LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Causative and Passive Verbs

Posted by Tae Kim

We will now learn the last two major types of verb conjugations: causative and passive 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

Vocabulary

  1. あげる (ru-verb) - to give; to raise
  2. くれる (ru-verb) - to give
  3. 全部 【ぜん・ぶ】 - everything
  4. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  5. 着る 【き・る】 (ru-verb) - to wear
  6. 信じる 【しん・じる】 (ru-verb) - to believe
  7. 寝る 【ね・る】 (ru-verb) - to sleep
  8. 起きる 【お・きる】 (ru-verb) - to wake; to occur
  9. 出る 【で・る】 (ru-verb) - to come out
  10. 掛ける 【か・ける】 (ru-verb) - to hang
  11. 捨てる 【す・てる】 (ru-verb) - to throw away
  12. 調べる 【しら・べる】 (ru-verb) - to investigate
  13. 話す 【はな・す】 (u-verb) - to speak
  14. 聞く 【き・く】 (u-verb) - to ask; to listen
  15. 泳ぐ 【およ・ぐ】 (u-verb) - to swim
  16. 遊ぶ 【あそ・ぶ】 (u-verb) - to play
  17. 待つ 【ま・つ】 (u-verb) - to wait
  18. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) - to drink
  19. 直る 【なお・る】 (u-verb) - to be fixed
  20. 死ぬ 【し・ぬ】 (u-verb) - to die
  21. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) - to buy
  22. する (exception) - to do
  23. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) - to come
  24. 先生 【せん・せい】 - teacher
  25. 学生 【がく・せい】 - student
  26. 宿題 【しゅく・だい】 - homework
  27. たくさん - a lot (amount)
  28. 質問 【しつ・もん】 - question
  29. 今日 【きょう】 - today
  30. 仕事 【し・ごと】 - job
  31. 休む 【やす・む】 (u-verb) - to rest
  32. その - abbreviation of 「それの」
  33. 部長 【ぶ・ちょう】 - section manager
  34. いい (i-adj) - good
  35. 長時間 【ちょう・じ・かん】 - long period of time
  36. 働く 【はたら・く】 (u-verb) - to work
  37. トイレ - bathroom; toilet
  38. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go

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.
  • For ru-verbs: Replace the last 「る」 with 「させる」.
  • For u-verbs: Change the last character as you would for negative verbs but attach 「せる」 instead of 「ない」.
  • Exception Verbs:
    1. する」 becomes 「させる
    2. くる」 becomes 「こさせる」.
Sample ru-verbs
Plain Causative
食べ 食べさせる
させる
信じ 信じさせる
させる
起き 起きさせる
させる
掛け 掛けさせる
捨て 捨てさせる
調べ 調べさせる
    
Sample u-verbs
Plain Causative
させる
かせる
がせる
ばせる
たせる
ませる
らせる
なせる
わせる
    
Exception Verbs
Positive Causative
する させる
くる こさせる

Examples

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 makes (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

Vocabulary

  1. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  2. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  3. する (exception) - to do
  4. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) - to come
  5. 同じ 【おな・じ】 - same
  6. こと - event, matter
  7. 何回 【なん・かい】 - how many times
  8. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  9. お腹 【お・なか】 - stomach
  10. 空く 【あ・く】 (u-verb) - to become empty
  11. 何 【なに/なん】 - what
  12. くれる (ru-verb) - to give

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
  • This form is rarely used so you may just want to stick with the more traditional version of the causative form.
    • For ru-verbs: Replace the last 「る」 with 「さす」.
      Example
      食べ食べさす
    • For u-verbs: Change the last character as you would for negative verbs but attach 「す」 instead of 「ない」.
      Example
      行か
    • Exception Verbs:
      1. する」 becomes 「さす
      2. くる」 becomes 「こさす

