Passive of "be" verbs

OK my English-speaking brain is going to explode.

How do you understand/translate the passive of verbs that mean “be/become [something]”

彩加さんは私に怒った = “Ayaka got angry with me”
彩加さんは私に怒られった = ???

Does the に person become the agent? “Ayaka was angried-at by me” ?

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Yes, basically. Does rewording the translation of 怒る as “to scold” help? “Ayaka scolded me” vs “Ayaka was scolded by me”.

For a more abstract sort of explanation, to say that a verb like 怒る means “to be/become [angry in this case but insert whatever you want here]” is not quite right. That’s how we translate it in English, but what matters is the information it conveys: person X is now angry for whatever reason. In English that’s conveyed with an adjective, “angry”. In Japanese that information is conveyed by the verb 怒る. That also means that the Japanese version will behave exactly like a verb does with all the consequences thereof, and the English version will need to be treated as an adjective, and will need to be changed in different ways to correspond to the changed in Japanese.

The “to be” or “to become” you have in English is just not there in Japanese, so you can’t directly map the conjugations for 怒る onto it. Trying to do so results in weirdness like what you see here - “to be angried-at” isn’t proper English. Now, for angry there happens to be the verb “to anger” in English, which is more coincidence than anything, and doesn’t completely equate to 怒る either - you can’t “anger at someone”, but in this case “Ayaka was angered by me” works nicely and maintains the passive voice.

But in short, sometimes the same concept has a different grammatical function in English than it does in Japanese. That’s just the reality of translations, and the key part to wrapping your brain around that is stepping away from directly equating Japanese to English sentence structure and all, and instead seeing translations as conveying the same information.


Just to add to the confusion, to scold is more 叱る(しかる) with it being transitive and all. And I see it most often used in passive XD. EDIT: Scratch that. Literally the second definition of 怒る is shikaru -.-

Your past passive 怒る has a typo too 怒られた without the っ is how you write it.

Yamitenshis explanation is really nice. I would say don’t fret over translating too much and try to get the gist of “whats happening”. The whole passive thing, as well as many other wierd concepts, will get more natural over time the more you see it used in native material. Japanese is just so different from western languages that it takes time to adjust your mindframe to it.


And to add even more confusion, 怒る is a different kind of scolding than 叱る :smile:

Which is yet another reason to not equate English and Japanese too much. Two things being translated the same way sometimes does not mean they mean the same thing.

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@yamitenshi @downtimes Thanks very much to both of you. This is super-useful to think about the larger picture.

I wish there were a dictionary that didn’t use words, so there wasn’t this embedded (and supported) tendency to require an English equivalent. Very theoretical, but it’d solve this “different thought process” language wall I’m hitting. I guess from both of your answers that, eventually, you reach the level of proficiency where you’ve seen/heard these words in context enough that you’ve broken through the wall. I’ll keep going with the hope I’ll get there!

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Use a monolingual dictionary once you get to the right level to do so, and until then don’t worry too much about it, because you’re never going to capture the full nuance of everything in English anyway.

Using a monolingual dictionary is great reading practice and immediately nixes the looks-like-a-synonym-but-is-not-a-synonym problem and the verb-in-one-language-adjective-or-noun-in-the-other problems, as well as just plain giving a better impression of what things actually mean.

For illustration, using a JP→EN dictionary, when comparing 怒る and 叱る:


  • to get mad
  • to get angry
  • to tell someone off
  • to scold


  • to scold
  • to chide
  • to rebuke
  • to reprimand

So it’s clear they’re different, and it gives the impression that 叱る and 怒る are interchangeable in some situations, but it doesn’t tell you when and how.

When using a JP→JP dictionary, however:


  • 不満・不快なことがあって、がまんできない気持ちを表す。腹を立てる。いかる。(To lose ones patience because of feelings of displeasure/discomfort. To take offense. To be angry.)
  • よくない言動を強くとがめる。しかる。(To strongly reprimand bad speech and behaviour. To scold. [note: しかる is 叱る!])


  • 目下の者の言動のよくない点などを指摘して、強くとがめる。(to strongly reproach a subordinate by pointing out the bad points in their speech and behaviour)

And now you have a lot more nuance:

  • you know 叱る is covered by 怒る, but 叱る is a very specific kind of 怒る only applicable in certain situations (i.e. both can be translated as “to scold” but 叱る is specifically a boss scolding a subordinate)
  • you know 怒る also includes scolding in a much broader range of situations
  • you know the feelings and actions 怒る expresses in more detail than just “to be angry”

And what’s more, it no longer matters what grammatical function it would have in English, because you know 怒る as the sentiment it expresses, not as its English translation, and you know it’s a verb, so passive vs active voice simply becomes a matter of switching around who’s on the receiving end of whose feelings.


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