Grammar Info
N4 Lesson 1: 15/18

れる・られる (Passive)
Was done to ~ by ~, Done without consent, Done to one's dismay

[る1]Verb → 見 + られる
[る⁵]Verb → 座 + られる
[う]Verb → 歌 + われる
[く]Verb → 歩 + かれる
[す]Verb → 話 + される
[つ]Verb → 打 + たれる
[ぬ]Verb → 死 + なれる
[ぶ]Verb → 飛 + ばれる
[む]Verb → 休 + まれる
[ぐ]Verb → 泳 + がれる

[る1]Verb → 見 + られます
[る5]Verb → 座 + られます
[う]Verb → 歌 + われます
[く]Verb → 歩 + かれます
[す]Verb → 話 + されます
[つ]Verb → 打 + たれます
[ぬ]Verb → 死 + なれます
[ぶ]Verb → 飛 + ばれます
[む]Verb → 休 + まれます
[ぐ]Verb → 泳 + がれます

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In Japanese, there are several ways to express that something ‘passively’ happens. All of these are done with the auxiliary verbs れる and られる. Japanese verbs in the passive form behave in a slightly different way than they do in English, so we will examine this difference more closely later. For now, let’s focus on れる, られる, and される (the form used with する verbs).
Passivity in Japanese means that the person (or thing) that is the target of the action will be the subject of the sentence, rather than the person that is ‘doing’ whatever verb is being used.
You can conjugate any Japanese verb into the passive form in the following way. For う-Verbs (godan verbs), simply replace the last kana with the equivalent あ sound kana from the same row (す becomes さ, つ becomes た, ぶ becomes ば, う becomes わ, like with ない, and so on), then add れる, or られる. For る-Verbs (ichidan verbs), just replace the る with られる.
  • 犬(いぬ)に噛(か)まれるのが怖(こわ)いから、犬(いぬ)近(ちか)づけない。
    Because I am afraid of getting bitten by a dog, I can't approach them.
  • 私(わたし)いつも彼(かれ)と比(くら)べられる。
    I always get compared to him.
する and くる behave slightly differently than most other verbs. For する, it will become される, while くる will become こられる.
  • 知(し)らない人(ひと)からいたずらされるきらい
    I don't like being pranked by strangers.
  • 急(きゅう)に義理(ぎり)母(はは)に来(こ)られる困(こま)
    I feel troubled when my mother in law visits unannounced.
As can be seen in these examples, the ‘doer’ of the verb will be marked with , but から can also be used in cases where there is no physical contact with the subject.
られる can be used in several different situations. These are listed below.
受(う)け身(み) - Something happens to the subject as a result of an external force (sometimes sounds negative).
可能(かのう) - There is the possibility for something to be done.
自発(じはつ) - Something happens by itself, or ‘without instigation’.
尊敬(そんけい) - You are respecting someone by making them the subject of the sentence, despite someone else actually performing the verb.
Fun Fact
In Japanese, passivity focuses on the lack of control of the subject of the sentence. Due to this, the subject will sometimes be called the なる人, while the doer of the verb is called the する人.
Traditionally, many textbooks use the term ‘passive’, simply because there is no equivalent verb type in English (passive is the closest). However, we would like to introduce the term ‘displacement verb’. This just means that the subject of the sentence is being described in a similar way to what happens in keigo (polite speech).
But wait, what about れる with る-Verbs! Well, in Japanese, ラ抜(ぬ)き言葉(ことば) (ら removal words) are very common. These are words that are able to use れる, instead of られる. The original meaning of both of these auxiliary verbs is exactly the same, but there are cases where ら may not be removed. The standard rules are as follows.
ら may be removed - る-Verbs and くる, when the meaning is 可能(かのう) ‘potential’.
ら may not be removed - る-Verbs and くる, when the meaning is 受(う)け身(み), 自発(じはつ), or 尊敬(そんけい).
  • 私(わたし)どこでも寝(ね)ます
    I can sleep anywhere. (I have the potential to sleep anywhere)
  • 私(わたし)どこでも寝(ね)られる
    I can sleep anywhere. (I have the potential to sleep anywhere)
In both of these sentences, the meaning is exactly the same. However, ラ抜(ぬ)き may only be used when られる is being used to highlight ‘possibility’.
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My ice cream was eaten by my brother.
My strange conversation was overheard by my parents.
I was praised for cleaning my room.
Genki II 1st Edition
Page 182
Genki II 2nd Edition
Page 212
みんなの日本語 II
Page 78 [CH 37]
Page 333
[DBJG] A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar
Page 8, 33 & 364
Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide
Page 216
[AIAIJ] An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese
Page 169