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I think I know the answer to this, but it still creeps up in my mind all the time; something I'd like to research more. I want to know technical differences as well as common usage.

When do you use the passive form of a transitive verb versus just using the intransitive verb?? For example, 教【おし】えられる versus 教【おそ】わる.

Amaze me with your answers!

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(1) You are using transitive and intransitive swapped. Transitive verbs (他動詞) take objects and intransitive verbs (自動詞) do not. (2) 呆れる usually means to be surprised by a bad thing, so 呆れさしてくれ probably means that you want to receive surprisingly low-quality answers. :) 驚かしてくれ may be more appropriate, but it is not an idiomatic phrase like “amaze me!” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 1 '11 at 15:06
After pondering this for a bit, I'm thinking this has something to do with the presence of intent in the action. To use your example, 教えられる shows that the action of teaching was intentional, whereas 教わる merely shows that something was learned, whether the teaching was intentional or not. Similarly, 直る (to get better without intervention) and 直される (to be repaired by someone intentionally). Unfortunately I don't have enough verification to merit posting an answer. Can someone tell me if I'm on the right track? –  Derek Schaab Jun 1 '11 at 18:00
教わる seems to me to be an unfortunate choice for an example, since it's actually transitive: 日本語を教わる. In this way it's different from the common transitive-intransitive pattern, where the object of the transitive verb is the subject of the intransitive verb. 日本語が教わる is not possible. –  dainichi Jan 21 at 23:59

2 Answers 2

My initial perception (that I had before asking this question) also dealt with the focus of the sentence. With the 教えられる/教わる example, they both essentially mean "X was taught", but the X is different with each one.

  • 学生は日本語を教わった - The students were taught Japanese (The subject the students were taught was Japanese)
  • 学生は日本語を教えられた - The students were taught Japanese (The recipients of the Japanese teaching were the students).

Another example pair I often think about is 伝えられる/伝わる, where both essentially mean "X was told/conveyed".

  • 私の意見は伝わった - My opinion was told (Whether or not anyone actually physically heard it or paid attention to it is unknown).
  • 私の意見は伝えられた - My opinion was told, and there were actually people who physically heard and understood it (whether or not they agree with it is unknown).
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"私の意見は伝わった" leaves the possibility of no one hearing it? What about all those pop songs lamenting 「伝わらない片思い」? –  Trevor Alexander Jan 23 at 8:38

Generally, the difference between a transitive phrase and ukemi transitive phrase is emphasis. For example:

① 田中さんが村田さんに他動詞の使い方を教えた。
② 村田さんは田中さんに他動詞の使い方を教えられた。
③ 村田さんは他動詞の使い方を田中さんから教わった。

The first sentence (transitive) is very much focused on 田中さん. 村田さん is only mentioned because he's involved with the action that 田中さん is performing.

The second (ukemi) and third (intransitive) sentences here is more focused on 村田さん. We're talking about 村田さん's circumstances primarily; we could even remove the 田中さんに or 田中さんから phrases, and still have a sensible sentence. However, with 教えられた, there is a sense that someone's actively teaching. You might find 教わった more used in situations where, eg, you learned something from TV or a book; in these cases 教えられた would not be appropriate:

× 私は他動詞の使い方を本に教えられた。
○ 私は他動詞の使い方を本から教わった。
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(1) I think I agree with you that 田中さんに教えられた has a stronger focus on someone’s actively teaching than 田中さんに教わった. However, it seems to me that 教わった still has some focus on the action of teaching when you compare it to, say, 田中さんから習った. (more) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 2 '11 at 1:40
(2) I find both 本に教えられた and 本から教わった acceptable, but both are (kind of) personification. Probably the speaker is identifying the book with its author. I think that the usual (non-personifying) way to state “I learned how to use transitive verbs from a book” is 私は他動詞の使い方を本で習った. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 2 '11 at 1:44

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