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While looking up some grammar points I stumbled across this paper which describes something that it calls "indirect passives". I can't think of anything similar in English, and I'm having trouble understanding how it works. It seems that this involves using a passive-voice verb in a sentence that specifies different agents and indirect objects/agents. The paper gives several examples, including the following:

Taroo-ga kodomo-ni nak-are-ta
"Taro was adversely affected by the child's crying."

Taroo-ga tuma-ni taore-rare-ta.
"Taro was in trouble because his wife got sick in bed."

Hanako-ga tonari-no gakusei-ni piano-o asa-made hik-are-ta.
"Hanako was adversely affected by the neighboring student's playing the piano until morning."

I suppose that these sentences could be perhaps ungrammatically translated into English as something like the following:

Taro was cried by the child.

Taro was collapsed by his wife.

Hanako was played the piano until morning by the neighboring student.

But what is it about this grammatical construction that infers a negative outcome? Especially the last example, which does make sense in English but doesn't seem to suggest anything negative in English.

Could anyone provide an explanation on how this pattern works?

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FYI: this use of the passive is also sometimes called the "adversive/adversative passive" or the "suffering passive". –  senshin May 14 at 6:03

1 Answer 1

The key part of this construction that implies a negative outcome is the passivity on the one hand, and the actions of the verbal phrases on the other -- the subject of these sentences is having something done to them, in a way that is outside of their control, and that something is unpleasant or adverse in some way.

One construction I've run across in everyday English that comes close to this same mode of expression is at [person] or especially on [person]: "My dog done died on me." Somewhat more idiomatic and colloquial translations of the sample sentences using this form might make the meaning more clear.

  • Taro had a kid crying at him.
  • Taro had his wife collapse on him.
  • Hanako had the next-door students playing the piano all night on her.

In the last example sentence, the students playing the piano all night implies a negative outcome of Hanako probably not sleeping very well.

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