by Naoko Chino, に can be changed into へ in about two instances:

  1. When indicating a direction or goal, or a destination toward which one is moving or at which one has arrived. This usually translates as “to”.
  2. When indicating the recipient of an action, or the indirect object. Also translates as “to”.

I’m quite sure other cases exist, but here are a couple.


Thanks for the thoughtful response! Is it true that へ can always be used when “indicating the recipient of an action, or the indirect object,” even when used with a verb that does not carry an implication of motion or direction? Every resource I’ve seen has restricted the particle’s usage to these “verbs of motion,” whatever their definition. Is it actually correct to replace に with へ in, say, the following sentence?

I met him at the barber’s.

Maybe this is a bit of a stretch, since 彼 is not necessarily “receiving” the action of being met…

What I wrote was pulled directly from a resource regarding particle usage written by a Japanese person who specializes in Japanese. However although it doesn’t say explicitly, there’s an implication of motion when talking about recipients and indirect objects.

Short answer to your question is no. Based on the example you provided, it seems that you missed the mark what the concept refers to. Regarding recipients and indirect objects, the most common example seen in English is when a person gets a gift. The action of the gift going from the giver to the person who gets it is indeed an implied motion. Your example does not even contain a recipient nor does it have an indirect object at all so, as you suspected, it would not make sense to substitute へ in this case.

Here are some examples provided in the book to help give context:

I wrote a letter to a friend who lives abroad. (indirect object)

I called Kawada in the evening, but he wasn’t home. (recipient)

Additionally when people write letters, it’s quite common for them to start “(name/title)へ” which roughly translates to, “to (name/title)”. Due to English writing conventions, this intro almost always gets translated to “Dear (name/title)”. The person addressed in this line is the intended recipient of the letter. That is why へ is used in this case. You could probably find other examples of this as well with similar actions. I hope this helps.

1 Like

This helps a lot, thank you. The definition of indirect object I had in my mind may have been to broad. From your explanation, I can see the sentence

My friend told everyone my secret. (I wasn’t happy about this.)

has an indirect object (みんな) and so the use of へ is justified, while in the sentence

The room went pitch black on me.

there is no indirect object or recipient of an action, so this へ is used incorrectly (I still believe using に instead could cause ambiguity in certain contrived cases, but context will probably take care of it). The original example sentence

Kawada introducing Fujiwara to Suito was inconvenient to me.

still confuses me, since Suito isn’t really “receiving” the action of introducing Fujiwara—Suito’s role in the sentence seems closer to the role of 彼 in 理髪店で彼に会った (“Y met X” vs “Y was introduced to X”). So it comes back to the question of whether Xへ紹介する is always allowed.

Thanks again for your time!

First of all, the sentence is confusing because I can’t really imagine a situation where there would be an issue with someone introducing a person affecting myself personally, so really it goes back to the context; whether it was created or pulled from a source it’s not a good sentence to use as an example. Anyway let me point out where this falls into line with the uses I posted above:

If you take this example and remove 私が, it will look like this:

Fujiwara was introduced to Suito by Kawada.

This way of writing is not the best this way so to put it more clearly in Japanese:

Fujiwara was introduced to Suito by Kawada.

“To Suito” is the indirect object of the sentence. The introduction was given to him or her. In other words, Suito is the indirect recipient of this action. In your example 理髪店で彼に会った, 彼 receives nothing; in fact, if you were to put a preposition into the English version, it would read, “I met with him at the barbershop.” Although this is not exactly how one would say this in English, the indirect object almost always implies “to (someone/something)”. In this case you could not insert “to” and still have it make sense. However in the confusing introduction example it’s required otherwise it makes no sense. Does that make sense?

Yes, thank you very much. It seems my issue was in what constitutes an indirect object. As for the confusing sentence about introductions, it was an example of the indirect/adversative passive from as linked in the OP. That page has plenty of examples of this type of sentence, although none of the others include the particle へ.

You’re welcome. I did look at the original link in the OP when I wrote my first response. So my critique about that confusing sentence was directed toward the individual who put that imabi page together. Exceptions to patterns that are not discussed in a grammar explanation should at the least be addressed or noted that it will be discussed at a later time for the sake of learners. Had they done something like that it would have helped immensely.

1 Like

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