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Cause to be Passive

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Causative and Passive Verbs

We will now learn the last two major types of verb conjugations: causative and passive forms. While there are many reason to put this in the Essential Grammar section, I have decided to put it as the first lesson of this section because: 1) The essential grammar section was getting really big, 2) Causative and passive forms are not as commonly used as other verb forms. These two verb conjugations are traditionally covered together because of the notorious causative-passive combination. We will now go over what all these things are and how they are used.

Causative Verbs

Verbs conjugated into the causative form are used to indicate an action that someone makes happen. Like Captain Picard so succinctly puts it, the causative verb means to "make it so". This verb is usually used in the context of making somebody do something. The really confusing thing about the causative verb is that it can also mean to let someone do something. Or maybe this is a different type of verb with the exact same conjugation rules. Whichever the case may be, a verb in the causative form can mean either making or letting someone do something. The only good news is that when the causative form is used with 「あげる」 and 「くれる」, it almost always means to "let someone do". Once you get used to it, surprisingly, it becomes quite clear which meaning is being used when.

(1) 全部食べさせた。- Made/Let (someone) eat it all.
(2) 全部食べさせてくれた。- Let (someone) eat it all.

Causative Conjugation Rules
Here are the conjugation rules for the causative form. All causative verbs become ru-verbs.
Sample ru-verbs
Sample u-verbs
PlainCausative ローマ字ローマ字 (Caus.)
させる hanasuhanasaseru
かせる kikukikaseru
がせる oyoguoyogaseru
ばせる asobuasobaseru
たせる matumataseru
ませる nomunomaseru
らせる naorunaoraseru
なせる shinushinaseru
わせる kaukawaseru
Exception Verbs


Here are some examples using the causative verb. Context will usually tell you which is being meant, but for our purposes we will assume that when the verb is used with 「あげる」 and 「くれる」(ください) it means "to let someone do" while it means, "to make someone do" when used without it.

(1) 先生学生宿題たくさんさせた
- Teacher made students do lots of homework.

(2) 先生質問たくさん聞かせてくれた
- Teacher let [someone] ask lots of questions.

(3) 今日仕事休ませてください
- Please let me rest from work today. (Please let me take the day off today.)

(4) その部長は、よく長時間働かせる
- That manager often make [people] work long hours.

When asking for permission to let someone do something, it is more common to use the 「~てもいい」 grammar.

(1) トイレ行かせてくれますか。
- Can you let me go to the bathroom? (Sounds like a prisoner, even in English)

(2) トイレ行っていいですか。
- Is it ok to go to the bathroom? (No problem here)

A Shorter Alternative

There is a shorter version of the causative conjugation, which I will go over for completeness. However, since this version is mostly used in very rough slang, you are free to skip this section until you've had time to get used to the regular form. Also, textbooks usually don't cover this version of the causative verb.

The key difference in this version is that all verbs become an u-verbs with a 「す」 ending. Therefore, the resulting verb would conjugate just like any other u-verb ending in 「す」 such as 「話す」 or 「指す」. The first part of the conjugation is the same as the original causative form. However, for ru-verbs, instead of attaching 「させる」, you attach 「さす」 and for u-verbs, you attach 「す」 instead of 「せる」. As a result, all the verbs become an u-verb ending in 「す」.

Shortened Causative Form


(1) 同じこと何回言わす
- Don't make me say the same thing again and again!

(2) お腹空いているんだから、なんか食べさしてくれよ。
- I'm hungry so let me eat something.

Passive Verbs

Passive verbs are verbs that are done to the (passive) subject. Unlike English style of writing which discourages the use of the passive form, passive verbs in Japanese are often used in essays and articles.
Passive Conjugation Rules
For once, the conjugations rules are same for both ru-verbs and u-verbs. All passive verbs become ru-verbs.

Sample ru-verbs
Sample u-verbs
PlainPassive ローマ字ローマ字 (Pass.)
される hanasuhanasareru
かれる kikukikareru
がれる oyoguoyogareru
ばれる asobuasobareru
たれる matumatareru
まれる nomunomareru
られる naorunaorareru
なれる shinushinareru
われる kaukawareru
Exception Verbs


(1) ポリッジ誰か食べられた
- The porridge was eaten by somebody!

(2) みんなだと言われます
- I am told by everybody that [I'm] strange.

(3) 速さ超えるのは、不可能だと思われる
- Exceeding the speed of light is thought to be impossible.

(4) この教科書多く読まれている
- This textbook is being read by a large number of people.

(5) 外国人質問聞かれたが、答えられなかった
- I was asked a question by a foreigner but I couldn't answer.

(6) このパッケージには、あらゆるものが含まれている
- Everything is included in this package.

Using passive form to show politeness

While we will go over various types of grammar that express a politeness level above the normal -masu/-desu forms in the next lesson, it is useful to know that using passive form is another more polite way to express an action. In Japanese, a sentence is usually more polite when it is less direct. For example, it is more polite to refer to someone by his or her name and not by the direct pronoun "you". It is also more polite to ask a negative question than a positive one. (For example, 「しますか?」 vs. 「 しませんか?」) In a similar sense, using the passive form makes the sentence less direct because the subject does not directly perform the action. This makes it sound more polite. Here is the same sentence in increasing degrees of politeness.

(1) どうする?- What will you do? (lit: How do?)
(2) どうします? - Regular polite.
(3) どうされます?- Passive polite.
(4) どうなさいます?- Honorific (to be covered next lesson)
(5) どうなさいますでしょうか?- Honorific + a lesser degree of certainty.
Notice how the same sentence grows longer and longer as you get more and more indirect.


(1) レシートどうされますか?
- What about your receipt? (lit: How will you do receipt?)

(2) 明日会議行かれるんですか?
- Are you going to tomorrow's meeting?

Causative-Passive Forms

The causative-passive form is simply the combination of causative and passive conjugations to mean that the action of making someone do something was done to that person. This would effectively translate into, "[someone] is made to do [something]". The important thing to remember is the order of conjugation. The verb is first conjugated to the causative and then passive, never the other way around.
Causative-Passive Conjugation Form


(1) 朝ご飯食べたくなかったのに、食べさせられた
- Despite not wanting to eat breakfast, I was made to eat it.

(2) 日本では、お酒飲ませられること多い
- In Japan, the event of being made to drink is numerous.

(3) あいつ二時間待たせられた
- I was made to wait 2 hours by that guy.

(4) 毎日宿題させられる
- I am made to do homework everyday by my parent(s).

A Shorter Alternative

Going along with the shorter causative alternative, you can also use the same conjugation for the causative-passive form. I won't cover it in too much detail because the usefulness of this form is rather limited just like the shorter causative form itself. The idea is to simply used the shortened causative form instead of using the regular causative conjugation. The rest is the same as before.
Shortened causative-passive form examples
This form cannot be used in cases where the shorter causative form ends in 「さす」, in other words, you can't have a 「さされる」 ending.
Verbs that cannot be used in this form


(1) 学生廊下立たされた
- The student was made to stand in the hall.

(2) 日本では、お酒飲まされること多い
- In Japan, the event of being made to drink is numerous.

(3) あいつ二時間待たされた
- I was made to wait 2 hours by that guy.

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This page has last been revised on 2006/1/28
Minor typos and conjugation example (食べさせられる) fixed (2005/3/31)
Added shorter causative alternative for completeness (2006/1/28)