Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ageru, Kureru, Morau あげる, くれる, もらう

Those learning Japanese sooner or later come across these three words: ageru 上げる, kureru くれる and morau 貰う, and then across this problem: what's the difference between ageru, kureru and morau? Are their meanings the same or what?

Usage Summary

Well, first off, these words are related to giving and receiving things. They are very, very tricky and full of nuances, but to give a summary of them they work like this:
  • kureru くれる
    Someone gave something to me.
  • ageru 上げる
    I gave something to someone.
  • morau 貰う
    I received something from someone.

(the verb ageru 上げる also means "to raise/elevate (something)" which has nothing to do with what we're talking about right now. Also note that "to raise (a child)" is sodateru 育てる)

The above sounds simple enough... except that instead of "I," "me," and "someone" we are grammatically speaking about the subject and the indirect object, of course.
  • dare ka ga watashi ni kureta 誰かが私にくれた
    Someone gave [it] to me.
  • watashi ga dare ka ni ageta 私が誰かにあげた
    I gave [it] to someone.
  • watashi ga dare ka ni moratta 私が誰かにもらった
    I got [it] from someone.

Which also sounds simple enough... except that when I say "[it]" I don't mean only physical objects. For example, you can use these verbs to say:
  • Thank you for the present you gave me. (physical object)
  • Would you go to the store for me? (action / giving a favor)
  • I'll let you escape alive (action / giving a favor)

Which is a little complicated, but still simple enough... except when the phrase doesn't include yourself. We then land on the intricacies of "giving" and "receiving" in Japanese and on the distinction between the verbs ageru and kureru.

Ageru and Kureru Difference

Like I said, you use ageru to say "I give you this" or "I gave him this" and, conversely, you use kureru to say "he gave me this" or "you gave me this." But what happens when we want to say "you gave him" or "he gave you" in Japanese?

Then things get complicated.

Basically, it's a matter of viewpoint. It depends on the relationship of the speaker (you doing the talking) with the subject (the one doing the giving) and the indirect object (the one doing the receiving).

Uchi and Soto

In many Japanese grammar guides this concept will be described as uchi 内, "inside," and soto 外, "outside." The idea is that uchi is like your family and close friends, the ones inside your life, while soto are strangers and other people, the ones outside your life.

This helps defining ageru and kureru as this:
  • kureru くれる
    Someone from soto gave something to someone from uchi.
    Someone not close to you gave something to someone close to you.
  • ageru 上げる
    Someone from uchi gave something to someone from soto.
    Someone close to you gave something to someone not close to you.

Which, in turn, can be interpreted as this:
  • kureru くれる
    You gave a thing to my friend.
    He gave a thing to you (and you are my friend)
    You gave a thing to my brother, sister, father, family member, etc.
    He gave a thing to you (and you're my family)
    Some guy from another country did something for my country.
  • ageru 上げる
    (Literally the opposite.)
    My friend gave a thing to you (you're a stranger to me)
    My brother gave a thing to you (you are my friend, but not my family!)
    My country did something for you (foreign dude)

So thinking like this, when you, your friends or family are giving things to others, it's ageru, when they are receiving things from others, it's kureru. And you must always think starting from person who's closest to you in the phrase.

For example, your brother would be closer to you than your friend. Then you'd use ageru when it's brother to friend and kureru when it's friend to brother.

Between two people who have nothing to do with you would use ageru.

Difference between ageru and kureru, their usage and meanings, shown in a diagram based on the concept of uchi and soto. あげる is from 内 to 外, or 外 to 外, and くれる is from 外 to 内

Finally, you are the closest person to yourself. So you would never be able to say watashi ga kureta 私がくれた because you'd only be able to say you kureta something when you kureta it to someone who's closer to you than yourself... which shouldn't exist, but there is an exception:
  • kinou no watashi ga kureta kyou 昨日の私がっくれた今日
    The today the me from yesterday gave [to the me of today]
    (because your past me is somehow less close to your current me than... your current me)

Kureru is Thanks

Another way of thinking about, the way I think about it, is that, instead of the complicated mess that is uchi and soto which raises questions about who is "close" to you and who is "far" from and who's closer and who's farther, you should just think about kureru as an grateful ageru and ageru as an ingrateful kureru.

Basically, my idea is that you only use kureru when you're somewhat grateful, glad, thankful, happy or whatever slight positive thought concerning the fact that something was given. Meanwhile, the word ageru should mean either a matter-of-fact "gives" or a snobby way of saying you "gave" something.

