A) Let's take just transitive verbs first:

  1. 食べる人
  2. 食べられる人

B) Now let's take intransitive verbs:

  1. 起きる人
  2. 起きられる人
  3. 起こす人
  4. 起こされる人

OK, this thing has confused me for a very long time now, like really long. Thus I am posting this here. I have asked the question once before but did not get a real answer.

What I am confused with about verb+noun sentence is how it is to be translated. e.g from A) we get

  1. "The person that eats (person is subject, object omitted)" and
  2. "The person that is eaten (person is object here, subject omitted)" right?

Now let's get to B) I think all 4 sentences are grammatically valid and sound as far as usage is concerned. I would translate them as

  1. "The person that wakes up (person is subject and object - instransitive verb)"
  2. "The person that is awaken (by himself) (person is subject and object - intransitive)" or in other words "The person that awakes himself (by himself)"

Then we have,

  1. "The person that wakes (others) up (subject is person, object omitted)"
  2. "The person that is awaken (by someone else) (subject omitted, object is person)"

Now what I want you folks to do is to make sure that I interpreted the Japanese sentences correctly. This will make sure that I understand how to make verb+noun sentences.

Thus 食べる食事 means "The food that eats (someone/something)". To refer to the food I eat I shall say 食べられる食事は… "the food I eat is..." right?

  • well guys, you could atleast tell me if I did the translations correct, or if something needs to be added to them. Also the fact that I made passive out of intransitive, does it make sense at all?
    – quantum231
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 19:20
  • 3
    A point I've made before in japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/316/… is that Japanese is both lenient and inexplicit about the grammatical role that the head noun has in a relative clause. Thus 書く物 can mean "something that writes", "something to write", "something to write with", "something to write on" etc.
    – dainichi
    Commented May 8, 2013 at 4:38

3 Answers 3



  1. 食べる羊 can be

    • "the sheep that eats" 羊 is the subject for 食べる.


    • "the sheep to eat" "the sheep you/someone eat(s)" 羊 is the object for 食べる.


  2. 食べられる羊

    When the 羊 is the subject for 食べられる. 「羊が食べられる」>>「食べられる羊」
    The (ら)れる can be:

    • a passive auxiliary verb. "the sheep that is eaten"

      e.g. 狼に食べられる羊

    • a potential auxiliary verb. "the sheep that can eat"

      e.g. 硬い木の芽を食べられる羊

    • an honorific auxiliary verb. "the sheep that eats"

      e.g. お食事を食べられる(=召し上がる)羊

    When the 羊 is the object for 食べられる. 「羊を食べられる」>>「食べられる羊」
    (人が/の/に)食べられる羊 can be:

    • "edible sheep" / "the sheep you can eat" The られる is potential.

      e.g. 1: あなたは(or に)羊を(or が)食べられる(you can eat sheep)/その羊は食べられる(the sheep is edible) >>「(あなたが/に)食べられる羊」

    • "the sheep you eat" The られる is honorific.

      e.g. お客様が羊を食べられる(=召し上がる) >>「お客様の/が食べられる羊」

    • The れる can be passive too.

      e.g. 1: うちの羊が[襲]{おそ}われた[狼]{おおかみ} (うちの羊を襲った狼 would be more natural though)
      "The wolf which my sheep were attacked by"

      e.g. 2: うちの娘が指を[噛]{か}まれた同級生 (うちの娘の指を噛んだ同級生)
      "A classmate who bit my daughter's finger" (<< My daughter had her finger bitten by a classmate)


Note: 起こす is the causative form of 起きる. 起きる is intransitive and 起こす is transitive.

