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I'm having trouble understanding why "手紙がTofuguオフィスに届けられた" is translated into "The letter was sent to the Tofugu office". In my head it should be translated as "The letter was sent by the Tofugu office" because of the passive + に construction.

What am I missing here?

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    Yup. This is a thing in Japanese. The passive form can indicate something was done to something, or done by something. Really, you only have common sense and context clues to figure out which is which, honestly. Some verbs are generally interpreted one way, other verbs can be interpreted both ways. – Fireheart251 Dec 6 '17 at 16:18
  • @Fireheart251 that is very helpful information that is actually an answer, not a comment... Can you make it an answer please? I would like to upvote it. – Pedro A Dec 6 '17 at 21:23
  • I had actually posted it as an answer but then deleted it because I felt it didn't really answer the question. I put it as an answer again though. – Fireheart251 Dec 7 '17 at 5:04
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The particle に has various functions, and some verbs safely take に in active (i.e., non-passive) sentences. As you know, に in active sentences are typically translated as "to ~".

  • 手紙をTofuguオフィス届けた。
    I delivered the letter to the Tofugu Office.
  • 漢字を黒板書いた。
    I wrote a kanji on the blackboard.

When such sentences are turned to passive sentences, these ~に are left unmodified, and still play the same role of the original active sentences.

  • 手紙がTofuguオフィスに届けられた。
    The letter was delivered to the Tofugu Office.
  • 漢字が黒板に書かれた。
    A kanji was written on the blackboard.
    (Not "A kanji was written by the blackboard")

Usually, you can use common sense and safely determine the meaning in one way.


Obviously, this may lead to ambiguity in some rare cases.

  • 彼女を社長紹介した。 I introduced her to the president.

The passive version is:

  • 彼女が社長紹介された。
    She was introduced to the president.
    She was introduced by the president.

Both seem possible, and this sentence is actually ambiguous. You need to determine the correct interpretation from the context. (If you already know relative clauses, 社長に紹介された人 can mean both "the person introduced to the president" and "the person introduced by the president".)

When this really matters, or when you need to avoid using に twice, you can use によって instead of に to disambiguate. See: How to use 紹介される?

  • 漢字が先生によって黒板に書かれた。
    A kanji was written on the blackboard by the teacher.
  • 手紙がFedExによってTofuguオフィスに届けられた。
    A letter was delivered to Tofugu office by FedEx.
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    Thank you very much, I was thinking something very close to that but I needed someone to confirm ^_^ – Nagi Dec 6 '17 at 16:59
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「手紙がTofuguオフィスに届けられた。」

And someone(?) translated that to:

"The letter was sent to the Tofugu office."

While I would not necessarily call this an incorrect translation, it is certainly not a literal one, either. Why not?

Because in the strictest sense, 「届ける」 does not mean "to send". It means "to deliver". So, at least my TL would be:

"A/The letter was delivered to the Tofugu office."

"By the post office", "by the delivery service", etc. is just left unsaid in this sentence (because that is not very important information).

The 「に」 in 「オフィスに」 is a destination marker.

If it were in deed "the office" that delivered the letter, it would be far more natural to use 「オフィスによって」.

I understand 100% where your question is coming from and it is a good question. In this case, however, the context tells us that the 「に」 marks the destination.

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Yup. This is a thing in Japanese. The passive form can indicate something was done to something, or done by something. Really, you only have common sense and context clues to figure out which is which, honestly. Some verbs are generally interpreted one way, other verbs can be interpreted both ways.

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