Monday, August 26, 2019

Passive Voice

WIP : this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In grammar, the passive voice is when the subject and object appear to switch roles. In active voice, the subject is generally the agent and the object is the patient: the cat ate the rat. In passive voice, the subject is the patient instead: the rat was eaten by the cat.

In Japanese, the passive voice, ukemi 受け身, is identified by the verb being in the passive form: suru する "to do," is active voice, sareru される "to be done," is passive voice. The way particles are used in the passive voice is different, and there are different types of passives.


In Japanese, the difference between sentences in active voice and passive voice is merely whether the verb was conjugated to passive form or not. This form is usually easy to notice, as it tends to end with ~areruaれる.
  • kuu ka kuwareru ka
    [It's] eat or be eaten.
  • korosu ka korosareru ka
    [It's] kill or be killed.

Note that in English we go from "to eat" to "to be eaten," but there's no "be" anywhere in Japanese. Just changing the verb ending is enough.
  • neko ga kuu
    The cat eats.
  • nezumi ga kuwareru
    The rat is eaten.

Above, we can see that the ga が particle, which marks the subject, marks the agent in active voice, but the patient in passive voice. That's because in passive voice we have a patient subject.

The agent of the passive voice is marked by the ni に particle instead.
  • neko ni kuwareru
    To be eaten by the cat.

For the sake of simplicity, in this article the "subject of the passive" or "patient subject" will be referred to as the sufferer (e.g. nezumi).


The passive voice applies to the passive form and any possible conjugations derived from it through agglutination.

For example, kuwareta, "was eaten," is also passive, since it's the passive form kuwareru, "to be eaten," conjugated to the past by replacing the ~ru ending with the helper verb ~ta.

In general, helper verbs that can be suffixed to the active form can also be suffixed to the passive form.
  • fum-u
    To step on.
    • Conjugated as a godan verb with u ending.
  • fum-i-tai
    [I] want to step on.
  • fum-are-ru
    To be stepped on.
    • Conjugated as an ichidan verb.
  • fum-are-tai
    To want to be stepped on.
    • Attached to the ren'youkei of the ichidan verb.


In Japanese, the passive voice and the causative voice work essentially the same way.(Oshima, 2003, pp. 246-250)

To understand this, first let's prepare an event to compare between voices. In active voice:
  • We have a sentence that says:
    "Someone does something."
  • The subject of the active is the one doing the action: it's the agent.

For example:
  • Kuppa ga Piichi-hime wo sarau
    Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach.
    • Dai-maou Kuppa
      Great Demon King Koopa. The Japanese name for Bowser.

Above, Kuppa is the subject and, thus, the agent.

In the causative voice:
  • We have a sentence that says:
    "Someone causes this to happen: X."
    "Someone makes this happen: X."
    "Someone lets this happen: X."
  • Where X is an underlying action.
  • The agent of such underlying action is marked by ni に.
  • The subject of the causative is who causes the underlying action to happen.

For example:
  • Mario ga Kuppa ni Piichi-hime wo sarawaseta
    Mario caused this to happen: Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach.
    Mario forced Bowser to kidnap Princess Peach.
    Mario allowed Bowser to kidnap Princess Peach.

In the passive voice, we have practically the same system.
  • We have a sentence that says:
    "Someone suffered from this happening: X."
  • Where X is an underlying action.
  • The agent of such underlying action is marked by ni に.
  • The subject of the passive is who suffers from the underlying action happening.

For example:
  • Piichi-hime ga Kuppa ni sarawareta
    Princess Peach suffered from: Bowser kidnapping.
    Princess Peach was kidnapped by Bowser.
  • Mario ga Kuppa ni Piichi-hime wo sarawareta
    Mario suffered from: Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach.
    • Implicature: now Mario has to leave his stable and peaceful job as a plumber to go on a dangerous and life-threatening adventure to save that stupid monarch for the hundredth time and restore the order to the Mushroom Kingdom.

As you can see, both passive and causative voices feature the same method to mark the underlying action, using ni に for the agent, for example.

