Japanese polite expression: 頼まれてくれる? (tanomarete kureru?)

By | January 28, 2019

Recently I was watching anime when I came across the interesting phrase “頼まれてくれる?”(tanomarete kureru?), so I wanted to dedicate a post to it.

To begin with, the verb 頼む (tanomu) means to request something or ask a favor or someone, and is similar to the verb お願いする (onegai suru). However, in the expression here the verb is used in the gerund (also called ‘te’) form of the passive form, 頼まれる (tanomareru).

The verb くれる (kureru) is used when someone else is giving something to the speaker, but it is also used in conjunction with another verb’s gerund (ex: -te + kureru) to express someone doing an action for the sake of the speaker.

So if we put all this together, the expression “頼まれてくれる?” can be translated literally as:

Would you be asked for a favor, for me?

This definitely sounds a little cryptic, but you can probably guess that is used when someone is asking for a favor. So it could be translated more naturally as:

Would you do me a favor?

It’s important to note that the passive form is important here, because without it we would end up with “頼んでくれる” (tanonde kureru) that means the strange statement, “would you ask me for a favor?”

Returning to the original phrase (tanomarete kureru?), while of course the meaning itself is important, I also like understanding what I think of as the “meta” information about words and phrases. In other words, what nuances does it have? Who would say it, and in what sort of situation?

At first, you might think that this phrase is not particularly polite, since it is using the casual くれる form instead of くれます or some form of a politer verb like くださる. Japanese has many levels of politeness and you could probably express the same meaning at least ten different ways.

Speaking to a native, it seems that this expression is actually somewhat polite though probably not used that much in daily life. Also, this post (in Japanese) gives some good information about its nuance. Specifically, it says it has a “softer, more modest” feeling behind it, and helps to convince the person you are asking to help out.

By the way, the context I saw it in was when a older woman (who seemed to be a servant or assistant of some sort) was asking a favor of a younger girl who lived in the house. The fact she was talking to a girl explains why she didn’t use the desu/masu form, but since she wanted to ask it extra nicely she used this phrase for effect (perhaps in the sense of “pretty please”).

More common expressions (which perhaps lack the nuance I just mentioned) would be 頼んでいい? (tanonde ii?) or something like 〜してくれる? (~shite kureru?), where the “~” would be replaced by whatever verb describes the action you want the listener to do for you. There are many others though.

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