This method perfectly matches the notion of uchi and soto if you consider that:
  • I gave you to you. (ageru, uchi to soto)
    Yeah I did. (matter-of-fact)
    You should be thankful that I bothered doing that for someone like you. (ingrate)
  • You gave something to me. (kureru, soto to uchi)
    Thanks! (grateful)
  • I gave something to my brother. (ageru, uchi to soto)
    Yeah, I did. (matter-of-fact)
    Because he's hopeless without me around. (snobby)
  • You gave something to my brother. (kureru, soto to uchi)
    Thanks. You helped him so much!

And this also helps address the greatest confusion with the uchi and soto concept:
  • You, my cold-blooded brother who murdered my parents and abandoned me on the streets when I was a little child gave him, my good old friend who I met on the streets, a reason to become a masked super hero vigilant and murder people like you to death. (kureru, soto to uchi)
    Thanks to that osananajimi-man shall raise glorious and exact rightful justice upon thee! (thankful)

In my opinion, thinking about ageru and kureru this way is much easier because it doesn't make sense that a different verb tells you whether someone is close or not to the speaker, but it does make sense that the verb has a nuance which implies the speaker is thankful that someone was given.

Kureru くれる

The verb kureru くれる (rarely written 呉れる) is used to say "to receive" but means literally "to give." This is because it's only used when you receive something, not when you give something, however, the subject for this verb, marked by the ga が particle, is who is giving, not who's receiving.


  • watashi ni kureta 私にくれた
    [it] was given to me.
  • kare ga watashi ni purezento wo kureta 彼が私にプレゼントをくれた
    He gave me a gift.
  • kare ga watashi ni kureta purezento 彼が私にくれたプレゼント
    The gift he gave to me.
  • ore ni kibou wo ataete kureta onjin 俺に希望を与えてくれた恩人
    The savior who gave me hope..
  • himitsu wo oshiete kurenai 秘密を教えてくれない
    [He] won't (do me a favor and) teach me the secret
  • keisatsu ga nigashite kurenakatta 警察が逃がしてくれなかった
    The police didn't (do me a favor and) let me escape.
  • sekai wo sukutte kureta densetsu no eiyuu 世界を救ってくれた伝説の英雄
    The legendary hero who (has done us a big favor when he) saved the world.

Topic Marker Usage

Do pay attention that the topic marker wa は doesn't mark the subject, only what we're talking about.
  • shigoto wa kureru 仕事はくれる
    [they] will give [us] jobs.
  • kane wa kurenai 金はくれない
    [they] will not give [us] money

Please Do It For Me

When used in its imperative form, kure くれ, the verb starts meaning "give it to me" or "do it for me."
  • hitori ni shite kure 一人にしてくれ
    Leave me alone!
  • meshi wo kure 飯をくれ
    Give me food!
  • shinjite kure 信じてくれ
    Believe in me!
  • minogashite kure 見逃してくれ
    Please let it slide! (pretend you didn't see anything)
  • kane wo kure 金をくれ
    Give me money!
  • aitsu wo koroshite kure あいつを殺してくれ
    Kill him please!
  • kanojo wo tasukete kure 彼女を助けてくれ
    Please save her!

Kure and Kudasai

The difference between kure and kudasai is that kudasai is a formal expression coming from kudasaimase 下さいませ, which is the imperative form of kudasaimasu 下さいます, which is the polite form of kudasaru 下さる, while kure くれ is not formal at all.

This means that kure くれ is used casually and/or impolitely while kudasai 下さい is always used politely. Although in the end kure くれ, kudasare 下され, kudasaimase 下さいませ and kudasai 下さい are all just different ways of saying "gimme."
  • keeki hitotsu wo kure ケーキ一つをくれ
    Gimme one cake.
  • keeki hitotsu wo kudasai ケーキ一つをください
    Gimme one cake, please.

Do note that if the speaker is superior to someone, then kudasai can be part of an order and not just "please do it for me."

Ageru 上げる

The verb ageru あげる (also written 上げる) means "to give" or to do someone a favor. It's used when you, the speaker, is giving to someone else. You don't use ageru to talk about someone else giving things to you. (see the diffference between ageru and kureru for other use cases and details)


  • kare ni ageta 彼に上げた
    [I] gave it to him.
  • watashi ga kare ni purezento wo ageta 私が彼にプレゼントを上げた
    I gave a gift to him.
  • watashi ga kare kare ni ageta purezento 私が彼に上げたプレゼント
    The gift I gave him
  • keeki wo ageru ケーキを上げる
    I'll give [you] cake.
  • sukutte ageru 救ってあげる
    I'll (do you a favor and) save [you].
  • koroshite ageru 殺してあげる
    I'll (do you a favor and) kill you.
    (this is a line often spoken by villains in anime)
  • himitsu wo oshiete agenai 秘密を教えて上げない
    I won't (do you a favor and) teach you the secret
  • nigashite agenakatta 逃がして上げなかった
    I didn't (do you a favor and) let you escape.

