I understand that both mean "to be saved/receive help" but that they have slightly different connotations. I can't find any explanation of the difference, however, nor any pairs of example sentences to illustrate this difference.


By using てもらう, it is conveyed that the other is doing something helpful or useful for the action recipient's sake, whereas using the passive られる there is no such nuance and it is more neutral. In the following example, though both sentences are grammatical, the first seems more acceptable to me because this feeling of helpfulness or usefulness is congruent with the context:

〇 お巡りさんに住所を教えてもらった。The policeman told me the address (helping me, indeed).

△ お巡りさんに住所を教えられた。The policeman told me the address. (A more literal translation, in passive voice: I was told the address by the policeman).

In fact, in some cases the passive voice is used when something harmful or negative for the recipient of the action is done, and therefore もらう can't be used in such cases:

✕ 地下鉄で誰かに足を踏んでもらった。 Someone stepped on my foot in the subway (helping me). This is not correct, because it is naturally a bad or negative action to you, unless you are some foot fetishist that loves being stepped on and are grateful than someone just did it.

〇 地下鉄で誰かに足を踏まれた。Someone stepped on my foot in the subway (bothering me).

助けられる / 助けてもらう

With the verb 助ける, it is already clear that the action is helpful for the recipient, so I agree that the difference between both words is more subtle.

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    I'm interested in the verb 助ける specifically, and from what I understand, for that verb, the passive form doesn't have the 'victimization' connotation that the passive usually carries. I have a sense that 助けられる is more along the lines of "to be saved" while 助けてもらう is more like "to receive help (that was asked for)" but I'd like to hear from a fluent speaker about this. – Noah May 28 at 0:20
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    I may be ignorant on this, but I can't imagine where you would use 助けられた outside of wanting it for the "calamity" connotation (e.g., "Bob helped Linda when the gun she had aimed at me slipped from her hand" or something) - the reason being that if you want to indicate the English sense that you (or someone) "was helped", I would think 助かる would be the more natural verb choice. – Micah Cowan May 28 at 6:07
  • Re: "told me the address (helping me, indeed)" - wouldn't that be covered by 教えてくれた? I thought the -てもらう construction usually implies that the help was at the behest of the subject ("me", in this case) - rather like "I had the policeman give me the address", but less strongly than 教えたせた. – Micah Cowan May 28 at 6:10
  • @Noah, I see. If that's the case, I think I'm of little help here. I suggest you to further edit your question to state that you specifically ask for the verb 助ける, hopefully some of the most experienced people around can shed some light on this. – jarmanso7 May 28 at 6:17
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    @Micah Cowan, I just decided to leave out other forms like くれた and focus on the forms being asked by the OP, but yeah I agree, the translation I gave is closer to くれた than to てもらった. I just don't overthink it. – jarmanso7 May 28 at 6:18

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