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Pardon the bad grammar in the title, just wanted to keep it short.

So in the sentence さくらが投げられた, さくら is the subject doing the action receive, where she is receiving "thrown"

ie. Sakura was physically picked up and thrown

But in 私が言われた, it's saying that "I" am the subject receiving "said"

Why does this get interpreted as "I received what was said" ie "I was told"

as opposed to "I am what was said" as in, I am literally the words- the words that received the action of "said"?

In other words:

If 鞄が盗まれた means "bag got stolen" -> what was stolen? Bag.

And さくらが投げられた means "sakura got thrown" -> what was thrown? Sakura.

Then why doesn't 私が言われた mean "I was said" -> what was said? me.

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    さくらを投げた makes perfect sense. 私を言った, not so much.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Jun 18 at 16:44
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    You might want to look up Japanese indirect passive expressions. We say 私は親に死なれた or 彼女は雨に降られた even though 死ぬ and 降る are intransitive verbs.
    – naruto
    Commented Jun 19 at 4:37

1 Answer 1

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With the so-called "suffering passive", the が-marked part isn't necessarily the patient of the action (that which is actually manipulated), but rather the one who "suffers".

In English, we can perfectly well say "I got told" - it works quite the same way as in Japanese. That doesn't mean "I" am the words that were spoken, but rather "I" am the one who had to hear them. (DeepL will translate it as "I was told" - more formal, but losing the nuance of suffering.)

鞄が盗まれた -> What was negatively affected by the theft? The bag was. (Well, perhaps I was, but only indirectly.)

さくらが投げられた -> Who was negatively affected by throwing? Sakura was.

私が言われた -> Who was negatively affected by speech? I was.

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    私が鞄を盗まれた is also possible, in which case 私 is designated as the suffering party.
    – L. F.
    Commented Jun 19 at 0:54
  • Interesting, thanks for this. So if we put 嘘を言う into receptive and say 嘘が言われた... The 嘘 is being negatively affected by speech just like how the bag gets negatively affected by theft? So this explains how 私が言われた has "私" the person receiving the 言う, and "嘘" the thing being spoken, also receiving the 言う?
    – ItsCheif
    Commented Jun 19 at 7:11
  • @ItsCheif 嘘 is not a human, so 嘘が言われた ("A lie was told") is a plain direct passive sentence with no "suffering" nuances. An indirect passive version is 私は嘘を言われた ("I was told a lie"), which indicates 私 was negatively affected.
    – naruto
    Commented Jun 19 at 21:49
  • But 鞄 is not a human either, so why is there a "suffering" nuance there?
    – ItsCheif
    Commented Jun 23 at 12:25
  • Well, I can be wrong, too. Typically, Japanese is analyzed such that there is a "suffering" passive and also a regular passive, and they happen to look the same if there is no に-marked part, so you have to infer it from context. (Or I can have a different grammatical model. In English, again, we say both "my bag got stolen" and "I got my bag stolen", at least in informal contexts. And it's not a far stretch to say that, in the first case, an English speaker does actually imagine that this is "happening to" the bag, rather than to its rightful owner.) Commented Jun 23 at 14:46

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