Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

My understanding is that 思われる, in addition to being the passive form of 思う, can also be used in the sense of "to spontaneously think; to appear".

In North America a skirt is thought of as something a woman wears.

In which sense is 思われる being used here? Both seem reasonable:
Spontaneous: In North America, people spontaneously think a skirt is something a woman wears. Passive: A skirt is thought of by North Americans as something a woman wears.

I lean more towards the first one, since a passive sentence would normally mark the agent with に i.e.


share|improve this question
related: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/11534/… – ssb Sep 17 '13 at 4:36
What source is your "spontaneous" meaning from? – yadokari Sep 17 '13 at 13:11
@yadokari I believe it's one of the four uses of (ら)れる identified in traditional grammar, called 自発. The other three are 受身 (passive), 尊敬 (honorific), and 可能 (potential). – snailplane Sep 17 '13 at 15:15
@yadokari My source was the entry for 思われう in A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar, which describes it as "a verb that indicates what the speaker/writer feels spontaneously". They also explicitly distinguish this usage from the passive form of 思う. – Viridian Sep 17 '13 at 15:47
Somehow, I don't think the ている form can be the spontaneous kind, and I think the reason could be related to this question: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/6538/… . – dainichi Sep 18 '13 at 22:45
up vote 3 down vote accepted

From your last comment (emphasis added):

a verb that indicates what the speaker/writer feels spontaneously

This does not match the translation you give for "spontaneous:"

In North America, people spontaneously think a skirt is something a woman wears.

Do you see the difference? If 思われる were supposed to indicate the author's thoughts or feelings, a better translation would be

It seems that in North America skirts are usually worn by women.

However, with no other context, there is nothing to indicate that this is a personal observation of the author, so the translation

In North America a skirt is thought of as something a woman wears.

seems most appropriate to me.

Also note that it is quite common to leave out the agent in passive sentences. Just a few examples:

I got bullied at school today.

The government was overthrown.

He was killed.

share|improve this answer

The 自発 (spontaneous) 思われる is a static verb (like いる and ある) and cannot take the ている form. So the 思われている in the example is definitely a passive.

The passive 思われる can take the 思われている form based on tense/aspect.

share|improve this answer
That is the grammatical explanation that I was searching for but couldn't find. This is a better answer. – ThisSuitIsBlackNot Sep 19 '13 at 15:40

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.