In my Japanese Bible, it often uses the 〜(ら)れる Keigo form when talking about God's actions. However, there are certain cases when talking about both people and God in the same sentence where the use of 〜(ら)れる is ambiguous as to whether it's the Keigo for God's actions, or the passive of what will happen to the people.

Take this verse:

あなたが叫【さけ】べば「わたしはここにいる」と言われる。ー イザヤ書 58:9
When you call to me, I will respond. - Isaiah 58:9

So I'm confused as to whether this is shortened from

あなたが叫べば(あなたが)「わたしはここにいる」と言われる → If you call, you will be told "I am here"


あなたが叫べば(神様【かみさま】が)「わたしはここにいる」と言われる → If you call, God will say "I am here"

Are there any indicators as to which it might be? Does it even matter?


2 Answers 2


I agree with sawa that from syntactic clues this fragment is ambiguous, but there are actually more syntactic clues if you look at the whole sentence, which is:


It would be possible, but quite perverse (and impious, as Sawa notes!) to interpret the 言われる in the second half as a passive rather than an honorific form parallel to 主は答え. Note that you can see the same construction, right down to the subject-dropping, in the Vulgate version, where "dicet" ("(He) will say") is parallel to "Dominus exaudiet" ("The Lord will hear"):

tunc invocabis et Dominus exaudiet clamabis et dicet ecce adsum
  • I intentionally left off the first part, but if it is the honorific, why is the first clause not 主は答えられ? (BTW, where did you find the whole verse in Japanese? Just curious.)
    – istrasci
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 3:45
  • 1
    @istrasci It is not uncommon to only put the last verb of a sentence into sonkeigo/kenjougo. There's some politics behind this as well, but I won't go there.
    – dainichi
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 4:08
  • 1
    @istrasci I have it memorized, of course, just like the Vulgate... No, I googled the part you did provide because I suspected that context would help :) As for why the first half of the sentence does not use 答えられ, presumably the main factor is an "only one verb in honorific form per sentence" rule. Isaiah 59:18 has "主は人の業に従って報い、刃向かう者の仇に憤りを表し、敵に報い、島々に報いを返される。" That's 報い, 表し, 報い, and then 返される - all of these verbs surely refer to acts of God, but only the last is honorific.
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 4:11
  • Oh, wait, I guess the 報い in 敵に報い is a noun so that 敵に報い and 島々に報い are parallel. Duh
    – Matt
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 4:28
  • I would suspect that the 報い in 敵に報い is a verb, because if it were supposed to be a noun, it seems like 敵にも島々にも報いを返される would be more "compact". Getting a little off topic. But maybe there is validity to this "one honourific verb per sentence" rule. Should that be posed as another topic on JSE?
    – istrasci
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 15:30

Just from syntactic clues, this sentence is ambiguous. Taking into consideration that this is from the bible, it is very likely that the usage here is subject honorification. If it were passive, then it would slightly entail that あなた (or you) is bothered by the God by being said that he is here. That would be an impolite thing to write for a God.

  • 1
    Yeah, I was kind of thinking that too (about being "bothered"), but wasn't sure. "That would implite so express for a God." Sorry, I don't understand what you mean to say here.
    – istrasci
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 23:57
  • Could the thought process be otherwise? I.e. Since he's a God, there is no adversity passive because "God is perfect and will not do things that are bad for you" ? (Although this depends on individual assumption of what God is and how God behaves)
    – Flaw
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 0:05
  • @istrasci That was my typo. I corrected it.
    – user458
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 2:11
  • @Flaw Sure. That's right. But the same thing.
    – user458
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 2:22

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