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Consider the following sentences:

A: 私が警察に捕まえられた。

B: 私が警察に捕まった。

Both mean I was caught by the police.

Question

What is the difference between 捕まえられた and 捕まった ?

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Both sentences are correct and the same in meaning, but sentence B is far more common and sounds natural.

For some reason, some Japanese verbs intrinsically have passive meanings, and they are used more commonly than the transitive verb + ~れる/られる version.

See the following question for the list of such verbs.

This question is also related: ところを 見つかる, this was in a highly reputable dictionary

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I agree with Takahiro's comment above and naruto's answer about 捕まった being the more natural way of saying it. 捕まえられる does work as well though and I'm sure you do hear it from time to time.

I think this may be a case of the way that Japanese verbs work generating two ways of saying more or less the same thing.

「つかみ敢{あ}ふ」の転か

tsukam + a + e + ru

In the 大辞林 definition of 捕{と}らえる it mentions that the origin of that word may be 取り敢{あ}ふ.

捕まえる may have similar origins. The root "tsukam" may have been attached to the Classical Japanese helping verb 敢ふ which carries the idea of "to completely do something"(完全に...を成し遂げる), sort of like the modern 「してしまう」.
You see it in 取{と}り敢{あ}えず and 敢{あ}えて for Modern Japanese.

敢ふ is using the old kana spelling(旧仮名遣い)、 so it would be pronounced あう in Modern Japanese.

This would produce the word 「つかみあえる」which would then have been phonetically simplified(音便)to 「捕える」.

捕まえる could then be broken down like this:

つかm + 敢{あ} + え + る

つかむ + 敢ふ would have taken on a meaning like すっかりつかんでしまう、which may have led to it's modern usage. So, we now have in Modern Japanese:

  • 掴{つか}む - transitive - to take hold of
  • 捕まる - intransitive - to be caught
  • 捕まえる - transitive - to catch

Since there's a pair of verbs, one transitive and the other intransitive it becomes possible to express passivity ("be caught") in two ways with no real change in meaning.

捕まった has less going on grammatically (it doesn't need to be put into the passive voice), so it's the more natural choice most of the time.

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