  1. 起きる人 (人 is the subject for 起きる)

    "the person who gets up"


  2. 起きられる人 (人 is the subject for 起きられる)

    • potential. "the person who can get up"

      e.g. 「人が朝早く起きられる」>>「朝早く起きられる人」

    • honorific. "the person who gets up"

      e.g. 「お客様が起きられる」>>「起きられるお客様」

  3. 起こす人

    • "the person who wakes up someone / the person to wake up someone"

      人 is the subject for 起こす.

      e.g. 「人が(寝ている犬を)起こす」>>「(寝ている犬を)起こす人」

    • "the person who someone wakes up / the person for someone to wake up"

      人 is the object for 起こす.

      e.g. 「私が人を起こす」>>「私が起こす人」

  4. 起こされる人

    • passive: "the person who is woken up (by someone/something)"

      人 is the subject for 起こされる, and the object for 起こす.

      e.g. 白雪姫は王子様に起こされる。>>王子に起こされる白雪姫(れる=passive)

    • honorific: "the person who wakes up (someone)"

      人 is the subject for 起こす.

      e.g. 王子様が白雪姫を起こされる。>>白雪姫を起こされる王子様(れる=honorific)

    • honorific: "the person who someone wakes up" 人 is the object for 起こす.

      e.g. 王子様が女性を起こされる。>>王子様が起こされる女性(れる=honorific)

    (The potential form of 起こす is 起こせる.)


  1. Some intransitive verbs can be used in the passive voice, eg.

    • その人は雨に降られた。S/he got caught in the rain.
      →雨に 降られた人 A person who got caught in the rain
    • その人は妻に死なれた。The man lost his wife.
      →妻に 死なれた人 A man whose wife up and died on him
    • 僕は弟にテレビの前に立たれた。My brother stood in front of TV (so I couldn't see it)
      →弟にテレビの前に 立たれた僕 Me, who couldn't see TV because my brother stood in front of it
    • 私は2階の人にピアノを弾かれた。See this post
      →2階の人にピアノを 弾かれた私

    But these can't be directly transformed into the active voice; we don't say *妻が夫を死ぬ, *弟がテレビの前に僕を立つ etc. (See Wiki間接受身-迷惑の受身 )

  2. Some intransitive verbs (or more specifically, motion verbs/移動動詞) can take ~~を, like 道を歩く, 全国を回る, [角]{かど}を曲がる, but we don't say *道が歩かれる/私に歩かれた道, *全国が回られる/私に回られた全国 or *角が曲がられる/私に曲がられた角.

  • 2
    – user1016
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 22:24
  • 1
    – summea
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 22:49
  • 1
    妻に死なれた夫...a husband whose wife up and died on him (?)
    – yadokari
    Commented May 9, 2013 at 3:21
  • @yadokari san...多分それです。(手元の辞書がショボいので、up and died onが載ってません。><)
    – user1016
    Commented May 9, 2013 at 13:56
  • 1
    @Chocolate, ショボいってなんですか? You can also say, "A man whose wife died on him."
    – yadokari
    Commented May 9, 2013 at 15:12

In the verb+noun construction (in fact, this is a sentence+noun construcion), there is no strict rule that the noun is meant to be a subject for the verb's action. This is the most frequent case but no rule at all. The noun can also be a direct object, an indirect object, or something just associated with the action. Thus, 食べる人 can mean "the person that eats", and 食べる食事 "the meal that is eaten". The interpretation chosen is the most natural one, and taking context into account.

The person being eaten is not the usual situation, so the context should imply it somehow. And then, it is up to context. If there is one person eating another, then 食べる人 seems to mean "the one person that eats". But if there is a monster eating someone (and leaving some other people alone), then 食べる人 could also mean "the person that is eaten". 食べられる人 sounds a bit too complex, and it can be avoided in favour of simpler 食べる人, if that would not cause confusion.

  • you understand why I keep getting confused here. Hmmm Another thing is the fact that -rareru can be the potential form or the passive form or the honorific form. Same issue here, there are many meanings.
    – quantum231
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 19:19
  • 1
    to put this another way, the "noun" that comes at the end may play different roles... it may play the role of the verb's object, or the subject, etc. etc.
    – Axe
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 22:17

For starters, could 「・・・食べる食事」 also mean:

"a meal that (I/you/we) ("can"/will) eat"?

And couldn't 「・・・食べられる食事」 mean something more like:

"a meal that (I/you/we) (can/are able to) eat"?

Context is important, though, as well; I'd be scared if the food was the one who was doing the eating... ;)

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