I can see that someone got mad or someone made someone else mad. The things that make it difficult are and the られる form of 怒る. What does this mean? How do you figure out who did what in these types of sentences?

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    By “the られら form,” do you mean “the られた form”? Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 18:33
  • Yes. That just looks like the た form of られる。 Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 18:48
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    If it is a typo, please fix. Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 19:05

5 Answers 5


It may first bear mentioning that 怒られる is usually used specifically to mean "got scolded by", rather than "to became the focus of someone's anger".

This may make it easier to understand.

  • Aは怒った : A got angry
  • AはBに怒った : A got angry at B (in this usage, B is usually not a person, but rather an event or state of affairs).
  • AはBを怒った : A scolded B (B is a person)
  • BはAに怒られた : B got scolded by A.
  • Shouldn't the explanations of the 2nd and 3rd cases be swapped?
    – dainichi
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 13:00
  • @dainichi nope. Example: 彼は生徒の態度に怒った = he got angry at the student's attitude. 彼は生徒を怒った = he scolded the student. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 17:21
  • Hm... interesting. I wasn't able to find an authoritative answer either way. Let me know if you have one. I hear に怒る used for people all the time, which I guess is what got me confused. Googling, I see both used for both people and events. Googling for the difference, I see some saying it has to do with people versus events, and others saying it has to do with the level of anger.
    – dainichi
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 8:24
  • The distinction is between scolding someone (を怒る)and getting angered by them (に怒る). So it's not necessarily a mistake to say so-and-soに怒る、it just means they angered you, rather than you scolded them. That said, it does seem more rare to use Xに怒る, rather than specifying something about them that angered you, for example Xのだらしなさに怒る (got upset at X's sloppiness). Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 20:33

Maybe the fact that is used in both active and passive sentences with 怒る is making it difficult for you. can be used either as a dative case marker or as an element leading the agentive-phrase in passive. In English, you can see that the dative is to, whereas the agentive-phrase is headed by by, so an active sentence with dative case and its passive counterpart look pretty much different:

A gave a present to B (to as dative case)

B was given a present by A (by heading an agentive phrase in passive)

But in Japanese, they are both expressed as . So an active sentence with dative case and its passive counterpart may look confusing:

AがBに怒った ( as dative case)

BがAに怒られた ( heading an agentive phrase in passive)

The two examples above describe (roughly) the same event; in both sentences, A is who scolded, and B is who was scolded. But in the first sentence, it is B that appears with , and in the second sentence, it is A. I think that was where you were confused. But you should be able to distinguish the two sentences by looking at whether the verb is in active or passive form. If you see that it is in active form 怒る, then the phrase that comes with is the one who is being scolded. If it is in passive form 怒られる, then the phrase that comes with is the one who is scolding.

Advanced part

Language hacker raised an interesting point in the comment, so I will add something. You can also see the difference between the two usages of when you topicalize the relevant phrase. The dative becomes optional in front of , but the agentive is obligatory:

Aは、Bには怒ったが、Cには怒らなかった (dative case preceding )

Aは、Bは怒ったが、Cは怒らなかった (dative case omitted before )

Bは、Aには怒られたが、Dには怒られなかった (agentive preceding )

* Bは、Aは怒られたが、Dは怒られなかった (Ungrammatical to omit agentive preceding )

(* indicates ungrammatical sentence.)

  • I'm still not confident. Aに怒られた means that A made someone mad, or someone made A mad? Also what happens if you have は、が、and に in the same sentence? Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 17:59
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    @language hacker The former. It's passive. What is it that is making it so difficult to you?
    – user458
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 18:01
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    @sawa @language hacker: No, it's not the former, it's the latter. Aに怒られた means (I) got scolded by A, not that A made (me) mad. Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 18:11
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    See how confusing it is? Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 18:18
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    @language hacker 怒られたくて is 'want to be scolded'.
    – user458
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 18:20

This is one of those cases where the Japanese られる doesn't quite line up nicely with the English passive:

Aが怒った。 A got mad.

(私が)A怒られた。 (I) was gotten mad at by A. (More naturally in the active: A got mad at me.)

雨が降った。 The rain fell.

(私が)雨降られた。 (I) was fallen on by the rain. (More naturally: I got rained on.)

With the passive られる, the subject of the sentence (usually 私 if it's omitted) is the "target" (on the receiving end) of the action. In other words, something is done to the subject rather than by the subject. (The by part is marked by に, as sawa mentioned.)

To address your comment about the たい construction, then:

彼女に怒られたい I want to be gotten mad at by her. (More naturally in the active: I want her to get mad at me.)

Also, when に is used not with 怒られる, but with 怒る, it marks the cause of anger:

環境破壊怒る become angry over destruction of the environment

入場できないこと怒る become angry over not being able to enter

  • I almost posted this as a separate answer, but then I saw it buried in here. +1 for making it clear that the passive is easier to understand if you translate is as "<verb> at/on by <agent>".
    – istrasci
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 19:31

What none of the other answers pointed out is that the rare passive construction in Japanese actually has two distinct usages, one of which is only tangentially related to English passives but usually clamped together under that terminology when taught. I was originally taught it as the "sufferer passive" (which sounds better in my native language), I've seen it in Japanese as 迷惑の受け身 and one linguistics presentation I've been to called it an Affected Experiencer Construction. Sometimes, a sentence is ambiguous syntactically between the two usages, sometimes it is not.

