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I was wondering how a passive sentence like:

トムさんに話しかけられた。

Tom started talking (to me).

could be changed to express that it was the first time that it happened. My attempt was:

トムさんに話しかけられたのは、初めてだった。

Is it gramaically correct? ( Should 話しかけられる be in the plain form or in the informal past?)

Does it sound natural, or is there a better way to say it?

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Your attempt, トムさんに話しかけられたのは初めてだった is a perfectly correct Japanese sentence. You can also say トムさんに話しかけられのは初めてだった, which is almost the same in this case. But note that ~るのは初めてだった and ~たのは初めてだった are not always interchangeable. For example, you have to say トムさんに会うのは初めてだった if "meeting Tom" happens relatively in the future of the time this statement is about.

(If you just want to use 初めて with the original sentence in the passive voice, the simplest way to do so is トムさんに初めて話しかけられた, of course.)

For reference, here are the hit results from BCCWJ (online corpus):

  • [た/だ] + のは初めて + [だった/でした]: 86 results
  • [う/く/ぐ/す/つ/ぬ/ぶ/む/る] + のは初めて + [だった/でした]: 76 results
  • I'm not sure what you mean with "if "meeting Tom" happens relatively in the future of the time this statement is about". Could you please clarify the context? – cf. Sep 26 '18 at 17:50
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    @c.f. For example, imagine your mother said, in 2015, "We'll visit Tokyo in 2016!". It's 2018 today and you have already visited Japan. Now you'll describe how you felt in 2015 when you first heard the plan. In this case, you can say 東京に行くのは初めてだったので嬉しかったです, but not 東京に行ったのは初めてだったので嬉しかったです, because "visiting Tokyo" was something "relatively in the future" when you heard about the plan in 2015. But this example has little to do with your 話しかけられる example, because 話しかけられる is something out of your control. – naruto Sep 26 '18 at 19:47
  • Thanks a lot, that makes sense. I was only considering your example on its own, not as part of a larger sentence, so I couldn't figure out what you meant. – cf. Sep 27 '18 at 17:06
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I did the following two Google searches:

enter image description here

enter image description here

Looks like it's more favored to say:

トムさんに話しかけられたのは、初めてだった。

than to say:

トムさんに話しかけられるのは、初めてだった。

Another way to express the same meaning would be:

トムさんに初めて話しかけられた。

  • 2
    The numbers appear to say that one is more than 3000 times as common as the other one (approximate ratio of 3000:1). This appears to be very distorted — the ratio is probably closer to 1.25:1 (or 1:0.8). – Earthliŋ Sep 26 '18 at 12:42
  • @Earthliŋ You're right. る is not the only type of verb endings. – Yuxuan Chen Oct 5 '18 at 14:25
  • The main problem is that Google counts are not accurate. – Earthliŋ Oct 5 '18 at 17:22

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