Japanese Grammar: Using the Passive Voice in Japanese | Passive Verb Conjugation

Did you know that the Japanese language makes far more use of passive language and passive verbs than English?  Read about how to use Japanese passive voice in this article!
If you are new to studying Japanese – or maybe you are at a more intermediate level – this blog post will be of use to you.
In this article we will provide an overview of the passive voice in Japanese and also give you some examples.  Further, we will show you how to conjugate verb groups into passive form. You can also check out our complete Conjugation Kit for Mastering Passive Verbs.

What is the Passive Voice in Japanese?

The passive voice in Japanese is used for various reasons.  One reason is that both the Japanese language and Japanese culture are very indirect – as a result, the passive voice is more frequently used in Japan than in some other countries.  When speaking Keigo, it is often more polite to use the passive – or even potential – form in many circumstances.
In Japanese, the passive voice also is used when the speaker wants to inject the sentence with emotion.  For example, Japanese speakers often use the passive voice in situations where they want to convey a sense that they are a “victim”.  In other words, they use the passive voice to describe when something bad has happened to them.
There are many instances where a tranliteration of active voice in English to active voice in Japanese can come out sounding unnatural.
Another use for the passive voice in Japanese is when talking about inanimate objects.  For example, sentences such as “that bridge was built in 1990″/あの橋は1990年に造られた.  In these sentences, the speaker is describing something about an inanimate object.  For this we use passive voice both in English and in Japanese.
However in this article, we will focus on using the passive voice in the “victim” context.  In other words, when an action is done to you by someone or something.

How to Use the Passive Voice

How do we use these passive form verbs?  Let’s look at a few examples before we look at conjugations!
Boku no hiru-gohan wa ani  ni taberarechatta!
I had my lunch eaten by my older brother!
Now the first thing you may notice is that this sentence translation looks strange in English.  However, in Japanese this is perfectly natural.  In fact, to say:
Ani wa boku no hiru-gohan o tabeta
My brother ate my lunch.
…Sounds somewhat unnatural and emotionless in Japanese.
The passive form on the other hand adds more emotion, and often identifies the speaker as the “victim” in the sentence.  In other words, the speaker clarifies by using the passive voice that something happened to him or her.
Going back to the example above, here is a grammatical breakdown of how the sentence is structured.
So notice the structure: Subject/speaker + は(wa)/が(ga) + action doer + に(ni) + passive form verb.
In other words, think about it this way.  An action is done to the speaker or subject by the action doer, indicated by the particle に(ni). Again, this passive language in Japanese is charged with more feeling, and expresses that the speaker is conveying their emotions with this form.

Now let’s move on to conjugating the different verb groups!  We will begin with verb groups 2 and 3 before looking at group 1.  This is because 2 and 3 are easier to conjugate, while group 1 has more verbs.  For more information, check out our Mastering Passive Verb conjugation kit!

Conjugating the Japanese Passive Voice: Group 2

We will start with group 2 because it is the easiest to conjugate! Let’s learn how to turn group 2 verbs into passive form and use them in a sentence.
These are verbs like べる (to eat) and る (to see).  Let’s look at the conjugations – and then we can look at some example sentences!
For group 2 verbs, the conjugation is very easy!  Just remove the る off the end and replace it with られる
Here are some group 2 verbs in this chart below.

Plain verb Passive form English meaning
食べる (taberu) 食べられる (taberareru) “to eat”, passive form
見る (miru) 見られる (mirareru) “to see”, passive form
出る (deru) 出られる (derareru) “to go out”, passive form


Verb Conjugation: Group 3

Irregular Verbs

In case you didn’t know, Japanese verb group 3 has only 2 verbs:  する meaning “to do”, and 来る meaning “to do”.
There is no particular rule for conjugating these two, so you simply have to memorize the conjugations. Thankfully, 2 is not that many!  Let’s look at how to conjugate these below.

Plain verb Passive form English meaning
する (suru) される (sareru) “to do”, passive form
来る (kuru) 来られる (korareru) “to come”, passive form

Verb Conjugation: Group 1

This group has the most variations of the Japanese verb groups.  These are verbs that end in the う sound that aren’t る (with a few exceptions).
We won’t be able to cover all of the verbs, but let’s look at a few to get the feel for conjugating group 1 Japanese verbs.

Plain verb Passive form English meaning
買う (kau) 買われる (kawareru) “to buy”, passive form
飲む (nomu) 飲まれる (nomareru) “to drink”, passive form
行く (iku) 行かれる (ikareru) “to go”, passive form
泳ぐ (oyogu) 泳がれる (oyogareru) “to swim”, passive form
押す (osu) 押される (osareru) “to push”, passive form
帰る (kaeru) 帰られる (kaerareru) “to go home”, passive form

帰る – “to go home” is one of the exceptions.  Clearly this verb ends in る, but it is not a group 2 verb.  This is something to bear in mind when conjugating as group 1 “ru” verbs can follow rules different from the group 2 verbs.
For more on verb groups, check out this blog, and watch the video below!
Or get full access to mastering verb conjugation.

Looking for Japanese lessons in Tokyo or Yokohama?

Come take Japanese lessons with us at either of our Tokyo or Yokohama Japanese schools!  We also have Online classes available 24/7 for anyone around the world 🙂
Contact us or shoot us an inquiry to set up a free level check and consultation interview – either in person or online.

Are you ready to start Japanese lessons with us?

Get a free language assessment.
Enroll Now