Japanese Grammar

Receiving and Giving: あげる,くれる, and もらう

Giving: あげる

Last time, you learned how the causative form works like どもべんきょうをさせる ([I] will make my child study). In passive and causative sentences, you have to pay attention to people’s positions such as action-takers and direction-givers. In this lesson, you will tackle one of the concepts unique to Japanese: receiving and giving. This is also involved with people’s positions.

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How to Express Giving and Receiving by Using あげる, くれる, and もらう

Table of Contents
あげる, くれる, and もらう as Verbs
…てあげる, …てくれる, and …てもらう as Helping Verbs

First of all, we must say this topic is related to Japanese culture. You have to understand the concept of our social community prior to the grammatical rule. Both あげる and くれる mean “to give” in English, but you have to choose the proper one depending on contexts.

Chart Showing Social Distance

Let’s take a family as an example for a social community. In the chart above, a circle represents a community. You are an independent person and thus you have your own circle. You and your mother are a member of your family and thus you and she share the big circle. In Japanese, you have to change the wording based on the circles. When someone gives something from the inside to the outside, you have to use あげる. That is to say, you use あげる when you (*from your circle) give something to your mother, and when your mother (from your family circle) gives something to Mr. A. What if someone gives something from the outside to the inside? This is where くれる comes into play. You use くれる when Mr. A (*from the outside of your family circle) gives something to your mother, and your mother (from the outside of your own circle) gives something to you. As for between Mr. A and Mr. B, you always use あげる. The wording will matter only when circles you belong to is involved with transactions. Now, let’s move onto the sentence structure.

あげる, くれる, and もらう as Verbs

[わたしは / が] ノートを かあさんに あげる / あげます
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Target Verb
[I] will give my mother a notebook.

Unlike the cultural concept, the grammar is very simple. You just use the particle を and the particle に. Here are more examples.

かあさんはノートをAさんに(あげた / あげました)。
My mother gave Mr. A a notebook.
AさんはノートをBさんに(あげた / あげました)。
Mr. A gave Mr. B a notebook.
Aさんはノートをおかあさんに(くれた / くれました)。
Mr. A gave my mother a notebook.
かあさんはノートをわたしに(くれた / くれました)。
My mother gave me a notebook.

あげる and くれる are used on the premise that recipients will feel happy by means of giving something. Thus, if transactions may not result in any happiness, you cannot use them.

先生せんせい宿しゅくだいをたくさん したくれた
The teacher gave [us] a lot of homework.
[I] handed over my resume.
かあさんは ノートを わたし に / から もらう / もらいます
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Action-Taker / Source Verb
My mother will receive a notebook from me.

This is the counterpart to the example above, but seen from your mother’s point of view. In this context, you use もらう to express “to receive.” The particle should be に to express action-takers because the actual action is “to give” or you can also use から to express sources. When you use もらう, you don’t have to pay attention to the circles.

Aさんはノートをおかあさんに(もらった / もらいました)。
Mr. A received a notebook from my mother.
BさんはノートをAさんから(もらった / もらいました)。
Mr. B received a notebook form Mr. A.
かあさんはノートをAさんから(もらった / もらいました)。
My mother received a notebook from Mr. A.
わたしはノートをおかあさんから(もらった / もらいました)。
I received a notebook from my mother.

…てあげる, …てくれる, and …てもらう as Helping Verbs

Helping verbs alone cannot make a sentence, but you can give various contexts to sentences by combining verbs with helping verbs. The conjugation is simple. You can utilize the te-form and just attach helping verbs.

る => あげる・くれる・もらう
する => し あげる・くれる・もらう
る => あげる・くれる・もらう
う => って あげる・くれる・もらう
む => んで あげる・くれる・もらう

The basic concept remains the same. When you or your community do something for someone, you use …てあげる. When someone does something for you or your community, you use …てくれる. When you see it from the recipient’s point of view, you use …てもらう. All of them should be used on the premise recipients will feel happy. Now, let’s check the structure.

かあさんは がみ [わたしに] いて(くれた / くれました)
Topic / Subject Direct Object [Target] Verb + Helping Verb
My mother wrote a letter [to me].

Comparing the plain expression, おかあさんはがみわたしに(いた / きました), the meanings are the same, but you can express your gratitude by using …てくれる. Thus, if you are happy with the letter given by your mother, you should use …てくれる; otherwise, you may look rude. This is very important. You need to master this if you want to speak natural Japanese.

おとうとほんして(くれた / くれました)。
[My] younger brother lent [me] the book.
先生せんせいわたしって(くれる / くれます)。
The teacher will meet me.
先生せんせいどもめて(くれた / くれました)。
The teacher praised [my] child.
かあさんが宿しゅくだいつだって(くれた / くれました)。
My mother helped [me] with the homework.

Note: you should not use …てあげる to those who are in higher status. This is not very polite. For example, 先生せんせいほんしてあげました sounds condescending. You can use this to those who are in lower status. It is also a good idea to combine this with causative sentences to give permission.

どもにケーキをって(あげた / あげました)。
[I] bought cake to [my] kid.
ども数学すうがくおしえて(あげた / あげました)。
[I] taught [my] child mathematics.
ども公園こうえんあそばせて(あげた / あげました)。
[I] let [my] kid to play in the park.
どもにゲームをさせて(あげた / あげました)。
[I] let [my] kid t to play game.
[わたしは] がみ かあさんに いて(もらった / もらいました)
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Action-Taker Verb + Helping Verb
[I] got my mother to write a letter.
Lit. [I] received the favor of writing a letter from my mother.

This is the counterpart to the example above, but seen from your point of view. This usage cannot properly be translated into English. The structure is similar to causative sentences: がみをおかあさんにかせました, but you can certainly express your gratitude by using …てもらう.

彼女かのじょりょうつくって(もらった / もらいました)。
[I] got [my] girlfriend to make a meal.
いもうとうたって(もらった / もらいました)。
[I] got [my] younger sister to sing [a song].
なかさんに会社かいしゃめて(もらう / もらいます)。
[I] will get Tanaka-san to quit our company.
文法ぶんぽうすずさんにおしえて(もらう / もらいます)。
As for grammar, [I] will get Suzuki-san to teach me [it].

When something is transferred from action-takers, you can replace the particle に with the particle から to express sources. In the above examples, only おしえる is the case. Knowledge will be transferred from Suzuki-san.

なかさん から 会社かいしゃめて(もらう / もらいます)。
文法ぶんぽうすずさん から おしえて(もらう / もらいます)。

Let’s think about the action-taker’s will. You can actually use …てもらう both when someone voluntarily does something for you and you make someone do something for you because the function is just to express your gratitude. For example, if your girlfriend would voluntarily make a meal for you and then your mother asked you “what do you want to eat today?”, you can say, “今日きょう彼女かのじょりょうつくってもらうんだ. In another example, if you fired Tanaka-san due to an avoidable situation and you announced it to other employees, you can say, “なかさんに会社かいしゃめてもらいました.”


  1. You use あげる when you give something to someone from your community.
  2. You use くれる when someone gives something to you from the outside of your community.
  3. You use もらう when you see it from the recipient’s point of view.
  4. あげる and くれる are used on the premise that recipients will feel happy by means of giving something.
  5. …てくれる and …てもらう expresses your gratitude.
  6. …てあげる is not very polite, you may sound rather condescending.

There are a lot of languages in the world, but the ones which have concepts like あげる and くれる are rare. Please try to understand our social culture, which will be helpful when you learn polite speech in detail. Helping verbs may also be difficult; however, you need them to speak natural Japanese. In the next lesson, you will learn more about helping verbs.

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