The key difference between the two voices is whether the subject has control over the underlying action (as the causer of the causative), or lacks control over the underlying action (as the sufferer of the passive).(Oshima, 2003, p. 251)

This can be observed above in two different ways:

The sufferer can have a role synonymous with the patient of the underlying action. In "Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach," the patient Peach doesn't have control over the action initiated by the agent Bowser. Thus, in passive voice, Peach can be the sufferer.

The second way we observe this is when the sufferer isn't synonymous with the underlying patient. When Mario suffers from Bowser kidnapping Peach, Mario isn't being kidnapped, so he isn't the patient. Nonetheless, he doesn't have control over the kidnapping that Bowser initiated.

In any case, lack of control from the sufferer is an essential part of the passive voice in Japanese.

That doesn't mean every sentence in passive voice emphasizes a lack of control from the sufferer, but it does mean that if the sufferer had some sort of control over the underlying action, there would be a better way to express it without the passive voice.

For example, observe the following sentence, which resembles the causative form:
  • Mario ga Kuppa ni Piichi-hime wo saratte-moratta
    Mario had Bowser kidnap Princess Peach.
    • Implicature: Mario is glad Bowser did that favor for him, because now he can go "save the princess," score some points with the monarchy, and hopefully finally say goodbye to this awful plumber job in a kingdom where half of the pipes have monstrous piranha plants living inside of them.

Note how, when Mario has control over the underlying action, the implicature tends to be good: it's a favor, he's glad, everyone is happy. In the passive, where Mario doesn't have control, the implicature tends to be bad: he's bothered by the kidnapping, inconvenienced by the kidnapping.

As a general rule, things you don't consent to are bad for you, and things you consent to are good for you, and this translates to Japanese grammar.

After all, there would have to be something very wrong going on for you to have control over something, and consent to get yourself in a lamentable situation, knowing how bad it would turn out for you. You only agree to do things you think are good for you.

Even if someone does something for you without your knowledge, you'll generally have the final say on it. If someone buys you a surprise gift, for example, you still have to accept that gift. So you still have consent. You still have control.

If someone cut your hair without your consent, then you lacked control over the situation. You're probably not going to like your new hairstyle, given you've never agreed to it. But there's also this small chance that you'll like it.

Types of Passives

Japanese is often said to have three different types of passives:
  1. Direct passives.
  2. Indirect passives.
  3. Possessive passives.

Fundamentally, the passive voice expresses the sufferer's lack of control over the underlying action. But if a tree falls on the forest, and I have no control over it, is that enough to form a passive sentence?

Things happen all the time out of everybody's control, so there must be something besides lack-of-control that links the sufferer to the underlying action. In fact, there would be three things:(Oshima, 2003, p. 253)
  1. The sufferer directly participates in the action.
  2. The sufferer is affected (e.g. inconvenienced) by the action.
  3. The sufferer is related to something that directly participates in the action.

It's all the same thing. It's all the same passive voice. It's just that, depending on how the passive voice is used, sentences end up exhibiting certain distinguishing features that allows linguists to analyze them into these different types.

For example, among the three types of passives above, only direct passives conform to the crosslinguistic concept of a "passive voice."(Oshima, 2003, p. 250)

That means indirect passives and possessive passives are completely different from the "passive voice" in English. But they're still "passive voice" in Japanese.

Direct Passives

A "direct passive," chokusetsu-ukemi 直接受身, refers to a sentence in passive voice that has a synonymous active voice counterpart. In other words, you can say the same thing in both voices simply by changing the particles around.

How the particles change exactly depends on the transitivity of the verb.

With transitive (subject, object) verbs:
  • ABV-u
    Active voice.
  • BAV-areru
    Passive voice.

With ditransitive (subject, direct object, indirect object) verbs:
  • ABCをV-u
    Active voice.
  • BACをV-areru
    Passive voice.

