Some of you may have noticed I recycled content from my personal blog for my last post. For the 2, 3 people that actually read my blog, I offer my apologies as I’ve been busy with real life which sucks as usual. As reprieve, I’m actually going to write about a breaking insight into Japanese. You heard it here first.
There is no such thing as a suffering passive
You may have heard about a “suffering passive” from various textbooks or teachers. In fact, here’s an explanation right here.
Essentially, the concept is that when a passive verb is used, it can sometimes indicate that somebody has suffered from that action. The first two questions that should come to mind is, “What makes it suffering?” and “How can you tell?” The only explanation I’ve seen so far is, “it just is” and “guess”. In other words, no explanation whatsoever. But don’t worry, everything will be cleared up after reading this post.
The suffering passive is essentially a fabricated concept designed for non-native speakers so I won’t go into too many details. Ask any Japanese person with no experience in teaching Japanese and he/she will have no idea what you’re talking about. To put it quite simply, there’s nothing in the language that indicates somebody is suffering from a passive verb. The suffering is only suggested from the inherent properties of the passive form.
Let’s take a very simple sentence.
いいと言った。- Said, “good”.
Now let’s change it into the passive. (reference)
いいと言われた。- Was told, “good”.
The only difference between the two sentences is that the first performed an action (somebody said something) while in the second, the action was performed on someone (was told by somebody).
Now let’s look at the following sentence.
ケーキを全部食べられた。- All the cake was eaten.
Since the verb is passive, the action of eating all the cake was performed on somebody. Let’s say that somebody is myself. Then the sentence means that somebody ate all the cake and that action was done to me. If you think of it the right way, it makes perfect sense.
The Japanese word for “passive”, 「受身」 using the characters for “receive” and “body” expresses what the passive is in Japanese much more accurately. People are doing things to you and you have no choice but to take it like a bitch. The passive indicates that the action was not done by the subject but done unto the subject. In other words, the subject had no control or input on the action.
It is this property of the passive form that can create the sense of “suffering”. However, whether the subject is suffering or not depends entirely on the context. Am I suffering because all the cake was eaten by somebody without my say? Sure, probably… but then maybe not. There is nothing in the language that says. The only thing we know for sure is that the action of eating the cake was done by others, unto me, outside of my control.
Again, think in Japanese, and things seem much simpler and clearer.