The Passive Form: Japanese Verbs and 〜られる :Are you ready to start speaking real Japanese? The key to sounding like a native Japanese person is mastering the passive form. Today, we’re going to learn the ins and outs of creating passive sentences by adding られる (rareru) to the end of verbs. Let’s get crackin’!

The Passive Form: Japanese Verbs and 〜られる

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Japanese Verb Review

Before we begin with the passive form, let’s review some common Japanese verbs and their English meanings. Japanese has three different verbs: u-verbs, ru-verbs, and irregular verbs.

U-verbs are verbs that end in an “u” (as in “oo”) sound.



JapaneseRomaji English
盗むnusumuto steal
笑うwarauto laugh

Ru-verbs are verbs that end in the hiragana character る (ru).


JapaneseRomaji English
食べるtaberuto eat
振るfuruto reject (someone)

The two irregular verbs are “to do” and “to come.”



JapaneseRomaji English
するsuruto do
来るkuruto come

Now that we’ve reviewed some common Japanese verbs, let’s make a few sentences below!

Dorobou wa kaban wo nusumimashita.
The thief stole the bag.
Owarai wa joudan wo itte, watashi wa waraimashita.
The comedian told a joke, and I laughed.

What Is the Passive Form?

In English, there are two types of sentences: active and passive. Active sentences are the most common and look something like this:

-My dad ate a cake.

Passive sentences are less common and look something like this:

-A cake was eaten by my dad.

See how strange the above one sounds? The passive form is generally frowned upon in English speech and composition. Academia and publications recommend limiting it to only 10% of output.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why so many native English speakers fail to really master Japanese! It’s because they either ignore the passive form entirely or use it only sparingly in favor of the active form. 


Why Do Japanese People Prefer the Passive Form?

One distinctive difference between English and Japanese is the use of subjects. In English, a subject is crucial to a coherent sentence; whereas in Japanese the subject is usually omitted if it’s clear from the context. Take the sentence from earlier for example:

-My dad ate a cake.

The subject is “my dad,” which is essential information in an English sentence, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. However, in Japanese, as long as it’s inferred through context that you’re talking about your dad, you can just say, “ケーキを食べた” (keeki wo tabeta, ate a cake).

Why do Japanese people like to omit the subject? The answer to this is debatable, but if you ask me, I think it’s due to the strict hierarchy of Japanese culture. Have you ever been confused as to what you call yourself in Japanese? Watashi, boku, ore…? How about what to call the person you’re talking to? Anata, kimi, omae, Takahashi-san…? The Japanese worry about this too; therefore, rather than risk calling themselves or someone else by the wrong name, they just skip it altogether and rely on context! 

How to Conjugate Verbs into the Passive Form

Conjugating verbs into the passive form depends on the type of verb

With u-verbs, you take the final hiragana character (ending in an “u” sound) and change it to the hiragana character that ends in an “a” sound. After that, you add れる (reru).

The exception to this rule is if the verb ends in う (u). In this case, you do NOT change it to あ (a), you change it to わ (wa). (See 笑う [warau] in the table below.)  


JapaneseRomaji English
  ➝ 笑わ  ➝ 笑われるwarau  ➝ warawa  ➝ warawareruto laugh  ➝ to be laughed
  ➝ 書か  ➝ 書かれるkaku  ➝ kaka  ➝ kakareruto write  ➝ to be written
  ➝ 泳が  ➝ 泳がれるoyogu  ➝ oyoga  ➝ oyogareruto swim  ➝ to be swum
  ➝ 待た  ➝ 待たれるmatsu  ➝ mata  ➝ matareruto wait  ➝ to be waited
  ➝ 遊ば  ➝ 遊ばれるasobu  ➝ asoba  ➝ asobareruto play  ➝ to be played
  ➝ 盗ま  ➝ 盗まれるnusumu  ➝ nusuma  ➝ nusumareruto steal  ➝ to be stolen 

With ru-verbs, you take the final hiragana character る (ru) and replace it with ら (ra). After that, you add れる.


JapaneseRomaji English
食べ  ➝ 食べら  ➝ 食べられるtaberu  ➝ tabera  ➝ taberareruto eat  ➝ to be eaten
  ➝ 振ら  ➝ 振られるfuru  ➝ fura  ➝ furareruto reject  ➝ to be rejected

The irregular verbs are as follows.



JapaneseRomaji English
する  ➝ されるsuru  ➝ sareruto do  ➝ to be done
来る  ➝ 来られるkuru  ➝ korareruto come  ➝ to be come 

Now, Let’s see the Passive Form in Action!

Here are some example sentences that utilize the passive form. The particle that marks the subject (i.e. the person or thing being acted upon) is either は (wa) or が (ga). The particle that marks the person or thing performing the action is に (ni) or から (kara). If it is a transitive verb (i.e. a verb that requires a direct object), the particle を (wo) marks the direct object.

Owarai wa kankyaku ni warawaremashita.
The audience laughed at the comedian.
(Lit. “The comedian was laughed at by the audience.”)
Watashi wa saifu ga dorobou ni nusumareta.
A thief stole my wallet.
(Lit. “My wallet was stolen by a thief.”)
Chichi ni keeki wo taberareta.
My dad at a cake.
(Lit. “The cake was eaten by my dad.”)
Ore wa kanojo ni furareta.
My girlfriend dumped me.
(Lit. “I was dumped by my girlfriend.”)
Sensei wa gakusei ni shitsumon saremashita.
The student asked the teacher a question.
(Lit. “The teacher was asked a question by the student.”)

In Summary

While the passive form may be frowned upon in English, the Japanese use it very often. Learning and using the passive form is one of the best strategies of learning to speak more like the Japanese do.

Conjugating verbs into the passive form depends on the type of verb. With u-verbs you change the final hiragana character (ending in a “u” sound) to one that ends in an “a” sound. Next, you add れる. The exception to this rule are verbs that end in う. With those, you change the う into a わ. With ru-verbs, you change the final hiragana character to ら and then add れる. Finally, the irregular verb する becomes される, and 来る becomes 来られる (korareru).

Now that you’re more familiar with the passive form, it’s time to get out there and practice! Step out of your comfort zone this 2020 and give this grammar point a shot!

Practice, practice, practice!

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