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If 思われる is "its own verb," meaning "to seem;  to appear," and is independent of the separate verb 思う, meaning "to think," is there a conceptual relation between the two? I ask because I initially thought 思われる to be the passive form of 思う. Would it be wrong to think of 思われる meaning "it is thought" rather than "it seems"?

意外に思われるかもしれません。 This may surprise you.

このことは、私たちにはとても不思議に思われる。 This appears very strange to us.

そのようなプロジェクトを経た後では、すべてがはるかにたやすいように思われる。 Having come from something like the project, it seems like everything is a lot easier.

それは私には奇妙に思われる。 It seems strange to me.

彼女はとても年をとっているように思われる。 She seems (to me) (to be) a very old woman.

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    @snailplane, I should have consulted some japanese dictionaries but on tangorin they provided a separate entry with conjugation, where i found this gem- "思われられる". tangorin.com/general/思われる – yadokari Mar 23 '13 at 19:54
  • 「自発」の「思われる」ですよね。The passive is 思われる, the honorific is also 思われる, the potential is 思える, and... what is 思われられる? The passive 思われる + the honorific れる (ie. 思われていらっしゃる), or the passive 思われる + the potential れる (ie. 思われることができる), maybe? – user1016 Mar 23 '13 at 22:43
  • @Chocolate, do you mean spontaneous when you say 自発? – yadokari Mar 24 '13 at 3:17
  • @yadokari それです^^ (文法用語はよく分からないのですが。。たぶん) – user1016 Mar 24 '13 at 13:46
  • @Chocolate, someone gave me this example, but i dont know how to translate it: 彼にすごく、思われられて(=思われて)、困っているの。 – yadokari Mar 25 '13 at 1:48
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I've been thinking about various different sentences that include 思われる to see if any of them feel like a distinctive word of its own, and my feeling is that the answer is no.

思う does mean "to think", as in "明日は雨だと思う / I think it'll rain tomorrow", and thus its passive form 思われる means "it is thought". The passiveness would be amplified when it is used without a specific subject, making it ambiguous as to who is thinking. Doing this creates a sense that the thought is shared by many/all/everyone, as in "情勢は不利だと思われる / the situation does not appear good." It makes the sentence feel more objective, and I think this is the effect that's making you feel that it has a separate meaning.

In contrast, when 思われる is used with a specific subject, it's easy to see that it's the passive form of 思う. This is true even when the subject is implied, as in "バカだと思われるよ / [he will] think you are stupid."

Note that 思われる is also a polite form (尊敬語) of 思う, as in "どう思われますか? / What do you think?". The example of "意外に思われるかもしれません" that you cited is also this usage.

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    thank you. Do you have an opinion on "思われられる" as is discussed in the comments below the question above? – yadokari Mar 30 '13 at 16:19

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