Expressions for giving and receiving in Japanese (objects and actions) [intermediate]

By | December 27, 2013

One of the convenient and frequently used set of expressions in Japanese is those for giving and receiving, which can be used for both objects and actions. These are discussed in many basic Japanese textbooks, but since their usage is a little tricky I thought I would review them here so it might help others.

There are three basic verbs used for giving and receiving, and they are as follows:

  • あげる (When the speaker gives to someone else, or a third party gives to someone besides the speaker)
  • くれる (When someone else gives to the speaker)
  • もらう (When someone, possibly the speaker, receives something from someone else)

It’s easy to confuse the first two, because the verb for ‘giving’ changes depending on whether the speaker is doing the giving, or on the receiving end of the giving.

First, let’s use these verbs to represent giving a simple physical object.

  • アイスをあげるよ
  • I’ll give you some ice cream

Note that the person giving or receiving the ice cream isn’t specified, but because the verb is あげる you can assume the giver is the speaker, and the receiver is the person being spoken to.

  • お菓子をくれるよね?
  • You’ll give me some candy, right?

Here the verb くれる means “give”, but to the speaker. Because of this it’s clear the giver is the listener, and the receiver is the speaker. If あげる was used here, it would sound like the candy would be given to a third party (i.e. not the speaker).

Receiving is a bit more straightforward since these is no distinction between the speaker or someone else doing the receiving.

  • 手紙をもらった
  • I received a postcard.

Here as well the subject can be inferred to be the speaker, unless otherwise stated or implied by the conversation leading up to this.

Now the really great thing about these three verbs is that they can be used to express actions done for the sake of someone else. For example,

  • ともだちに本を買ってあげた。
  • I bought my friend a book.
  • おとうさんが手伝ってくれた。
  • My dad helped me.
  • おとうさんに手伝ってもらった。
  • My dad helped me. (I received help from my dad)

These last two have almost the same meaning, but the くれる one focuses on the dad giving while the もらう one focuses on the speaker receiving.

These three words can also be used when you want to offer to do a favor for someone, if when you request a favor from someone else.

  • 車を洗ってあげよう.
  • Shall I wash your car?
  • 写真をとってくれる?     (or …くれない?)
  • Will you take my picture?
  • 意味を教えてもらえる?   (or …もらえない?)
  • Will you tell me the meaning?

This last one is especially confusing because the potential もらえる is used instead of もらう. You can think of this as “Would you able to do ~ for me” as opposed to “Will you do ~ for me” which is more harsh and direct.

もらう can also be used in the sense of “have someone do X for me”.

  • 明日、先生に教えてもらおう
  • Tomorrow lets have the teacher show us.

There are several related words that are used in different situations.

やる: Same meaning as あげる, except it is more harsh and used mostly with animals or children, or if you are just trying to sound tough.

  • やっつけてやる!
  • I’ll beat you up!

くださる: More polite version of くれる.

  • 英語に訳してくださいますか?
  • Would you mind translating this into English?

This verb’s conjugation for command form is ください which as you probably already know means “please”. Just as with くれる, you can use this for an object or for a favor.

  • バナナをください
  • Please give me a banana.
  • 日本語を教えてください
  • Please teach me Japanese.

いただく: More polite version of もらう.

  • 日本語を訂正していただけませんか
  • Can you please correct my Japanese?

Just as  with もらう, we use the potential form of the verb here (いただける).

I hope this post made the usage of these three verbs a little clearer.

Questions for practice:

Translate the following into Japanese:

  1. I’ll teach you English.
  2. My dad loaned me the book.
  3. Would you help me?
  4. Please listen.
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