Topic Marker Usage

Just like with kureru, do pay attention that the topic marker wa は doesn't mark the subject, only what we're talking about.
  • keeki wa ageru ケーキは上げる
    I'll give [you] cake.
  • piza wa agenai ピザは上げない
    I won't give [you] pizza.

Synonyms and Related Words

There are some words like ageru, but not quite like it, that are worth of mention. These are:
  • sashiageru 差し上げる
    This is like an polite for of ageru. It oftens means to offer something.
  • inochi wo sashiagemasu 命を差し上げます
    [I will] offer my life.
  • yaru やる
    This is a slang an a problematic one because the verb yaru やる has a bazillion meanings. It means to give someone something, most of the time.
  • aisu yaru kara damatte kure! アイスやるから黙ってくれ!
    I'll give you ice cream so please shut up!
  • watasu 渡す
    This means physically to "hand over" and works like the verb wataru 渡る which means to "cross over (a bridge, etc.)".
  • muda da ze! hitojichi wa watasene! 無駄だぜ!人質は渡せねぇ!
    Give up! I won't hand over (give) the hostages!

Agete Kureru and Agete Kudasai

The verbs agete kureru 上げてくれる, agete kudasai 上げてください and others similar sound like contradictions: you can't be doing something for others and having something done for your simultaneously. However, they work when a third party is involved.

Basically, in this case, it's better to interpret it as X agete...kudasai. That is, to separate one thing from the other. This is because X agete means the speaker wants someone "to give X," most likely to someone else, but let's focus on the action here.

The idea is that someone "giving X" is something the speaker would care for. It's like saying "please give him money." The action of giving that guy money, actually, of that guy receiving the money, is something that matters to the speaker, so we are pretty much saying "do give it to him for me." Let's see some examples:
  • musuko ni purezento wo agete kureta 息子にプレゼントを上げてくれた
    [someone] (did me the favor and) gave a present to my son.
  • kare wo nigashite agete kuremasenka? 彼を逃がしてあげてくれませんか?
    Why don't you (do him a favor and) let him escape for me?

Morau 貰う

Finally we have the verb morau 貰う, which means "to get." Unlike the verbs ageru and kureru, morau is pretty easy to understand and doesn't have any weird cultural nuances attached to it. It means "to get" and that's it.

Subject Got Not Subject Gave

The biggest different between morau and kureru (or ageru) is the subject of the phrase.
  • X ga Y ni kureta XがYにくれた
    X gave to Y.
  • X ga Y ni ageta XがYにあげた
    X gave to Y.
  • X ga Y ni moratta XがYに貰った
    X got from Y.

Besides, when I say "got" I mean really "got" as the act of gotting taking. You can also translate it as "X took it from Y" or "X received it from Y," etc. Like the other verbs, morau can also be used for actions as well objects.


  • moratta! 貰った!
    [I] got [it]!
    Gotcha! (often spoken during fights when someone's going to land a hit)
  • inochi wo morau zo! 命をもらうぞ!
    I'll take your life! (said when some murdering is about to take place)
  • neko ippiki kurai moratte iinjan? 猫一匹くらいもらっていいんじゃん?
    What's wrong with taking one cat or two?
    (literary: taking abour one cat is okay, isn't it?)
  • okane wo moratta kuse ni nani wo itteiru? お金をもらったくせに何を言っている?
    What's someone who took money like you trying to say?
  • kodomo no koro ni chichi ni hon wo yonde moratta 子供のころに父に本を読んでもらった
    I got my father to read books for me when I was a kid.

Ni Moratta and Kara Moratta

An important note about the verb morau is that it can be used with either ni and kara particles, since the ni particle indicates the indirect object of the verb and the kara indicated the source/start point of the action, both of which make sense in this case.
  • sensei ni moratta hon 先生にもらった本
    The book I got from the teacher.
    (the indirect object is the teacher)
  • sensei kara moratta hon 先生からもらった本
    I received the book from the teacher.
    (where did it come from? Oh yeah, the teacher)

Synonyms and Related Words

There are some words like morau that are also commonly used. I think it's important to talk a little about them. They are:
  • itadaku 頂く
    This is often used to say you took something which was being offered. (see itadakimasu 頂きます)
  • kane wa itadaku zo 金は頂くぞ
    I'll take the money.
  • ubau 奪う
    This means "to steal" but not really to steal, steal, more like "to take away from (someone) forcibly".
  • aitsu ga otousan no inochi wo ubatta! ike osananajimi-man! あいつがお父さんの命を奪った!行けぇオサナナジミマン!
    He stole my father's life! Go osananajimi-man!
  • ukeru 受ける
    This means "to receive" literally. It's not used when things are done in favor of someone (like ageru and kureru), instead it's only used to state the fact that something was received.
  • kaisha kara shigoto wo uketa 会社から仕事を受けた
    I received a job from the company

