The passive form, with the suffix られる on verbs, deemphasizes the actor and emphasizes the person or object receiving the action. It is often used to obscure the actor or to indicate a negative nuance.
Mouse over or tap any kanji to see the furigana!
Introduction to Japanese Passive ～られる
The passive form is called 受身形 in Japanese.
Normally, the topic or subject of the sentence is the person or thing that does an action.
My mother scolded me.
But if you make the receiver the topic or subject, you would use the passive form.
I was scolded by my mother.
In the first sentence, "mother" is emphasized, but in the passive second sentence, "mother" isn't as important. In fact, in the English or Japanese we could drop "mother" if you don't want to say who did the scolding: I was scolded.
- In English, we use "was" (or the suitable tense of "to be") when constructing the passive.
- In Japanese, you change the ending of the verb.
- In Japanese, to make the passive form, all verbs (except the two irregular verbs) have either the suffix ～られる or ～(a)れる. (We'll get to this in a moment.)
Let's see how the above example would be in Japanese. The verb "to scold" is 叱る.
The passive form of 叱る is 叱られる. (We'll look at the conjugation more closely in a minute).
My mother scolded me.
Notice in the above non-passive sentence, the topic is the mother, the one doing the scolding, and the receiver of the scolding is marked with を.
Now, let's use the passive form (remove the る and add られる):
I was scolded by my mother.
In the passive sentence, the topic is the one receiving the scolding, and the one doing the scolding is marked with に.
Receiving the action は + Doing the action に + Verbられる = Passive
Passive Verb Conjugation
If you've studied Japanese verbs, you know there are three types. 五段動詞 Godan Group 1 -u verbs is the hardest just because you have to make a change before adding れる.
It would be good to spend a few minutes studying the rules, but you'll learn these best as you learn example sentences. We'll go through several in this lesson and Makoto+ members can download an Anki deck and PDF with many more examples to practice. If you are a member, please click here.
Godan Group 1 (-u verb / 五段動詞)
Change the final "u" sound to an "a" sound and add れる
(Don't worry, we'll go over this more in a moment.)
書く (to write) → 書かれる
kaku -> kak -> kakareru
Ichidan Group 2 (-ru verb / 一段動詞)
Remove the final る and add られる
食べる(to eat) →食べられる
taberu -> tabe -> taberareru
Irregular verbs する (to do) and 来る (to come)
You just have to memorize these, but there are only two!
する (to do) →される
来る (to come) →来られる*
* Note, the "ku" changes to "ko"
A Closer Look at Godan Group 1 verbs
As you can see from above, Godan Group 1 verbs have to change the final "u" sound to an "a" sound.
To internalize this better, let's look at a few examples:
書く (to write) the final "ku" sound becomes "ka": 書かれる
死ぬ (to die) - The final "nu" sound becomes "na": 死なれる
学ぶ (to learn) - The final "bu" sound becomes "ba": 学ばれる
立つ (to stand) - The final "tsu" sound becomes "ta" (Remember from your hiragana studies, "tsu" is in the "T" column): 立たれる
It's pretty easy once you get used to it, but there is one tricky part.
If it ends in a vowel あ・い・う・え・お, it changes to わ wa.
会う (to meet) is not "aareru" but 会われる.
言う (to say) is not "iareru" but 言われる.
Other than that, just remember to change the final vowel sound to an "a" and you are set.
So, just to review the conjugations:
- Godan Group 1 verbs: Change the final "u" to "a" or if it ends in a vowel change to わ. Then add れる.
- Ichidan Group 1 verbs: Remove the final る and add られる
- Irregular verbs: する becomes される and 来る becomes 来られる
Practice with Passive Verbs
Let's practice. Think of the passive form and then click or tap the "Answer" toggle to see the answer:
(to eat - Ichidan Group 2)
(to laugh - Godan Group 1)
(to ask; to hear - Godan Group 1)
(to speak - Godan Group 1)
(to do - irregular)
Now, let's really internalize what we've learned. Read the first non-passive sentence and construct the passive form.
Try these below. Toggle the "Answer" to see the answer.
Don't worry if you get it wrong. The point is to begin to get used to the sounds. Read out loud each sentence several times while paying attention to the verb changes.
The dog ate the cookie.
Turn to passive: クッキーは、???? (The cookie was eaten by the dog.)
The cookie was eaten by the dog.
The students laughed at the teacher.
Turn to passive: 先生は、????
The teacher was laughed at by the students.
The thief stole his wallet.
Turn to passive: 彼は、????
He had his wallet stolen by the thief.
The old woman asked me for directions.
Turn to passive: 私は、????
I was asked the way by the old woman.
If you want more practice, please consider becoming a Makoto+ member today and you can instantly download an Anki deck and PDF with many more sentence examples. If you are a member, please click here to download. If you are not yet a member, please click here to learn more.
Other ～られる usages
While out of the scope of this article, one more tricky part is the ～られる can also indicate the potential (able to do) form. For example, 食べられる can be the passive (was eaten) or the potential (can eat). Because of this confusion, dropping the ら is common when using the potential form. Many people say 食べれる for "able to eat," for example.
There is also overlap with polite 敬語 language. But the context usually makes it clear what you mean.
によって can replace に when describing something created, imagined, invented, or written. It can sound more formal, but it is used in both written and spoken Japanese.
Botchan was written by Natsume Soseki
The record was invented by Edison.