A Name Was Called
Question. Who did what to whom in the following sentences?
1. 名前を呼ばれた。(名前: なまえ, 呼ぶ :よぶ – to call)
2. 飲み会に誘われた (飲み会: のみかい – drinking party , 誘う: さそう – to invite)
1. A name was called. – They called my name. (Perhaps in hospital, at work, or at school.)
2. To a drinking party, I was invited. – Somebody (a friend or a colleague) asked me out for a drink.
In Japanese, it is usually considered more natural to use the speaker (私) as the subject rather than someone else. In other words, if it is not explicitly stated, the subject is the speaker.
私は名前を呼ばれました or 私は飲み会に誘われました are of course, grammatically correct, but when the sentence is in passive form and it doesn’t have a clear subject, it already means “I was affected by someone’s action” → “Someone did something TO ME” so there is no need to say 私 repeatedly.
Why not 名前が呼ばれた but 名前を呼ばれた? When your belongings, not yourself, are directly affected by the action, the particle is 'を'.
Other verbs relating to communication are also often used with the passive form, such as 言われる (Somebody tells me), 話しかけられる (Somebody talks to me), たのまれる (Somebody asks me), ほめられる (Somebody praises me).
Exercise. Please translate these into Japanese.
3. A stranger spoke to me on the street. (stranger: 知らない人)
4. They complimented my Japanese.
5. (Intermediate) A senior colleague (先輩) asked me to do this job.
5. 先輩にこの仕事をやるように頼 (たの)まれた。/ 先輩にこの仕事をやってほしいと頼まれた。
“I was eaten my ice cream by my brother” …?
Question. Who did what to whom?
1. 財布 (さいふ: purse) を とられた。
1. A purse was stolen – Someone stole my purse (and I’m annoyed).
2. An ice cream was eaten by my brother. – My brother ate my ice cream (and I’m annoyed).
Again, Although the sentences don’t clearly show the subject, it is described from the speaker’s point of view. It is something that matters to 私. The purse and the ice cream are not random ones but they belong (or belonged) to the speaker.
In English translations, the subject is the purse and the ice cream, but in the original Japanese they are the object (with を). Why is it so?
This grammar is called indirect passive form. It describes a situation in which someone has done something to the speaker’s belongings or the speaker’s body part that often causes the speaker’s annoyance or damage.
(I’m annoyed that) someone did something to my property or body. – 私は (someone) に (my thing) を〜(ら)れた。
This indirect passive form also confuses Japanese English learners. When we learn passive form in English lessons, many write “I was stolen my purse” or “I was eaten my ice cream by my brother”.
Exercise. Translate into Japanese.
3. I got my foot stepped on in a train. To step 踏 (ふ) む
4. My friend gave away my secret on social media. To give away/ reveal: ばらす, Social media -SNS, secret:秘密 (ひみつ)
Ms. Suzuki Taught Me Japanese
Phew. The title sounds easy…but don't let your guard down!
Question. Translate these to Japanese.
10. Ms. Suzuki (Suzuki sensei) taught me Japanese.
11. My grandmother (祖母: そぼ) sent me some fruits.
10. 鈴木先生に日本語を教えてもらった。 / 鈴木先生が日本語を教えてくれた。
To describe a pleasant event to the speaker, You can use the grammar (Somebody) に〜てもらう or (Somebody) が〜てくれる.
In the 1st section, we saw that it is more natural to use the speaker as the subject rather than someone else. However, with くれる, you can use someone else as the subject of the sentence, without making it unnatural.
Note that「(unnatural) 祖母は果物を送った」 doesn’t mean she sent fruits to the speaker but to somebody/somewhere else, for example, 「祖母は弟に果物を送った」 or 「祖母は市場 (いちば: market) に果物を送った」。
What is the difference between 〜てくれる and 〜てもらう？ Physically, the same event can be represented, but there are differences, such as:
・「〜てもらう」 can have causative meaning - the action is requested by the speaker to the actor to be carried out. On the other hand, 「〜てくれる」does not have causative meaning. So, if you want to simply say “Someone does something for me”, you can use 〜てくれる.
・Both 〜てくれる and 〜てもらう can be used with various verbs but 〜てくれる is more often used with verbs related to speech, such as 話してくれる, 教えてくれる, 説明 (せつめい)してくれる: explain. 
・〜てくれる is used more than twice as much as 〜てもらう.
Exercise. Translate into Japanese.
12. My friend checked (見る) my English. / I asked my friend to check my English.
13. My brother came to help.
14. (Advanced) My brother ate my food, saying it was delicious.
Example No. 14 is confusing. Bear in mind that 〜てくれる/ てもらう just means “Somebody does something which is pleasant to the speaker” and it does not mean the speaker actually gets anything out of this event. 美味しいと言って食べてくれました means the speaker was happy his 弟 liked the food. Here, the speaker does not get anything, on the contrary, he is actually losing his food.
If there is no clear subject in a sentence, we usually assume that it is the speaker (私). If passive form, 〜てもらう or 〜てくれる is used in the sentence, it means someone did something to me/ for me. Indirect passive form, such as 弟にアイスを食べられた means “Someone did something to my property or body (and I am annoyed).” In this article, we learned only the declarative sentence: 3rd person (s/he/ they) did something to me. In the next article, I’d like to explain sentences that involve the listener (聞き手), such as "Did you do ~?” and "Could you do… for me?” together with honorific style (敬語). Please follow me so you don’t miss it, especially if you’d like to learn formal Japanese.