The wo を particle marks the direct object. In active voice, ga-wo marks agent-patient, while in passive voice, ga-ni marks patient-agent. For example:
  • neko ga nezumi wo kutta
    The cat ate the rat.
    • neko ga - subject, agent.
    • nezumi wo - object, patient.
  • nezumi ga neko ni kuwareta
    The rat was eaten by the cat.
    • nezumi ga - subject, patient. (sufferer.)
    • neko ni - agent. (of the underlying action.)

With ditransitive verbs, you generally have a sender, a receiver, and an object sent.

In active voice, the receiver is marked by ni, because ni can mark a destination. In passive voice, the receiver is suffering the consequences of something being sent, and thus is marked as the subject (sufferer).
  • isha ga kanja ni kusuri wo watasu
    The medic, to the patient, the medicine, gives.
    The medic gives the medicine to the patient.
    • isha ga - subject, sender.
    • kanja ni - destination, receiver.
    • kusuri wo - object.
  • kanja ga isha ni kusuri wo watasareru
    The patient, by the medic, the medicine, is given.
    The patient is given medicine by the medic.
    • kanja ga - subject, sufferer, receiver.
    • isha ni - agent, sender.
    • kusuri wo - object.

Observe that the object sent is marked by wo を in both cases.

Indirect Passives

An "indirect passive," kansetsu-ukemi 間接受身, is a sentence in passive voice that doesn't have an active voice counterpart. They're also called adversity passives, or suffering passives.

The lack of an active voice counterpart is due to the sufferer not being directly involved in the underlying action. They merely suffer the consequences of it.

In technical terms: the sufferer is an extra-thematic argument that doesn't have a theta-role specified by the verb of the sentence.(Shibatani, 1994, pp. 465-468)

For example:
  • ohimesama ga shinda
    The princess died.

Above, we have the intransitive verb shinu, "to die." Since the verb is intransitive, it takes only one argument: its subject. So only one person is involved in the action: the person dying. There's only one theta-role, which I guess isn't "agent" but "experiencer," because they experience death.
  • oujisama ga ohimesama ni shinareta
    The prince suffered because: the princess died.
    • Implicature: the prince griefs the death of the princess.

Above, the sufferer (the prince) isn't involved in the underlying action (the princess died), but is nonetheless affected by it.

This is an indirect passive. It's impossible to rewrite this sentence into active voice. You can't say, for example, "the prince died by princess," because that doesn't any make sense.

This happens because the underlying action has only one participant: a defunct, so there's no role for the prince to fill in active voice, even though it's the "sufferer" in passive voice.

As I've mentioned before, indirect passives aren't "passive voice" by crosslinguistic standards, which is why it's so different from how it works in English.
  • ame ga furu
    Rain falls from the sky.
    Rain rains.
    It rains.
  • okyakusan ga ame ni furareta
    The customer was rained by the rain. (what?)
    The customer suffered: it rained.
    • Implicature: the customer didn't like that it rained, because the rain inconvenienced the customer.
    • Not to be confused with:
    • bishoujo ni furareta
      To be rejected by a beautiful girl.

As explained before, when you're affected by an action you lack control over, it's generally something bad for you, hence the term "suffering passive."

However, not every subject has to be a Subaru. The suffering isn't a necessary part of the indirect passive. Good things can happen to you that are out of your control. For example:
  • eigakan de kawaii ko ni tonari ni suwarareta
    In the movie theater, [I] had a cute girl sit next [to me].
    • Implicature: nice.
    • kawaii ko ga tonari ni suwaru
      Cute girl sits next [to me].
    • tonari ni - destination, location.
    • tonari
      Adjacent space. The place next to something. (sometimes used to talk about neighbors.)
    • ko
      Child. Person. Girl. Boy, sometimes.

In the example above, there is no suffering.(Kortlandt, 1992, pp. 3-4)

The so-called "suffering" passive isn't exclusively about suffering after all. It's just that the implication of lack of control is generally used for adversities, for things that make you sad, ruin your mood, inconvenience you, and so on.

In fact, you may have noticed that there's an "implicature" every time an indirect passive shows up.

