Japanese Grammar: Abbreviated causative-passive forms

By | June 30, 2021

During my Japanese studies, I’ve made it a point to try and have a thorough understanding of Japanese grammar because I feel that it gives me a good base not only for speaking and writing correctly, but also understanding nuances of the language I might otherwise miss.

Just the other day the word “呼ばされる” (yobasareru) popped into my head, and I said to myself, “What verb form exactly is this?” I had a gut feeling about what this meant, but it made me uncomfortable to not be able to name the exact verb form, especially because Japanese doesn’t even have that many verb forms.

It turns out “yobasareru” is actually an abbreviated form of the causative-passive, whereas the regular form for the verb “呼ぶ” (to call) would be “呼ばせられる” (yobaserareru). You can see the regular form is quite long so it’s no surprise there is an shortened form for this.

As a refresher to understanding the causative-passive form, let me briefly go over the causative  and passive forms. The causative form is when someone is made (forcefully) or allowed to do some action. The conjugation generally ends with “-(a)seru” or “-saseru”. So 食べさせる (tabesaseru) would mean “to make or allow (someone) to eat (something)”.

The passive form is when what is normally treated as an object is instead used as a subject, essentially explaining some action from the opposite perspective of how it is usually done. It is conjugated as “-(a)reru”. For example:

  • Regular form:  “I took a book”
  • 僕は本を取った (boku wa hon wo totta)
  • Passive form: “The book was taken [by me]”
  • 本は[僕に]取られた (hon wa [boku ni] torareta)

In the above example the passive verb is “torareta”, which is the passive past form of “toru”.

The causative-passive form is just the combination of these two forms. In other words, someone was made or allowed to do something. For example:

  • 勝たさせられた (katasasereta)
  • (I) was allowed to win.

This is the past causative-passive of the verb “勝つ” (katsu), which means “to win”.

As for the abbreviation of this form that I referred to earlier, to conjugate this you simply take the stem that is used for the “nai” form (which ends in an “a” sound) and add “sareru”.

So to figure out how to rewrite the above sentence using the abbreviated form, first let’s get the “nai” form: 勝たない (katanai). Now, remove the “nai” so you get “kata” and add “sareru”, yielding “katasareru”. Finally, since our example is past we conjugated this as “katasareta”.

  • 勝たされた (katasareta)
  • (I) was allowed to win.

Another way to get the abbreviated form is to simply make the regular causative-passive form and replace the “sera” with “sa”.

  •  勝たせられた(kataserareta) => 勝たれた (katasareta)

This explanation actually makes more sense to me as how the form evolved, whereas if you think about in the previous way (adding “sareru” to the “-nai” stem), it focuses on the passive part (the verb “sareru” itself is the passive of “suru”) without explaining where the causative part came from.

This abbreviation can be used for all verbs except for those with the “su” ending (ex: 押す [osu]), and “suru”. This seems reasonable because if we try to transform using the above rule we get “saserareru” => “sasareru”. Not only is “sasa” not smooth to pronounce (abbreviations generally make things easier to pronounce), but “sasareru” actually means “to be pointed at” or “to be stabbed”.

Now going back to 呼ばされる (yobasareru), what exactly does this mean? Literally, it means “(I) will be allowed to be called (some name)”. While this is correct conjugation, I can’t think of a common case when this would be used, nor can I find many references to it being used. So I never figured out where I heard this. But at least I’ll give an example sentence of how it could be used:

  • 彼の事を「dude」と呼ばされてる (kare no koto wo “dude” to yobasareteru)
  • He lets me call him “dude”

Here “yobasarete ru” is an abbreviation of “yobasarete iru”, which is itself an abbreviation of “yobaserarete iru”. Since “yobu” means “to call”, “yobaserarete” (which is the causative passive form) means “to be let call”. In other words, the subject was given the permission to call someone something. Here is one page (presumably) by a native speaker that does use the phrase “呼ばされてる”.

Perhaps a better example of the causative-passive short form is the verb “待たされる” (matasareru) which means “to be made to wait”. This is a word I hear and use on a daily basis, but I had never made the connection that it was an abbreviated form of the causative-passive.

Here’s a textbook that has a brief comment on the causative-passive form, including the abbreviated form. Note that the explanation there says the form means “being forced to do something” and implies discomfort, however as in the “katasareta” example above that is not always the case.

Japanese doesn’t have that many verb forms and generally they are not that hard to conjugate, but the causative-passive form is one case that can be difficult to conjugate and understand. But once you learn it you are one more step to fluency.

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8 thoughts on “Japanese Grammar: Abbreviated causative-passive forms

  1. errg

    > the regular form for the verb “呼ぶ” (to call) would be “呼ばさせられる

    I think it’s just a typo, but isn’t the regular causative passive form here: 呼ばせられる

    I always enjoy and learn from your posts!

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for pointing out my mistake, I just fixed it.

      Also thanks for the kind words about my blog. Glad you are learning something from them.

  2. lucius

    For the causative passive abbreviation for ~る verbs, does the さ count as both the ~あ sound from the ~ない form, and also as the replacement of せら? Because otherwise there would be two さ’s in a row which you explained doesn’t flow very nice for ~す verbs. All the examples were ~う verbs that had the built in ~あ to their ~ない form, so this wasn’t very clear to me for ~る verbs. anyway, super helpful post!

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the comment! Here’s an example of a ~る verb

      凍る (to freeze) [intransitive]
      凍らせる (to make frozen, to freeze) [transitive]
      凍らせられる (to be made frozen) [long form]
      凍らされる (to be made frozen) [abbreviated form]

      Comparing the last two lines, we can see せら is replaced to さ.

      The other way of looking at it is that you take the negative form 凍らない, drop the ない, and add される

      凍らない ーない =凍ら
      凍ら+される=凍らされる (same as the last line above)

      Does that make sense?

      1. lucius

        Yes! That makes sense. So…
        見る to see
        見られる to be seen
        見させる to allow to see
        見らせられる to be allowed to see
        見らされる to be allowed to see (shortened)
        Hopefully I got it now. Thanks!

        1. locksleyu Post author

          “to be allowed to see” (your 4th item) should be “見させられる”, and the short form would technically work out to 見させされる, but I don’t think that is ever user.

          The reason is that 見る is actually a special verb (perhaps because it is so common) and has other related verbs:

          見せる: to show (this is similar to “to allow someone to see”)
          見える: to be seen (although 見られる can be used with a different nuance)

          If we tried to apply the rules I mentioned to 見せる we would get something like that 見せされる, though I don’t hear/see that much in practice (there is a few hits online though).

          If I was going to say “I was allowed to see XXX” I would generally use something like:


          1. lucius

            Ah, I see where I got confused. When I said ~る verbs, I categorize that as excluding verbs that end in る but still get conjugated like う, つ, む, ぶ, ぬ, す, etc., so I thought 凍る was like 凍ます not 凍ります (novice mistake 🙂 ). I also checked out the textbook page you linked and that was super helpful. Anyway, in the process of figuring it out I noticed a common structure for the “allow” sense is [verb] こと許された。Is this used a lot colloquially? I appreciate your time in responding!

          2. locksleyu Post author

            Glad that you have a better understanding now (:

            Yes, (する)ことを許される is a common pattern, as is (する)ことを許可される, though these are pretty formal and stiff sounding.

            “させてもらう” is good enough for many real-world everyday situations.

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