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I know they're both polite ways to use a verb, but my materials never taught me what unique traits each one has. Is it just the tone, or is there more to it?

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待たれる is 可能形. Which is ability form of that verb 持つ。 お待ちになる is honorific language. –  Birkan Aras Feb 24 '13 at 8:03
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@BirkanAras 待たれる is not a form of 持つ, but of 待つ. It can be honorific or passive. See forum.koohii.com/viewtopic.php?pid=130286#p130286 for some discussion. –  snailboat Feb 24 '13 at 12:26
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@BirkanAras: In addition to what snailplane said, 待たれる is also not 可能形. The 可能形 of 待つ is 待てる. –  istrasci Feb 25 '13 at 15:24
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up vote 9 down vote accepted

お…になる sounds more respectful than …れる to me. In particular, when used to ask for the listener to do something in speech (for example at a restaurant), こちらでお待ちになってください is fine, but こちらで待たれてください sounds impolite (not respectful enough) to me. I do not know whether this difference is counted as “just the tone” or not.

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I agree that お〜になる is more often used when speaking to the person, and (ら)れる is more often used when speaking about the person. At least how I've seen it. –  istrasci Feb 25 '13 at 15:27
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