The implicatures are things we're assuming from what was said. We have no proof. No context. Depending on context, those implicatures may be grossly wrong.

For example, the implicature that the prince griefs the princess death is only valid if we also assume that the prince cares for the princess. We know that they must be related somehow, otherwise her death couldn't affect him, so we assume they're in good terms.

However, what if the prince actually hates the princess, and he's just, like, waiting for her to die so he can usurp the crown or something like that? Then he wouldn't be grieving her death, he would be partying because of her death.

Suffering implicatures are cancellable. It's normal to assume something out of your control is going to be bad, but if the speaker says the sufferer liked it, that doesn't sound like a contradiction.

For example, if we said that the customer enjoyed the rain, it would cancel the implicature that the customer was inconvenienced by the rain. The inconvenience (suffering) is only what we generally assume the indirect passive to mean.

Possessive Passives

The possessive passive, or mochi-nushi-ukemi 持主受身, "owner passive," is a sentence in the passive voice where the patient of the underlying action is somehow possessed or related to the sufferer.

For example, if the patient is a body part, it has to be the body part of somebody's body. In the passive voice, we can draw the conclusion the body part is attached to the sufferer. Observe:
  • Tarou ga furyou ni atama wo nagurareta
    Tarou suffered: the head was punched by a delinquent.
    • Implicature: Tarou was punched in his head.

Similarly, if you have a word for a family member, it has to be related to somebody.
  • Tarou ga sensei ni musume wo homerareta
    Tarou suffered: the teacher praised the daughter.
    • Implicature: Tarou is happy, because the teacher praised his daughter.

Above, we have a possessive implicature: the sentence explicitly mentions "a daughter," but not whose daughter. We assume she to be Tarou's daughter, and draw a possessive relationship between the two nouns.
  • sensei ga Tarou no musume wo homeru
    The teacher praises Tarou's daughter.

Above we have a sentence in active voice feature the noun phrase Tarou no musume. Since we can say it in the active voice, we have a direct passive we can say in the passive voice, too:
  • Tarou no musume ga sensei ni homerareta
    Tarou's daughter was praised by the teacher.

So we can say the same thing in three different ways?

Not exactly.

In the direct passives, Tarou no is used to narrow down whose daughter is it, and the emphasis is on the teacher in active voice, or in the daughter in passive voice. In a possessive passive, the emphasis is on the sufferer, Tarou.

Another example, this time with emphasis in bold:
  • ninja ga shujinkou no kazoku wo koroshita
    Ninjas killed the protagonist's family.
  • shujinkou no kazoku ga ninja ni korosareta
    The protagonist's family was killed by ninjas.
  • shujinkou ga ninja ni kazoku wo korosareta
    The protagonist had his family killed by ninjas.

It's important to pay attention when you have a passive form since with possessive passives you can end up with very different phrases that look almost the same. For example:
  • waga ani ga Seihai Sensou no shokubai wo nusumareta
    My brother, the Holy Grail War's catalyst, was stolen.
    • —Anime: Lord El-Melloi II Case Files, Episode 7.

In the sentence above, a catalyst was stolen, and "my brother" is the subject, however, it doesn't say that my brother stole the catalyst, because the verb is in the passive form.

Instead, it's likely that it was my brother's catalyst that was stolen. So this is a possessive passive.

But the sentence doesn't explicit say the catalyst was my brother's, we're just assuming it. The possessiveness is an implicature.

This could be an indirect passive where the sufferer somehow suffers due to a random (not his) catalyst being stolen.

  • Tarou ga saifu wo nusunda
    Tarou stole the wallet.
  • Tarou ga saifu wo nusumareta
    Tarou suffered: the wallet was stolen.
    • Probably: Tarou's wallet was stolen.
    • Unlikely: Tarou was guarding a wallet, which was not his, and someone stole it, and then the wallet's owner or someone else got mad at him because he didn't guard the wallet properly and allowed it to get stolen.

