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If 思われる is "its own verb," meaning "to seem;  to appear," and is independent of the separate verb 思う, meaning "to think," is there a conceptual relation between the two? I ask because I initially thought 思われる to be the passive form of 思う. Would it be wrong to think of 思われる meaning "it is thought" rather than "it seems"?

意外に思われるかもしれません。 This may surprise you.

このことは、私たちにはとても不思議に思われる。 This appears very strange to us.

そのようなプロジェクトを経た後では、すべてがはるかにたやすいように思われる。 Having come from something like the project, it seems like everything is a lot easier.

それは私には奇妙に思われる。 It seems strange to me.

彼女はとても年をとっているように思われる。 She seems (to me) (to be) a very old woman.

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I don't see separate entries for 思われる in 大辞林 or 大辞泉, which makes me suspect that 思われる is simply 「思う」の未然形「思わ」+「れる」. I'm not confident enough to answer, though. –  snailboat Mar 23 '13 at 19:16
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@snailplane, I should have consulted some japanese dictionaries but on tangorin they provided a separate entry with conjugation, where i found this gem- "思われられる". tangorin.com/general思われる –  yadokari Mar 23 '13 at 19:54
    
「自発」の「思われる」ですよね。The passive is 思われる, the honorific is also 思われる, the potential is 思える, and... what is 思われられる? The passive 思われる + the honorific れる (ie. 思われていらっしゃる), or the passive 思われる + the potential れる (ie. 思われることができる), maybe? –  Chocolate Mar 23 '13 at 22:43
    
@Chocolate, do you mean spontaneous when you say 自発? –  yadokari Mar 24 '13 at 3:17
    
@yadokari 大辞林 and 大辞泉 both list the relevant meaning as sense two. –  snailboat Mar 24 '13 at 4:26
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I've been thinking about various difference sentences that include 思われる to see if any of them feel like a distinctive word of its own, and my feeling is that the answer is no.

思う does mean "to think", as in "明日は雨だと思う / I think it'll rain tomorrow", and thus its passive form 思われる means "it is thought". The passiveness would be amplified when it is used without a specific subject, making it ambiguous as to who is thinking. Doing this creates a sense that the thought is shared by many/all/everyone, as in "情勢は不利だと思われる / the situation does not appear good." It makes the sentence feel more objective, and I think this is the effect that's making you feel it's a separate meaning.

In contrast, when 思われる is usd with a specific subject, it's easy to see it a passive form of 思う. This is true even when the subject is implied, as in "バカだと思われるよ / [he will] think you are stupid."

Note that 思われる is also a polite form (尊敬語) of 思う, as in "どう思われますか? / What do you think?". "意外に思われるかもしれません" you cited is also this usage.

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thank you. Do you have an opinion on "思われられる" as is discussed in the comments below the question above? –  yadokari Mar 30 '13 at 16:19
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