Passive Form Verbs - "Victim" Nuance?

Hey guys,

Quick question, I’m learning passive verb conjugations ~られる, my understanding as it’s been taught so far is that the passive form describes something that was done to someone (or perhaps something) and is essentially the victim of the action i.e.


Using the above sentence as an example, does the passive form have a nuance where there would be some implication that I am saddened (maybe even angry) by the fact that my sister ate the cake, can it just be read as a neutral third person observation, or can both be correct uses depending on context/intonation?

  1. My sister ate the cake [and I am sad]
  2. My sister ate the cake

Just want to know if use of this grammar should be limited to the implication of the action on how that person feels, or if it can be used as a completely objective tool to just report on something you saw.

Cheers in advance

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Passive sentences do not have to have this “affected by” nuance – you also see passives that work like English ones, for example このビルは二年前にたてられた “this building was built two years ago”.

The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar calls that kind a “direct passive” and the “(私は)おねえさんにケーキをたべられた” kind an “indirect passive”.

The way I like to look at these is that in both cases you’ve rearranged an active sentence to create a passive in order to present the action from a different viewpoint. In a direct passive the “viewpoint” is that of the old object in the active sentence (このビル). In an indirect passive, the “viewpoint” wasn’t in the active sentence at all! (e.g. you do not appear in おねえさんがケーキをたべた). So the only reason to rearrange into a passive and drag you into the sentence as the subject must be because you were indirectly affected by it in some way. This is usually a negative effect, but it might be a more positive one, eg 高山さんは美人に横に座られてニコニコしている where Takayama is positively affected. I think negative implications are more common because Japanese has other ways to express “somebody did something and it was good for some other person”, like -てもらう and -てくれる.

Fun historical fact: the “indirect” passive was originally the only kind in Japanese, but in the Meiji era it was used in translations of passive sentences from Western language books, and so it gradually acquired that second meaning as well.


That explanation was so great!

Indirect and Active sentences sound like an fairly important concept to understand distinctively, I think I will start there, but I totally understood the comparisons you provided to contrast the differences.

The more I study Japanese the more I realise I know nothing about English :smile:.

Thank you so much.

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The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar article “rareru” has more explanations and more examples. I also like the more informal discussion of passives in Jay Rubin’s “Making Sense of Japanese”.