In the first sentence above, Tarou is doing the stealing, but in the second he's probably being stolen from. The only difference between the two sentences is nusunda becoming nusumareta, but that difference changes Tarou from the perpetrator to the possible victim.


Just like the subject in active voice, the subject in passive voice can be marked as the topic instead, by the wa は particle. See wa は vs ga for details.
  • neko wa nezumi wo kutta
    The cat ate the rat.
  • nezumi wa neko ni kuwareta
    The rat was eaten by the cat.

The agent of the passive can't be marked by wa は or by niwa には either. It can only be marked by ni に.
  • isha ga kanja ni kusuri wo watashita
    The medic gave the medicine to the patient.
  • isha wa kanja ni kusuri wo watashita
    (same meaning, topicalized.)
  • kanja ga isha ni kusuri wo watasareta
    The patient was given the medicine by the medic.
  • kanja wa isha ni kusuri wo watasareta
    (same meaning, topicalized.)
  • *isha niwa kanja ga kusuri wo watasareta
  • *isha wa kanja ga kusuri wo watasareta
    (also ungrammatical.)

Above, the medic, the one giving the medicine, can't be marked as the topic in passive voice.

That wouldn't even make much sense, though, because if you wanted the AGENT to be the topic, you'd just utter the thing in active voice instead: the medic gave the medicine to the patient.

The direct object can be marked as the topic in passive voice. When this happens, the ni に particle is sometimes avoided or ungrammatical, and other constructions, such as kara から or ni yotte によって, are used instead.

Other Constructions

Sometimes, for some reasons, a sentence in passive voice will feature different particles and words from the ones shown above.


The kara から particle translates to "from," but it can also mean "by." It marks the origin or source of the action. If something is sent "from" someone "to" someone, kara can mark from whom, or by whom, it was sent.

With verbs about sending, kara から is preferred in the passive form because the ni に particle has the function of marking the destination (receiver), besides the function of marking the agent.

Although it's fine to use two ni に when one marks a place, like tonari ni, when you have two people marked by ni に, you won't be able to tell who is supposed to be agent (sender) and the destination (receiver), so that must be avoided.
  • kusuri wa isha ga kanja ni watashita
    The medicine, the medic gave to the patient.
    The medic gave the medic to the patient.
    • kanja ni - destination, receiver.
  • *kusuri wa isha ni kanja ni watasareta
    (you don't say this.)
    • isha ni - agent, sender.
    • kanja ni - destination, receiver.
    • Or is it the opposite?
    • isha ni - destination, receiver.
    • kanja ni - agent, sender.
    • There's no way to tell, so don't say this.
  • kusuri wa isha kara kanja ni watasareta
    The medicine, from the medic, to the patient, was given.
    From the medic the medicine was given to the patient.
    • isha kara - source, sender.
    • kanja ni - destination, receiver.


The construction ni yotte によって means "by." It marks the source of an effect. It's used when the agent manipulated the object, but didn't necessarily "send" anything.
  • kaizoku ga takara wo shima ni kakushita
    The pirate, the treasure, in the island, hid.
    The pirate hid the treasure in the island.
    • shima ni - destination.
  • *takara wa kaizoku ni shima ni kakusareta
  • takara wa kaizoku ni yotte shima ni kakusareta
    The treasure, by the pirate, in the island, was hid.
    The treasure was hid by the pirate in the island.

This can also be used with transitive verbs.
  • samurai wa ninja ni korosareta
    The samurai was killed by the ninja.
    • Ninja is the agent.
  • samurai wa ninja ni yotte korosareta
    (same meaning.)
    • Ninja is the cause.

When you have an inanimate cause (like poison) the construction ni yotte is preferred because the cause itself doesn't really have agency over the verb.
  • samurai wa doku ni yotte korosareta
    The samurai was killed by poison.

Literally, ni yoru に因る tells the "reason" or "cause," gen'in 原因, for something to happen.
  • bakuhatsu ni yotte hakkai sareta
    Was destroyed (and this was caused) by the explosion.

Not all verbs can take ni yotte.

