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I was reading up some lesson on causative and passive form online. I am still a little confuse as to when and why use these form. For this example:

plain form: 答える passive form: 答えられる

外国人に質問を聞かれたが、答えられなかった。 I was asked a question by a foreigner but I couldn't answer.

Why do we use passive here? what if I say:

外国人に質問を聞かれたが、答えなかった。

Does this mean the same? Or is this sentence even correct in the first place?

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    It's not passive form here, it is its potential form. – oldergod Aug 4 '15 at 8:30
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    ah I see! I really got confused here. 聞かれた was the passive form and 答えられる like you said was potential form. Right? – Kennethzzz Aug 4 '15 at 8:47
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    Yes. Many verbs have the same potential and passive form. – oldergod Aug 4 '15 at 8:54
  • Only the second group of verbs (aka Ichidan doushi) and 来る have the same potential and passive forms. – Friendly Ghost Aug 4 '15 at 13:50
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「答{こた}えられる」 has three different usages and meanings.

  1. Honorific: Used when describing someone higher up answering.

「その質問{しつもん}にはスミス様{さま}が答えられました。」

= "Mr. Smith (kindly) answered the question."

  1. Potential: Used to express "can answer" or "to be able to answer".

「その質問は難{むずか}しすぎて答えられません。」

= "That question is too difficult (for me) to answer."

  1. Passive Voice: Used to express "is/are/get(s) answerd" as opposed to the active voice form "to answer"

「Aの質問は私、そしてBの質問はマサコさんによって答えられました。」

= "Question A was answered by me and Question B, by Masako."

*You mentioned "causative", but the causative form is 「答えさせる」and not 「答えられる」.

Finally, let us discuss the difference between 「答えられなかった」 and 「答えなかった」.

The former means that one was unable to answer a question (mostly or entirely because the question was too difficult).

The latter means that one chose not to (or declined to) answer a question even though one knew the answer.

  • Thanks for the detailed explanation. It's much clearer now. – Kennethzzz Aug 5 '15 at 3:21

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