Unlike regular passives, which take a transitive verb and move the object so it becomes the subject, the 迷惑の受け身 also works with intransitives and can make sentence patterns you wouldn't find with regular passives even when working with transitives. In general, the constuction means that something was done, and someone was affected by experiencing that action - almost always negatively. That 雨に降られた example Derek's answer is exactly this construction, but here are some more examples:

(母は)赤ちゃんに泣かれた。 The baby cried, and that troubled his mother.

パパに死なれた。 Dad died, and that upsets me (a very self-centered thing to say!)

誰かに足を踏まれた。 Someone stepped on my foot, and I don't like that. Note that 足 gets the object particle even though it would have been the subject if this was a normal passive.

太郎が花子に花瓶を壊された。 Hanako broke Taro's vase, and that upset him. Again, 花瓶 is not treated as it would have been in a normal passive sentence. Made even more complicated by something like:

太郎が花子に次郎の花瓶を壊された。  Hanako broke Jiro's vase, and that didn't please Taro (maybe because he would be blamed for breaking it, or for any other contextually available reason)

(To give credit, the last two sentences are derived from that linguistics presentation I mentioned)

What does all that have to do with 怒られた? I think it can be interpreted as an example of this pattern in addition to the classic passive. Someone was mad and I was in trouble because of that (hence, he was mad at me). In addition, since 怒る is listed in my dictionary as an intransitive verb, this syntactic interpretation makes even more sense to me.

  • In those last two sentences, it looks like the performer of the action is 花子, not 太郎 (changing it to 花子 would maintain consistency with your first three sentences). If this is not a typo, please add some explanation for why the performer changes. Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 20:15
  • It was indeed a typo, thanks. Just goes to show how confusing this construction can be sometimes.
    – Oren Ronen
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 2:43
  • パパに死なれた。i think i have heard this translated as "dad up and died on me".
    – yadokari
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 18:02

Note: Edited after some consultation with native speakers.

I feel your pain. These used to confuse the heck out of me for a long time, so I know where you are coming from.

I'm assuming you are in a situation where you're reading something, and context can be spread out over pages. You find a sentence fragment like 「ボブに怒られた」 and you're wondering if someone is angry at Bob, or Bob is angry at someone. The subject was maybe established three pages ago, and you could maybe go back and check, but you want to be able to keep trucking like a native speaker would, sure in your knowledge of which way the action is flowing.

First, for the purpose of sorting this out, think of に in terms of being a pointer. It says that something is going toward the thing that it is connected to. Anger doesn't really move around like a ball, but just imagine it does.

So we have two cases:



Both sentences have "Bob" and "anger" in them, but, if your confusion is like mine was, you're not sure which of them means Bob is angry, and which means someone is angry at Bob. Or, at least, how to reliably and systematically determine the difference.

In both cases, に points at Bob, so to figure out who is angry, we need to be more precise about what exactly is coming at him. There's a ball of anger coming at him, the type of ball is different because of the different verb form.

In the first case, ボブに怒った, it's just plain anger coming at Bob. The anger ball is being thrown at his head by someone. He just receives someone's anger. Thus, someone is angry at him.

In the second case, ボブに怒られた, what is coming at Bob is the potential to be angry. He is being endowed with anger. This time, because of the verb form, the anger ball is absorbed into Bob, so this time it's Bob that is angry. Something or someone made him angry.

You can at this point, be sure about the direction of the action, without being thrown by the use of に. However, there is more to the story.

You could also translate ボブに怒られた as "Bob scolded [someone]". It's a fragment, so we don't know who Bob is angry at, but the thing is, Bob has been endowed with anger, and anger as a concept is usually directed at someone or something. So Bob is angry, most likely, at the person who threw the anger ball at him. He has still been endowed with anger, so it's still okay to think of it as "Bob was made angry". It's just that the focus is on Bob, and and his anger is probably going somewhere now that he has it.

What if you want to put the focus on the person who made Bob angry? Then you could do this:


This also says "Bob was made angry" or "Bob scolded [someone]" but because of the ~らせる form, the emphasis is on the fact that someone (or something) made Bob angry.

Let's say Taro made Bob angry. If we say 太郎がボブに怒らせた, we are saying that Taro is definitely responsible for Bob's anger, even though Taro might not have done anything deliberately. The point is that focus is on Taro's action.

If we say 太郎がボブに怒られた, we're saying Bob got angry at Taro, even though Taro might not have done a thing to deserve it. The focus is on Bob's reaction.

In short, the point is that に always directs action onto something. But when you use られる, or らせる, you are directing an endowment onto the target. The target then takes on that quality instead of just receiving it.

Hope that helps.

  • 1
    I think you are confusing the passive られ and the potential られ. They are different things. There is also honorific られ. By the way, 'Bob' will be transcribed as ボブ, not ボッブ.
    – user458
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 18:38
  • I think your third sentence is a little off. Did you mean ボブが怒らせられた。? Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 18:40
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    @Derek Schaab - is this a nuance of 怒る? Because I'm pretty sure 使役動詞 can use either 〜に or 〜を (except in the no-two-を's-in-a-row rule).
    – istrasci
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 21:46
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    @istrasci: I stand corrected: for an intransitive verb like 怒る, both に and を are allowed. Thank you for reminding me of that. :) Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 21:52
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    @Questioner: I think your explanation is one of the most helpful I came across when dealing with the passive/potential. Thanks a lot!
    – Quit007
    Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 16:26

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