I was thinking about Japanese passive and made the following example

壊すー>壊される which means to be broken

But looking at the English definition of "to be broken", isn't there another Japanese word for that being, 壊れる? How are these two different in meaning and use, and are the differences the same in all verbs that can act like that, e.g 汚される and 汚れる?


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  • The question is in fact duplicate, but unfortunately, most of the answers on the other questions are based on an example which is not really an passive-intransitive pair, 教えられる and 教わる, since 教わる is transitive
    – dainichi
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 0:22
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    "Close as duplicate" changed last year; we now only close as duplicate if the answers on the original question answer this question as well. To quote the linked meta post:  "That's because the proof is in the answers. If the question looks the same, but the answers aren't solving the asker's problem, that is not a dupe – that is a legitimate new question. Neither the person asking nor the person who lands from Google cares if the question has been asked before: they care if it has been answered."
    – user1478
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 1:42

1 Answer 1


There certainly is a difference in nuance between the intransitive and passive voice in Japanese.

Intransitive: 「テレビが[壊]{こわ}れた。」 = "(My) TV broke down."

Passive Voice: 「テレビが[壊]{こわ}された。」 = "(My) TV was broken down."

「テレビが壊れた。」 would usually be said when there is no one to blame for the incident. The TV just went out of order by itself.

「テレビが壊された。」 (Please note that we also say 「テレビ[を]壊された。」 though I will not explain the difference here.) would be said only when there is a person or phenomenon that is responsible for the breakdown.

When Japanese-speakers use the passive voice describing a negative event or situation, there is almost always a sense of damage or nuisance expressed (or at least implied) with it. When using the intransitive verb, in comparison, we are usually just stating a cold fact without expressing or implying any feelings.

The exact same can be said about [汚]{よご}される and 汚れる. I naturally have not considered all verbs but I would say that what I have stated should be valid with at least most verbs.

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    For reasons that escape me, we don't say "broke down" in regards to TVs. If you change it to cars, it works perfectly for the English.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 13:29
  • @virmaior But replacing "TV" by "car" doesn't really work either: "My car was broken down." wouldn't be interpreted as passive.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 23:27
  • @Earthling True, part of the problem might be that "broken down" lives as an adjectival phrase (rather than the passive of the verb) whereas "break down" can be both a verb and a noun.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 23:45
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    "Broke down", might be more commonly used with cars elsewhere (unless you are thinking of a "car break-down service"?) but, in the UK, it is also used with the TVs, printers, boilers, washing machines and other complicated machines we don't understand but rely on to work. Off the top my head, I cannot think of a better expression for a TV thats broken down (!) - "The telly's on the blink again" comes to mind but that is a bit colloquial.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 11:20
  • @Tim: But UK English doesn't count! ;D
    – istrasci
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 15:33

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