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芥川龍之介's story 片恋 begins with the following sentence:


Perhaps because 聞く can mean both "to hear" and "to ask", and also because of the causative conjugation of the verb, I'm not too sure of the correct interpretation of 友だちに〜聞かせられた. Would anyone be able to provide some clarification on how to parse this word? My guess would be to translate the passage as follows:

I heard this story one summer afternoon from a close friend with whom I had attended university, after we bumped into each other aboard a train from Yokohama.

聞かせられた appears to mean "was caused to hear". Is this as circumlocutious in Japanese as it would be in English? Could 聞かれた or 聞いた be used instead?

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I think に comes with 遇あった. May be related to this discussion –  Yang Muye May 7 at 6:08
@YangMuye, good point. To me, the に遇ったら and に聞かせられた parses seem about equally likely. –  dainichi May 7 at 7:53

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As I think you already understand,

  • 聞かせる is causative form (使役)of 聞く, 聞かされる is the passive-causative form(使役受け身).
  • Passive is often referred to as the "suffering" tense. The subject, the writer, is "suffering" from being made to either ask or listen.

If the verb clause is ~たら and the action takes place in the past then the following expression cannot describe an action of the subject's volition. Asking would be a volitional action. Listening (or being made to listen) is not necessarily volitional(see note) and therefore:

"As a result of" meeting his friend on the train, the writer had to (or was "made" to) listen to the following story [which his friend told him on the journey]....

I would read the sentence as:


rather than


because the second event was result of the first.

聞いた fits to the extent that the writer still hears the story but you lose the nuance that he had to listen because (I imagine) he could not get off the train and he could not ignore his friend who would not shut up/who was very upset and wanted someone to listen to him(whatever), so I doubt it is circumlocutious but these phrases can be difficult to translate directly.

Note: You could argue that that if the verb is passive-causative then neither action is volitional but "made to listen" is less volitional and more natural than "made to ask".

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Um... Maybe “as a result of ...” the writer “was able to” hear the story? Although it's not potential form, it's a kind of unexpected result that you can't control (e.g. you can't do it whenever you want). I feel 聞いた might sound unnatural. –  Yang Muye May 7 at 11:50
@YangMuye: I have not said that "as a result of" the writer “was able to” which, as you say would be potential and inappropriate because in this case 聞かされた is of a passive (ie non-volitional) nature. I said "聞いた fits to the extent that..." because I think 聞く can mean either "heard" (passive sense; 音を耳に受けること) or "listen to" (active: 聴く、耳を傾ける事). –  Tim May 7 at 14:29
"If the verb clause is ~たら then the following expression cannot describe an action of the subject's volition." Interesting, I hadn't thought about this before. Do you have a reference for this? –  dainichi May 8 at 1:26
@dainichi: 新完全マスター文法N3 (p88-91) and Dictionary of Basic Jpse Grammar (p455). I should have said, this applies when action takes place in the past. Thank you for bringing this up. I have made an additional edit to my answer. –  Tim May 8 at 13:36

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