Embracing Japanese Expression – Get Used to It 2

2. Passive Tense

Arguably, there is nothing more foreign to English speakers than the Japanese passive tense, but the sooner you learn to understand it and use it, the sooner you learn to take off your active tense floaties, the more comfortable you will be with the language. If you grew up as I did, you learned the iron-clad rule “AVOID THE PASSIVE TENSE!” It’s weak. It’s not strong. It’s passive. Well, forget that rule, because there is no rule against using the passive tense in Japanese.

Let’s start with a useful example: そう言われると、そうだよね。

This is the Japanese way of saying, “Now that you mention it…(you’re right! / that is true).”

Let’s look at what’s happening in the Japanese. Here’s the ugly (but occasionally useful) direct translation:

When such( I) am told, it is that way.

I have put the “I” in parenthesis because there is no pronoun in the Japanese. But this leaves someone missing – the person who is doing the telling. The most accurate way to direct translate this is: When such (I) am told (by you). But would anyone ever say anything like that in English? Absolutely not. If you tried to do a literal translation from English to Japanese of “Now that you mention it…” (Something along the lines of, “今あなたがそれを言うと、”), you’ll end up with something just as silly.

The other way you may hear this pattern is, そう言われてみれば、.

The other usage of the passive tense is to describe adverse circumstances – when shit goes wrong. Here’s an example that should be familiar to all elementary school teachers:

ダニエル先生、どうしたの?
What’s wrong, Daniel?

カンチョウされた!
A first-grader just kanchoed me!

Passive tense is very frequently used when something bad or unfortunate happens to you. If we add in all the people to the second sentence above, you get:

私が一年生にカンチョウされた!
I was kanchoed by a first-grader unfortunately.

I’ve added the “unfortunately” to help express the adverse nature of the circumstance.

Now let’s make it even stronger. I mean, come on, a kid just stuck his fingers up your butt! You don’t want to just said, “First grader put fingers in my butt,” you want to be able to say, “Goddammit, that little fuck just stuck his fingers up my hairy asshole!”

カンチョウされてしまった!

しまった is the relatively mild exclamatory phrase which means something like, “Darn.” But change that to カンチョウされちゃった! , add a little grunt, and then you’ll be expressing some of that fervor! されちゃった is just the contracted form of されてしまう。

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>