The “Suffering Passive”. Textbooks at their confusing worst! And the cure.

The “suffering passive” or “adversity passive” is one of the weirder notions that the Western version of “Japanese grammar” foists on us.

According to the textbooks, Japanese people, for some quite inexplicable reason, lapse into the passive voice in order to complain or lament about some event.

They don’t.

As we have explained before, there is no passive in Japanese, at least not in the sense of the English “passive voice”. It is the insistence that the Japanese ukemi (receptive form) is “passive” that leads to this odd notion of a “suffering passive”.

What is actually happening in the meiwaku ukemi (nuisance receptive – the accurate Japanese term for the “adversity passive”) is much simpler and actually is something that English speakers also do all the time – although it isn’t considered to be correct grammar in English.

Once you know this, you can forget the Byzantine explanations of European-language-based “Japanese grammar” and see the nuisance-receptive form as it really is – simple, logical and easily intuitive.

Watch this seven-minute video and stop suffering passively forever!

‘Cause dolls do what doctorates don’t.



This video unpacks pretty deeply the confusing tangle that is Western “Japanese grammar”. The “suffering passive” misconception is born out of three other misconceptions. I think this video works on its own but you may need some help (and it certainly would be a good idea anyway, to dispel the other three.

So I am listing the three underlying misconceptions and giving links to the lessons that clear them up.


“Suffering Passive”: Underlying Errors

  1. That the Japanese receptive form is something like the English passive voice.
  2. That it is a “conjugation” – which in turn is based on
  3. The notion that the amazingly simple and logical Japanese helper-verb and helper-adjective structure is “conjugation” in the European sense.

If the ideas are unfamiliar to you, you will also find it useful to watch the lessons on the zero pronoun and particle and Japanese ga-centered grammar structure.

Sorry for all these links! I do think the video above is understandable by itself but it is based on unpacking the whole misguided structure of Europeanized “Japanese grammar”.

And this is something you are going to want to see for yourself if you want to make the whole of Japanese grammar – not just the “suffering passive” – as simple as it really is.

If you have questions, please ask them in the comments section of the video. I usually answer pretty quickly.

3 thoughts on “The “Suffering Passive”. Textbooks at their confusing worst! And the cure.

  1. I’m not even learning Japanese (yet) and I read your blog posts just because they’re interesting and because they’re English content (I’m still polishing my English and my native language is Spanish), but I so love your style and humour!! I love your idea of a second mother tongue haha!

    1. Thank you so much. I’m glad you’re enjoying the content. If you do decide to learn Japanese I think it will help you to avoid some of the problems that a lot of people face in early learning. As I’ve pointed out before, Spanish speakers should have no trouble with things like “(watashi wa) koohii ga suki desu” because that ~GA suki works very similarly to “me gusta” – It means “coffee is pleasing to me”, not “I like coffee”. Actually this confuses English learners of Spanish too, because they get taught that “me gusta” means “I like”. We do say “I like” in English, but that isn’t what the Spanish OR Japanese grammar actually means. So don’t get confused by English explanations of Japanese! Have fun. Always ask me a question if you need to. And feliz Navidad.

      1. Yea, I have an American-Indian friend who’s learning Spanish and he told me that he was (correctly) taught that “me gusta” means something more like “To me it is pleasing”. And I didn’t know that thing about “ga suki”, thanks for the info!

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