Verbs with a high-degree of transitivity allow ni yotte to be used, but those with a low-degree of transitivity do not allow it.(Oshima, 2003, p. 258)

This means that if a verb merely expresses a mental state, then ni yotte can't be used. It also can't be used with verbs that describe the mere occurrence of physical contact. Only verbs that express stronger effects, changing state, destroyed, killed, hidden, and so on, can take ni yotte.
  • sensei ga seito ni sonkei sarete-iru
    The teacher is respected by the student.
  • *sensei ga seito ni yotte sonkei sarete-iru
    (since "to respect" is a mental state, you can't say this.)
  • Hanako ga Tarou ni te wo sawareta
    Hanako had [her] hand touched by Tarou.
  • ??Hanako ga Tarou ni yotte te wo sawareta
    (since Hanako's hand being touched doesn't really affect it, ni yotte can't be used.)
  • *okyakusan ga ame ni yotte furareta
    (the rain raining by itself is intransitive, so although the client is affected by the suffering passive, it isn't directly affected by the verb.)
  • shujinkou ga ninja ni yotte kazoku wo korosareta
    The protagonist had his family killed by ninjas.
    (in this case, the verb to kill directly affects the patient kazoku, so ni yotte can be used.).


A similar construction is no te de の手で, "using the the hand of" or "by the hand of" or "through the hand of." The hand is mark with the instrumental case, by the de で particle.
  • samurai wa ninja no te de korosareta
    The samurai was killed through the hands of a ninja.

Since poison doesn't have hands, you wouldn't use that construction with inanimate things: the samurai was killed by the hands of poison. That doesn't make sense. Only if poison is somebody's name, like Poison from Final Fight.


The phrase jibun no 自分の, "[one's] own," is sometimes used in the underlying action to express or emphasize the sufferer is a possessor of an argument.

As we've seen before, a possessive passive often has a possession implicature. We aren't explicitly saying that the sufferer owns the patient. We're merely assuming it, because possession is one way to figure out why the sufferer is suffering or affected from the action.
  • Taoru ga ninja ni saifu wo nusumareta
    Tarou had the wallet stolen by the ninja.
    Tarou had his wallet stolen by the ninja.

In the sentence above, we assume that it was Tarou's wallet that was stolen, otherwise it's hard to figure out why Tarou is bothered by a random wallet being stolen at all. What's his connection with that wallet?

We can use jibun no to be more explicit that the wallet was really his.
  • Taoru ga ninja ni jibun no saifu wo nusumareta
    Tarou had their own wallet stolen by the ninja.
    Tarou had his wallet stolen by the ninja.

Do note that "he" in Japanese is kare 彼, so "his" would be kare no 彼の, but jibun no 自分の is generally used instead in passive sentences.

In the sentences above, it's say to assume that the stolen wallet was possessed by the sufferer, so there's no need to use jibun. In some cases, the possession isn't so obvious, for example:
  • Tarou ga Hanako ni shashin wo miserareta
    Tarou had a photo shown by Hanako. (indirect passive.)
    Tarou was shown a photo by Hanako. (direct passive.)

In the sentence above, there's no reason to believe the photo is one of Tarou's possessions. In order to make that the case, the phrase jibun no is necessary.
  • Tarou ga Hanako ni jibun no shashin wo miserareta
    Tarou had his own photo shown by Hanako.
    Tarou was shown his own photo by Hanako.

In the sentence above, jibun no emphasizes the photo is one of Tarou's own possessions.

Depending on the sentence the interpretation can get a bit ambiguous, since jibun no can sometimes refer to either the sufferer or the agent.(Oshima, 2003, pp. 260-261)

For example:
  • Tarou ga Hanako ni jibun no heya kara dete-ikareta
    Tarou suffered: Hanako left his room. (jibun is Tarou.)
    Tarou suffered: Hanako left her room. (jibun is Hanako.)

Argument Omission

It's common for sentences in passive voice to be missing the agent. For example:
  • ou ga korosareta-n-da!
    The king was killed!

