How to Make and Use Japanese Passive Form

  • May 1, 2020 / Lily Cernak

Japanese Passive Form is a set of conjugation patterns used to say “[action] is done to [object],” rather than “to do [action] to [object].” For instance, changing the verb 食べる taberu (to eat) to Passive Form would change the meaning of the verb to “to be eaten.” If you are studying for the JLPT N4 exam, Passive Form is an important grammar pattern to learn about!

This article will discuss how to make Passive Form, and how to use it.

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How to Make Passive Form

As is true of most conjugation patterns, both Plain Form and Polite Form verbs can be conjugated to be passive. For our conjugation examples, we will be using Plain Form verbs so that it is easier to see the conjugation patterns.

(Plain Form is sometimes also called Dictionary Form or Casual Form. To learn about Plain Form verbs, click here).

1.If your verb is a Ru Verb*,

remove the final る ru and replace it with られる rareru.

食べる食べられる (TaberuTaberareru)

 

2. If your verb is a U Verb*,

you must change the final vowel of the verb, and then add れる reru.

Because Japanese has a syllable-based writing system, changing the final vowel means you must change the entire final syllable of the verb.

STEPS:

  1. To determine which syllable you will change it to, first check your verb to see what consonant its final syllable begins with.
  2. Find that consonant row on a hiragana chart, and slide along the row until you intersect with the “a” column.

For example, to conjugate the verb “kesu” (to erase/turn off) to Passive Form, slide along the “s” row until you get to the “a” column. There you will find “sa.” Replace the “su” with “sa,” and add “reru”:

消す消される (KesuKesareru)


Notes:

1. Be careful of verbs ending with “tsu,” and verbs ending with just a vowel (“u”). The “t” row of the hiragana chart goes “ta chi tsu te to,” with two irregular sounds (“chi” and “tsu”); and so verbs ending with “tsu” will end with “tareru” in Passive Form. For example:

打つ 打たれる (UtsuUtareru)

2. Verbs ending with just the vowel “u” will end with “wareru” in Passive Form. For example:

笑う笑われる (WarauWarawareru)

 

Japanese’s two common irregular verbs する suru (to do) and 来る kuru (to come) conjugate as follows:

するされる (SuruSareru)

来る来られる (KuruKorareru)

*If you are not sure what a Ru Verb is or would like to review, you can read about Ru Verbs vs. U Verbs in our article about verb stems here.


Good News!

Any verb, once conjugated into Passive Form, is a Ru Verb! So, conjugating it further is quite simple. Simply remove the final る ru and add any other conjugation pattern ending (including ます masu): 

消される kesare ru (to be erased, Plain Form)

消されません kesare masen (won’t be erased, Polite Form)

消されない kesare nai (won’t be erased, Plain Form)

消されている kesare te iru (is being erased, Plain Form)


And so on!

 

How to Use Passive Verbs

When using a Passive Form verb, some particles in your sentence will be different than in a non-Passive Form sentence. 

In a non-Passive Form sentence, a person who does an action is often followed by the particle は wa or the particle が ga

アミーゴさんはカワさんを見ました。
Amigo san wa Kawa san o mi mashita.
Amigo-san saw Kawa-san.


If we rephrase the sentence to use a passive voice and say “Amigo-san was seen by Kawa-san,” the new sentence will use the Passive Form of 見る miru and Kawa-san will be followed by the particle に ni instead. The particle に ni has many, many uses in Japanese and is translated many different ways depending on how it is being used; in this case you can think of it as “by.”

アミーゴさんはカワさんに見られました。
Amigo-san wa Kawa san ni mirare mashita.
Amigo was seen by Kawa-san.


In long sentences, it can be confusing which actions were done by or to which people. In a passive sentence, the easiest way to get to the bottom of things is to remember: 

In any passive sentence, the person an action is done by will be followed by に ni

That being said, many passive sentences have no people in them. This is the case in the two sentences below.

 

In passive sentences, objects can be marked with either を o, as they would in a non-passive sentence, or が ga.

黒板を消されました。
Kokuban o kesare mashita.
The blackboard was erased. 

黒板が消されました。
Kokuban ga kesare mashita.
The blackboard was erased.


The first option, using を o, has a nuance that the blackboard was erased by someone, and it affected me/someone (as a side note, many — although certainly not all — passive sentences have somewhat of a negative tone). Perhaps I/someone had written something important there, and it was erased. I could also be more specific, and say: 

カワさんはアミーゴさんに黒板を消されました。
Kawa san wa Amigo san ni kokuban o kesare mashita.
As for Kawa-san, the blackboard was erased by Amigo-san.

 


The second option, using が ga, might sound comparatively more descriptive. Remember that が ga tends to be used in descriptive sentences, whereas をo tends to be used when an action is being done to someone or something. So, if you are simply stating that the blackboard was erased and don’t feel any particular way about it, you may want to use が ga. That being said, you can still use が ga instead of を o in a sentence where something was done and it affected you. How the sentence would be interpreted/translated will depend on context. We could also expand the が ga option further and say: 

カワさんはアミーゴさんに黒板が消されました。
Kawa san wa Amigo san ni kokuban ga kesare mashita.
As for Kawa-san, the blackboard was erased by Amigo-san.


There are quite a number of sentence structures and particle arrangements that can be used with passive sentences, and we unfortunately don’t have space to go through more of them here. However, you can use the above examples as a general guide. When in doubt, remember that it is often perfectly ok to omit some or all pronouns and proper nouns (which will often make your sentence shorter and easier to construct), and that you can always break a thought up into several shorter sentences for clarity.

 

Verbs That Aren’t Usually Passive in English

Passive Form can be applied more broadly in Japanese than in English. 

So, in Japanese, you may encounter passive sentences that seem quite odd when translated! 

Some examples include: 

カワさんは妹に泣かれました。
Kawa san wa imouto ni nakare mashita.
Kawa san was cried [upon] by their little sister.

カワさんはお母さんに怒られました。
Kawa san wa okaa san ni okorare mashita.
Kawa san was angered [at] by their mother.

 


As mentioned above, passive sentences can have a negative nuance, so you may or may not want to use a Passive Form verb depending on the situation (for example, if Kawa-san was cried upon by their little sister but was used to caring for her and was not perturbed, you might not want to use Passive Form). In the case of these two sentences we suppose the implication is somewhat negative either way (since the verbs are “to cry” and “to be angry”!), but just as an example they could be rephrased as

カワさんは妹が泣きました。
Kawa san wa imouto ga naki mashita.
As for Kawa-san, their little sister cried.

カワさんはお母さんが怒りました。
Kawa san wa okaa san ga okori mashita.
As for Kawa-san, their mother got angry.

Watch Out: Passive Form and Potential Form!

One final note of caution: The Passive Form and Potential Form of Ru Verbs and of the irregular verb 来る kuru are identical! 

食べられる taberareru (for example) can be “to be eaten” (Passive) or “to be able to eat” (Potential), and 持って来られる motte korareru* can be “to be brought” or “to be able to bring.” 

*We are using 持って来られる motte korareru as our example rather than simply 来られる korareru because the Passive Form of 来る kuru, when not combined as an auxiliary verb, does not translate well to English. 

That is all on Passive Form for now! This is one of the more confusing conjugation patterns in our opinion, so if you have questions, please do not hesitate to comment below. We are a small operation and so are sometimes slow in replying, but we do see and appreciate every comment 🙂

 

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