Japanese Grammar

Japanese Passive Form with the particle に, から and によって

Passive Form: される

Last time, you learned how to express potential like “ほんはなせる (I can speak Japanese)” and “かんくことができる (I can write kanji).” In Japanese, you can express various things by conjugating verbs. Here, you will learn another form: the Japanese passive form.

Explanation for How Japanese Passive Form Works

Table of Contents
Conjugation Rule
Basic Sentence Pattern
Indirect Passive Sentences

People may not encourage you to use passive sentences in English. By contrast, it plays an important role in Japanese. You can see it in a lot of situations. The frequency is one of the major differences between English and Japanese.

Conjugation Rule

Ru-verb: To Replace ru with rareru

  Plain Passive
To see, look, watch 見る (miru) られる (mirareru)
To wear 着る (kiru) られる (kirareru)
To eat 食べる (taberu) 食べられる (taberareru)
To answer 答える (kotaeru) 答えられる (kotaerareru)

U-verbs: To Replace u with areru

  Plain Passive
To write 書く (kaku) かれる (kakareru)
To speak 話す (hanasu) される (hanasareru)
To stand 立つ (tatu *tu = tsu) たれる (tatareru)
To drink 飲む (nomu) まれる (nomareru)

Two Exceptions

  Plain Passive
To do する (suru) される  (sareru)
To come 来る (kuru) 来られる (korareru)

You may have noticed that the passive form of ru-verbs and 来る are exactly the same as the potential form. It is said that that’s why people omit ら when they use the potential form in order to distinguish the two forms. That is to say, you cannot omit ら from the passive form. If you would like to use the potential and the passive form at the same time, you have to utilize another form: …ことができる. For example, if you say “I could be praised” in Japanese, you can say “められることができた.”

Basic Sentence Pattern

なかさんは ボブに 質問しつもん した / しました
Topic / Subject Target Direct Object Verb
Tanaka-san asked Bob a question.
ボブは なかさんに 質問しつもん された / されました
Topic / Subject Doer Direct Object Verb: Passive Form
Bob was asked a question by Tanaka-san.

The first example is written from the Tanaka-san’s point of view while the second one is written from the Bob’s point of view. The structures are similar, but the function of the particle に has changed from “targets” to “doers.”

とうさんにたたかれ(た / ました)。
[I] was slapped by [my] farther.
LinkedInリンクトインMicrosoftマイクロソフトわれ(た / ました)。
LinkedIn was bought by Microsoft.
かあさんにめられ(た / ました)。
[I] was praised by [my] mother.
かれにプロポーズされ(た / ました)。
[I] was proposed by [my] boyfriend.

When verbs don’t indicate physical contact, the particle に can be replaced with the particle から. Here, it is applicable with the third and the fourth example.

とうさん から 叩かれ(た / ました)。
LinkedInがMicrosoft から われ(た / ました)。
かあさん から められ(た / ました)。
かれ から プロポーズされ(た / ました)。
わたしは / が テストのけっ 先生せんせい められ(た / ました)
Topic / Subject Direct Object Doer Verb: Passive Form
I was praised for the result of the test by the teacher.

This is another basic sentence pattern in passive sentences. Verbs sometimes indicate particular things, e.g. I was praised vs. I was praised for my courage. In such cases, you can utilize the particle を.

わたしはやるおこられ(た / ました)。
I was scolded for [my] motivation.
わたしかたをおとうさんにたたかれ(た / ました)。
I was slapped on my shoulder by [my] father.

Advanced Topic: Proper Particles

In cases where the particle に may cause confusion, you have to substitute other words for it. There are two options: から and によって. When the verb requires a recipient, you need to use から because using the same particle multiple times won’t make sense to listeners.

はなちち から ははわたされ(た / ました)。
Flowers were given from [my] father to [my] mother.
ルールが先生せんせい から せい説明せつめいされ(た / ました)。
The rule was explained from the teacher to the students.

When the verb implies to create something for someone, you have to use によって to express doers because に can indicate “targets.”

このうた秋元あきもとさんによって かれ(た / ました)。
This song was written by Akimoto-san.
この椅子いすはおばあちゃん によって つくられ(た / ました)。
This chair was made by [my] grandmother.

If you use the particle に, it may mean like this;

This song was written for Akimoto-san.
This chair was made for [my] grandmother.

Indirect Passive Sentences

よる あかちゃんが いた / きました
Specific Time Subject Verb
The baby cried at night.
よる [わたしは] あかちゃんに かれ (た / ました)
Specific Time [Topic / Subject] Doer Verb: Passive Form
[I] was (disturbed) by the baby who cried at night.

From the baby’s point of view, the verb: “く to cry” is intransitive and an independent action. However, from your point of view, you were greatly affected by his/her crying. This is the case where the meaning of the active sentence will differ from the passive sentence. Actions indirectly affect someone. That’s why we call it “indirect passive sentences.” Be careful; this grammar generally denotes a negative connotation. *Speaker’s feelings may not be expressly mentioned, so you may need to guess based on context. The verbs in parenthesis are our assumptions.

ほんをとてもはやはなされ(た / ました)。
[I] was (shocked) by [him/her who] spoke Japanese very fast.
レッスンでせいられ(た / ました)。
[I] was (disappointed) by the student who took a nap in the lesson.

Intransitive Verbs VS. the Passive Form of Transitive Verbs

コップが(れた / れました)。
The cup [naturally] broke.
コップが(られた / られました)。
The cup was broken [by someone].

They express very similar things. However, when you use passive sentences, you indicate the presence of doers. As you learned here, intransitive verbs don’t have the passive form unless they indirectly and badly affect someone.

When Should Passive Sentences Be Used?

When Speakers Are Recipients of Actions
らないひとわたしみちを(いた / きました)。
=> Unnatural!
わたしらないひとみちを(かれた / かれました)。
I was asked the way by a stranger.

In Japanese, sentences sound natural when speakers are subjects. In this case, unless you really want to emphasize the stranger, you should use the passive sentences.

When You Use Compound Sentences
みんなが彼女かのじょあいして、彼女かのじょしあわせ(だった / でした)
=> Unnatural!
彼女かのじょはみんなにあいされて、しあわせ(だった / でした)。
She was loved by everyone and happy.

You will learn how to make compound sentences in other lessons. For now, please focus on the concept. In Japanese, subjects in main and subordinate clauses should be the same.


  1. The conjugation of ru-verbs and 来る is the same as the potential form.
  2. Doers can be expressed by に, から, and によって.
  3. Intransitive verbs can be the passive form if it badly affects someone.

As we mentioned, passive sentences are very important in Japanese. People encourage you to use it in writing unlike English because indirect expressions are often preferred in our culture. Please try to understand the usages without doubt here. Next, you will learn a related form: Japanese causative form.

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