The sentence above fails to mentioned who killed the king. It just claims the king was killed by someone. (or something?!?!!??!)

Sometimes the speaker doesn't know who did it, sometimes the emphasis is just on the fact the king is the patient suffering from a serious case of killing. Anyway, this is common in both English and Japanese.

What's not common in English, however, is dropping deictic pronouns that refer to the interlocutors. When this happens, and it happens pretty often, you end up without even the sufferer of the sentence being uttered:
  • korosareru!!!
    [I'm going] to be killed!!!
    [You're going] to be killed!!!
    [He's going] to be killed!!!

Above, the only thing uttered is the verb "to kill" in non-past, passive form: "to be killed." It doesn't say by who is going to be killed, or by whom they're going to be killed, and yet it's a perfectly valid sentence in Japanese.

  • ninja ni korosarechau!
    [I'll] end up getting killed by ninjas!
    [You'll] end up getting killed by ninjas!
    [He'll] end up getting killed by ninjas!

Above, we have a contraction for koro-sarete-shimau, the passive form, again, and now we have an agent: ninjas, marked by ninja ni, but we don't have a sufferer, because there's no marked subject.

So we're being explicit on "what will happen," and maybe "by whose agency" it will happen, but not "to whom" it happens. The "to whom" part is understood from context.


In relative clauses, the passive voice can be used just like active voice can.
  • {neko ga kutta} nezumi
    The rat [that] {the cat ate}.
  • {neko ni kuwareta} nezumi
    The rat [that] {was eaten by the cat}.

Above, we're talking about the same nezumi, but qualifying it once using a relative clause in active voice, and once using a relative clause in passive voice. Observe how the sentences are synonymous because a direct passive was used.

With direct passives, the active voice places emphasis on the agency of the agent, while the passive voice removes emphasis from it, therefore shifting the emphasis to the sufferer and their lack of agency instead. Observe:
  • {ou ga eranda} mono
    A person [whom] {the king chose}.
  • {ou ni erabareta} mono
    A person [who] {was chosen by the king}.

Although both sentences above mean the same thing, the first one places emphasis on the fact the king, personally, and deliberately, chose that person. The second sentence has no such emphasis, and ends up being only about the relativized sufferer being at the receiving end of the action.

Indirect passives can also be used in relative clauses.
  • {musume ni shinareta} oya
    A parent [whose] {daughter died, and they suffered because of it}.
  • {ame ni furareta} okyakusan
    The customer [who] {suffered because it rained}.

Once again, pay close attention to the passive voice, since the relativized subject can be either the agent of the active voice or the sufferer of an indirect passive and you'll have only a couple syllables to tell the difference apart.
  • {kazoku wo koroshita} shujinkou
    The protagonist [that] {killed [his] family}.
    • shujinkou ga kazoku wo koroshita
      The protagonist killed [his] family.
  • {kozoku wo korosareta} shujinkou
    The protagonist [whose] {family was killed}.
    • For example, by ninjas:
    • shujinkou ga kazoku wo ninja ni korosareta
      The protagonist [suffered] due to ninjas killing [his] family.

Anything that can be marked as the topic in one sentence can be relativized.(Kuno 1973, cited in Nagata, 1994, p. 3)
  • kanja wa isha ni kusuri wo watasareta
    The patient was given the medicine by the medic.
    • {isha ni kusuri wo watasareta} kanja
      The patient [who] {was given the medicine by the medic}.
  • kusuri wa isha kara kanja ni watasareta
    The medicine was given from the medic to the patient.
    • {isha kara kanja ni watasareta} kusuri
      The medicine [that] {was given from the medic to the patient}.

As mentioned before, the agent of the passive can't be marked as the topic. Since it can't be marked as the topic, it makes sense to think it can't be relativized either.
  • *isha wa kanja ga kusuri wo watasareta
    • *{kanja ga kusuri wo watasareta} isha
      (consequently also ungrammatical.)


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  1. Just stumbled on this while searching about Japanese passives. Very helpful and informative!