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This is the kind of simple question I'm often too embarrassed to ask, because I should probably know this by now. But here goes...

I was ordering something at a cafe, and I noticed some slightly awkward English on the menu something that made me laugh. It wasn't super funny or anything, it just caught me a little off guard. The cashier noticed me laugh and looked puzzled. So I pointed at the text and said:

これを笑{わら}わせた。

This happens all the time where I speak off the cuff, and then after the moment has passed, I realize I almost certainly said it wrong. Unfortunately, unlike other cultures, in Japan people rarely call you out. The cashier didn't look at me like "what the hell did you just say?", she just smiled. Leaving me unsure if I basically spoke complete nonsense and she was being nice, or that maybe I was close enough and she couldn't be bothered to offer any adjustments.

Passive and causative verb forms and the right particles to go with them have always been a source of trouble for me.

I think I should have said:

僕{ぼく}を笑{わら}わせた

I am the thing being made to laugh, so it's acting on me, so I take the particle . However, I want to make the thing I'm pointing at the focus of my sentence, not me. So, maybe I should have said:

これで笑{わら}わせた

In a sense, I was made to laugh by this thing I'm pointing at. It's a shortened form of:

(僕{ぼく}に)これで笑{わら}わせた。

I often turn out to be totally wrong, so, am I wrong again? What would be the best way for me to express, while pointing at the text on the menu, "this made me laugh"?


Also see this question and answer about the causative and passive forms of 笑 for related information. A joke is an interesting edge case, because, as explained in answers below, a thing has no animacy, so it doesn't "make" people laugh, but a joke is the result of actions between people, so in a sense, the joke us a proxy that can be said to "make" people laugh.

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これが僕を笑わせた is a fact stating expression but it is not colloquial. これは笑っちゃうね colloquial, これには笑った written style which can be used in a diary, お笑い[草]{ぐさ}だ funny and despicable –  noel_lapin Apr 19 at 8:24
    
これで笑わせた is wrong because no people made you laugh. –  user4092 Apr 20 at 0:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

笑わせた(笑わせる) is the causative form of 笑う(笑った), so

これを笑わせた。

means "(I) made it laugh."

僕を笑わせた。

means "(Something) made me laugh", so logically speaking this statement would be correct in your situation.

これで笑わせた。

would mean "(I) made (someone) laugh with this." (I think the で works as an instrumental/具格 case here)

(僕に)これで笑わせた。

doesn't make much sense. Probably you meant to type:

(僕を)これで笑わせた。

? But this is more like "(Someone) made me laugh with this."
"This made me laugh" literally translates to:

これが僕を笑わせた。

However, normally you don't say it this way in Japanese, because the Japanese language tends to avoid using 無生物主語(inanimate subject) (as user4092's post states), especially in verbal/casual communication. So I think you should say it more like this:

(僕は)これで笑ったんですよ。/笑ってしまったんですよ。(I) laughed because of this.
(僕は)これにorこれを笑ったんですよ。/笑ってしまったんですよ。(I) laughed at this.
これが(ちょっと)おかしかったので、(僕は)笑ってしまいました。/笑ってしまったんですよ。 etc.

... using 僕 as the subject. (The 僕は is normally left out.)


To sound even more natural, you could just say like 「(いや、)(ちょっと)これがおかしかったんで・・・」「(あぁ、いやぁ、)この英語が(ちょっと)おかしかったんで・・・」etc., as @Haruo says.

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This answer inspired a follow up question. –  Questioner Apr 21 at 14:32
    
Awesome example sentences here! This really does a lot to put natural phrasing into perspective. –  Kaji Apr 21 at 15:42
    
Thank you @Kaji, and thank you @DaveMG for the edit (I'm taking notes and learning from your corrections, I have such bad memory I might make the same mistakes again, though) –  Choko Apr 25 at 8:19

If a Japanese sentence contains a noun with high animacy or (linguistic) sympathy and a noun with less animacy or sympathy, the former takes the position of the subject.

If there are you and the menu, you have to compose a sentence with you being the subject.

If you say これで笑わせた, people only think you made someone laugh using the menu or someone made someone else (not you) laugh, either of which don't make much sense in the context of the case.

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「いや、これがおかしくて・・・。」could be what you want. "Well, (I am laughing) because this looks funny."

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