Moratte Agete Kureru もらってあげてくれる

Perhaps the greatest clusterfuck in this whole post, devised by the chaotic bizarre nature and absurdness of the Japanese language who loves to go "fuck you baka gaijin" all the time is the the marvelous, glorious work of art that is the phrase: moratte agete kureru 貰ってあげてくれる. (also in the flavor of moratte agete kudasai 貰って上げて下さい)

This phrase expands on the problem raised by the agete kureru, which already meant "give give" to begin with, by shoving a "got" into the phrase creating the literal translation "give give got" which would sound like a retarded person trying to speak English but is actually legit Japanese somehow.

Basically, say you... like... say you need... lemme think for a moment, okay?


Alright. Say you have a friend, who has a daughter, who has a cat... which gave birth to kittens. Way too many kittens. And there's like, so many kittens they can't possibly afford to keep them all. So she has her daughter put, I don't know, a lemonade stand sort of thing by the street, but instead of lemonade she's giving away kittens, and free of charge, too, obviously.

So you're walking by and you see your friend and her kitten-dealing daughter and you're like "hi," and then as you notice the girl is like all sad and you go and ask "why?" She tells you it's because nobody's taking the kittens, because everybody in the neighborhood is allergic, or the kittens are cursed, or some bullshit like that.

So by now you realize you're screwed. Your friend and her daughter are staring at you with judging eyes and your friendship is at stake. You know what's coming and if you refuse they are going to badmouth you behind your back on this specific matter for the next 30 years. Your friend pats your shoulder, looks at their sorrowful daughter and then back at you, delivering the final one-liner:
  • moratte agete kuremasen ka? 貰ってあげてくれませんか?

Yeah... that's more or less how it's used. Yep. That's how it is. Thankfully the phrase doesn't come up as much.


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  1. Wait, I'm getting confused, when explaining the Uchi/Soto, you say that when your friends or family are givng things to others, you use 上げる, but later on, you say that you don't use 上げる when talking about other people giving things, only when the speaker (me) is doing the giving, so, which is it?

    1. Thanks for the comment. It seems I had worded it poorly.

      The "right" one would be the uchi/soto section which went in detail about the differences between ageru and kureru. You CAN use kureru and ageru to talk about other people (not you) receiving and giving things.

      The summary at the start of the section about ageru (that you only use to give things, not when other give things) was supposed to contrast with the summary in kureru (which says it's used only when you're receiving something), but it seems it came off as contradicting the text from earlier.

      I reword the summary to avoid future confusion. Tell me if you have any other doubts. :)

  2. Oh wow, I'm impressed! What a very great explanation on ageru, kureru and morau! Thanks very much for your hard work~

  3. So then, in your final example, "moratte agete kuremasen ka?", the breakdown of meaning would go something like this:
    kuremasen ka - why don't you give me / why don't you do me the favor of
    agete - giving [my daughter the gift of]
    moratte - receiving / taking [a kitten]

    1. Also, as I am taking the kitten, would I excitedly exclaim "Itadakimasu!"?

    2. The first comment, yes, but you wouldn't say "itadakimasu." Particularly because that's an odd thing to say in a spot like that. There are ways to insert an itadakimasu in that situation, like in a more complex response, along with a bunch of other words, but just the word "itadakimasu" alone, immediately after, like the way you'd say before a meal, would sound weird.

  4. "(the verb ageru 上げる also means "to raise/elevate (something)" which has nothing to do with what we're talking about right now..."

    This is EXACTLTY the meaning relevant to the topic. Original meaning of 'ageru' is to give a tribute, an offering. It's like if you're giving a prwsent while making a bow, or sitting on your knees... or both.
    Now, considering the fact that japanese people tend to humilate themselves (and their family) while speaking it all makes sence. So, it's humble me (my stupid wife etc) who gives that offering to you, oh great mr.X. And obviously you can't say 'he brought a tribute to ore-sama'.

    "Unlike the verbs ageru and kureru, morau is pretty easy to understand and doesn't have any weird cultural nuances attached to it..."
    Not really. 'Morau' had hidden meaning too, which could be traced in the noun 'Morai' (alms, handout). So when you morau smth from someone it's like you take a charity. Nowadays this meaning is a bit forgotten, but it still influence the statistics of using morau verb. For example, when talking about 2 third persons ageru is used more often than morau. Because ageru is more like praising the object, while morau is more about belittling the object.

    1. Splendid, took the word right out of my mouth