Examples

  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

Vocabulary

  1. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  2. 着る 【き・る】 (ru-verb) - to wear
  3. 信じる 【しん・じる】 (ru-verb) - to believe
  4. 寝る 【ね・る】 (ru-verb) - to sleep
  5. 起きる 【お・きる】 (ru-verb) - to wake; to occur
  6. 出る 【で・る】 (ru-verb) - to come out
  7. 掛ける 【か・ける】 (ru-verb) - to hang
  8. 捨てる 【す・てる】 (ru-verb) - to throw away
  9. 調べる 【しら・べる】 (ru-verb) - to investigate
  10. 話す 【はな・す】 (u-verb) - to speak
  11. 聞く 【き・く】 (u-verb) - to ask; to listen
  12. 泳ぐ 【およ・ぐ】 (u-verb) - to swim
  13. 遊ぶ 【あそ・ぶ】 (u-verb) - to play
  14. 待つ 【ま・つ】 (u-verb) - to wait
  15. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) - to drink
  16. 直る 【なお・る】 (u-verb) - to be fixed
  17. 死ぬ 【し・ぬ】 (u-verb) - to die
  18. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) - to buy
  19. する (exception) - to do
  20. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) - to come
  21. ポリッジ - porridge
  22. 誰 【だれ】 - who
  23. 皆 【みんな】 - everybody
  24. 変 【へん】 (na-adj) - strange
  25. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  26. 光 【ひかり】 - light
  27. 速い 【はや・い】 (i-adj) - fast
  28. 超える 【こ・える】 (ru-verb) - to exceed
  29. 不可能 【ふ・か・のう】 - impossible
  30. 思う 【おも・う】 (u-verb) - to think
  31. この - this (abbr. of これの)
  32. 教科書 【きょう・か・しょ】 - textbook
  33. 多い 【おお・い】 (i-adj) - numerous
  34. 人 【ひと】 - person
  35. 読む 【よ・む】 (u-verb) - to read
  36. 外国人 【がい・こく・じん】 - foreigner
  37. 質問 【しつ・もん】 - question
  38. 答える 【こた・える】 (ru-verb) - to answer
  39. パッケージ - package
  40. あらゆる - all
  41. 含む 【ふく・む】 (u-verb) - to include

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
All passive verbs become ru-verbs.
  • For ru-verbs: Replace the last 「る」 with 「られる」
  • For u-verbs: Change the last character as you would for negative verbs but attach 「れる」 instead of 「ない」.
  • Exception Verbs:
    1. する」 becomes 「される
    2. くる」 becomes 「こられる

Sample ru-verbs
Plain Passive
食べ 食べられる
られる
信じ 信じられる
られる
起き 起きられる
られる
掛け 掛けられる
捨て 捨てられる
調べ 調べられる
    
Sample u-verbs
Plain Passive
される
かれる
がれる
ばれる
たれる
まれる
られる
なれる
われる
    
Exception Verbs
Positive Passive
する される
くる こられる

Examples

  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

Vocabulary

  1. どう - how
  2. する (exception) - to do
  3. 領収証 【りょう・しゅう・しょう】 - receipt
  4. 明日 【あした】 - tomorrow
  5. 会議 【かい・ぎ】 - meeting
  6. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go

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.

Examples

  1. 領収証どうされますか?
    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

Vocabulary

  1. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  2. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  3. 朝ご飯 【あさ・ご・はん】 - breakfast
  4. 日本 【に・ほん】 - Japan
  5. お酒 【お・さけ】 - alcohol
  6. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) - to drink
  7. こと - event, matter
  8. 多い 【おお・い】 (i-adj) - numerous
  9. あいつ - that guy (derogatory)
  10. ~時間 【~じ・かん】 - counter for span of hour(s)
  11. 待つ 【ま・つ】 (u-verb) - to wait
  12. 親 【おや】 - parent
  13. 宿題 【しゅく・だい】 - homework
  14. する (exception) - to do

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
The causative-passive verb is formed by first conjugating to the causative form and then by conjugating the result to the passive form.
Examples
  1. 食べ食べさせ食べさせられる
  2. かせ行かせられる

Examples

  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

Vocabulary

  1. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  2. 立つ 【た・つ】 (u-verb) - to stand
  3. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  4. 話す 【はな・す】 (u-verb) - to speak
  5. 学生 【がく・せい】 - student
  6. 廊下 【ろう・か】 - hall, corridor
  7. 日本 【に・ほん】 - Japan
  8. お酒 【お・さけ】 - alcohol
  9. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) - to drink
  10. こと - event, matter
  11. 多い 【おお・い】 (i-adj) - numerous
  12. あいつ - that guy (derogatory)
  13. ~時間 【~じ・かん】 - counter for span of hour(s)
  14. 待つ 【ま・つ】 (u-verb) - to wait

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
First conjugate to the shortened causative form. Then conjugate to the passive form.
Examples
  1. 行か行かされる
  2. 立た立たされる

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
Examples of verbs you can't use in this form.
  1. 食べ食べさす食べさされる
  2. さすさされる

Examples

  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.