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I am familiar with the set phrase 「言われてみれば」 as a way to say "Now that you say that", but as I examine the phrase further, the phrase structure strikes me as strange. The 〜てみる conjugation is commonly used to say "to try doing something", but what meaning does it give when used with passive verb form; "to try being done" does not make much sense to me.

Maybe one might argue that 「言われてみれば」 is a set phrase so I should just accept it as such, but when I googled around I found that while many verbs yielded zero results when I tried to find their [passive]てみれば forms, there are some verbs, mostly related to speech, that can use this form:

  • 本当に好きだったと聞かれてみれば、本当に愛してたと答えられる。

  • 違う病院に行く、ご事情を話されてみれば良いと思います。

But there are also some verbs that are not related to speech:

  • 愛されて壊されてみれば (song lyric)

  • お前が轢かれてみれば分かるから、お前で実験してみろよ。

So, in general what meaning does this form give to the original verbs, and in what kinds of scenarios is it used for?

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In the second example, 話されて is honorification, not passive. Well, whether to exclude this as irrelevant may depend on whether you consider this type of honorification as indeed passive with something happening in pragmatics that make it honorific, but probably that is not a standard analysis. –  sawa Aug 18 '11 at 6:03
In your third and fourth examples, it can be considered that it is about inducing the event to happen (seduce, or lying down on the street); then, it would not be contradictory with passive. But still, your 言われてみれば remains a good question. –  sawa Aug 18 '11 at 6:11
Passive sentences sometimes mean suffering depending on the context. –  user364 Aug 18 '11 at 22:43
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1 Answer

up vote 8 down vote accepted

We can process this confusing construction if we first realize that "try" is (more often than not, I would say,) a poor substitution for the ~てみる form. This is because "try" conjures up the connotation of "attempt", which implies a possibility of failure. For this particular meaning, the ~ようとする form is more suitable.

A better explanation of ~てみる, then, is that it shows that the speaker's (or actor's) attention is directed toward the effects or result of completing the action. 食べてみる is literally to "eat and see": to first eat, and then see what effect that has (i.e. whether you enjoy the taste or not). 市役所に行ってみる is to go to City Hall and see what the result of going is (perhaps to see if they can answer some questions you have). We always have two actions: the primary, and みる, which deals with observation upon completing the primary action.

By extension:

言われてみれば… If I were to focus my attention on the effects (recollections, changes in mental state) of having been told that…

As is often the case, the literal translation fails to come across with the same succinctness as the original, which is why phrases such as "Now that you mention it…" are used instead. But although the primary verb is passive, the phrase still fits into the ~てみる construction as described above.

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みる in this construction comes from 見る in the sense of seeing, but that is only etymology. It has evolved into an auxiliary verb with a different meaning. In fact, the two 'miru' are written differently as 見る and みる, and have different accent. 食べて見る and 食べてみる mean different things. The latter is not 'eat and see' as in your example even literally. –  sawa Aug 18 '11 at 16:23
@sawa: I think you are confusing "see" in the physical sense (as in light hitting the retina) with "see" in the mental sense (as in observing a course of events). 見る is used for the former, and みる is used for the latter. –  Derek Schaab Aug 18 '11 at 17:23
That distinction exists within the main verb. With the non-physical observing sense, it is still written as 見る, e.g., 様子を見る. It is distinct from the auxiliary use. –  sawa Aug 18 '11 at 17:34
@sawa: Then please educate me and tell me what the みる means in ~てみる. Or write your own answer, if you find mine unsatisfactory. –  Derek Schaab Aug 18 '11 at 21:11
(1) The first paragraph is confusing. It is true that considering ~てみる as “try” is a poor practice, but note that Lukman knows better than that. In English, “try to do” has the possibility of failure, but “try doing” means actually performing the mentioned action. ~ようとする corresponds well to “try to do,” and ~てみる “try doing.” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 21 '11 at 18:57
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