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I am certain this is grammatical:

父が私を起こしてくれた。
My father woke me up.

I'm guessing the 私を part is rather unnatural and can be removed, but the sentence is nevertheless grammatical.

I also couldn't see anything wrong with this:

父が私を起こした。
My father woke me up.

but was told it was wrong.

It looks grammatical to me. 私を起こした clearly shows that the action is for my benefit, so do I really need くれる? Again I imagine the 私を is a bit unnatural and I suppose removing it in the absence of くれる would make the meaning more ambiguous.

Have I got anything wrong in this analysis?

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    私を is redundant and unnatural in real conversations (except when there are two or more people being woken up by the father), but it's perfectly fine when we are talking about the grammaticality of a sentence. – naruto Apr 3 at 0:23
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The assumption that 「私を起こした」 itself clearly shows that the action is for the speaker's benefit seems an unwarranted one. Surely there are plenty of cases of being woken up where one's interests are more harmed than benefitted?

「私を起こした」 can stand without 「(~て)くれる」 just fine, but not because it clearly shows that the action is for the speaker's benefit but more because it does not clearly show that the action is for the speaker's benefit.

If the verb phrase expresses an action that is by nature beneficial to the speaker (or to someone from whose perspective they are speaking), that, if anything, is all the more reason to use 「(~て)くれる」. This is because 「(~て)くれる」 is an expression, before all else, of the speaker's recognition that the action is beneficial to them. With verbs that denote actions that are inherently beneficial (like 助ける), not using 「(~て)くれる」 is sometimes even unnatural, depending on the context. Consider the following:

(1)佐藤さんは僕が困っているところを助けてくれました。

(2)佐藤さんは僕が困っているところを助けました。

In (1), the speaker is helped/saved by Sato-san, the performer of an act that is (inherently) beneficial, and (~て)くれる appropriately adds the information of the the speaker's recognition thereof. (That is, 「助ける」 and 「~てくれる」 work together, but there is no redundancy between them.)

The (~て)くれる-less (2) can sound like it is uttered by a person who lacks the appreciation of the basic fact that being saved/helped is something that is beneficial to them, barring cases where personal viewpoints and feelings are discarded for objectivity.

But since in the sentence 「父が私を起こした。」, the verb phrase does not express an action that is by nature beneficial to the speaker (unlike 「僕を助けた」), this will not be an issue.

Both 「父が私を起こしてくれた。」 and 「父が私を起こした。」 are fine sentences. The first one indicates the speaker's recognition that the father's waking them up was beneficial to them (plus appreciation/gratefulness for the act), while the second one does not, which is not odd at all, because being woken up is not always something particularly beneficial and to be thankful for.

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  • "Surely there are plenty of cases of being woken up where one's interests are more harmed than benefitted?" <-- so obvious now you point it out, but I really hadn't thought of that. – user3856370 Apr 3 at 8:32
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I don't see anything wrong with「私を」, I found a handful of examples of「私を起こして」in a google search.

「Vてくれる」is always used when someone performs an action for your sake (or someone you empathizes with). So, if you use the plain verb without「くれる」, your sentence would imply that the action is done to someone other than you or someone you empathize with. Thus, your sentence will sound odd.

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