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I came across this sentence in a light novel by 北川恵海 called 『ちょっと今から人生かえてくる』

言われるがまま就活を終了した。

My translation is something like: " I did what I was told and finished my job hunting. " My question is: what is the difference between 言われたまま and 言われるがまま?

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verb + がまま is a fixed phrase from classical Japanese. This が is an old possessive particle (see this question). A phrase like this often has a deeper nuance than what's written literally. Here, がまま has a sense of "without any chance of questioning" or "at someone's mercy". 言われるがまま就活を終了した strongly suggests this person had no control over what he did or did not understand what he was doing.

言われたまま is a phrase that follows the standard Japanese grammar and just means "as [I] was told". If you voluntarily followed someone's instruction understanding most of it, 言われたまま is better.

For example, saying 言われたまま発注しました or 言われたとおり発注しました to your boss is usually okay ("I placed an order just as I was told"). But saying 言われるがまま発注しました to your boss sounds like you're either irresponsible or angry.

See also: What does ~がままになる mean?

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  • 言われたまま may follow the standard Japanese grammar, but I bet まま doesn't follow the usual rules. At least it seems so to me. E.g. it's probably an adverb here (although some would call it a particle probably), but it follows, not precedes a verb. It looks especially strange before な. More on it here.
    – yk7
    Commented Feb 17 at 1:19
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    @x-yuri I'm not sure what you mean by "standard grammar vs usual rules", but this まま is a noun. And まま is not the only noun that works also as an adverb and a no-adjective. ため is another example (彼のための本, 彼のために働く, 彼のため働く and それは彼のためだ are all valid). There is no such thing as "an adverb that modifies a verb after it" in Japanese.
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 17 at 4:59
  • Oh, I assumed that まま is an adverb. And I meant, if that is so, my understanding is that adverbs usually precede a verb in Japanese, so seeing one after a verb is strange. But thanks to your explanation things are a bit more clear now. Then let me make another possibly wrong assumption. Although まま here might be translated as something other than a noun, to Japanese it would sound as a noun. If so can you explain what noun sense this まま would convey? The sentence with 言われたまま would probably need the に particle after it, which would probably indicate a reason...
    – yk7
    Commented Feb 17 at 9:44
  • ...And the reason would probably be "<some noun phrase> (まま) which is was told (言われた)". E.g. something along the lines of, "because something which is unchanged (まま) which is 'was told' (言われた)". Which is seemingly wrong, but something along those lines. Is there such noun explanation of the sentence? | I guess まま can't be a particle as was suggested in another answer?..
    – yk7
    Commented Feb 17 at 9:44

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