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Source: 類語例解辞典

「または」は、二つのもののうちの一方を捨てて一方だけをとる場合や、どちらでもよいという許容を表わす場合に用いる。

So the subject of 用いる is the generic “one/you/people” or is it “we, the Japanese people”? I may have overthought this but I would say it is the former, since it is just an objective definition of a word in a language, but the definition stems from how the Japanese people have been using the word.

This actually reminded me of one conversation I saw on HiNative. An American asked a 日本人 what もったいぶる means.

https://ja.hinative.com/questions/45016

「もったいぶる」は例えば、恋愛話をもったいぶってなかなかお話してくれない、とかに使います。おいしい話をもったいぶってなかなかシェアしてくれないことです。

Who does the 使う? Is it “we, the Japanese”? Or is it the generic “one/you/people”? When I am asked what a word means in my native language, I respond either with “is used” or “we use” as “we, the natives”, or even “I use” if I am not sure. When there’s no pronoun in Japanese I have trouble understanding which one of all these options fits the best into the context.

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    I'm having trouble understanding what the implication of it being "we the Japanese people" would be...
    – Leebo
    Feb 18, 2023 at 2:30
  • It should be understood as In Japanese language, one uses .... It can be 用いられる/使われます.
    – sundowner
    Feb 18, 2023 at 7:26
  • In the first example it seems the subject is “one” since it is an official dictionary definition. However, I would say that in the second example the subject is “we”, as in “we use the word もったいぶる like this”. At least that’s how I would respond in English. I would not use the generic “you/one” pronoun. Feb 18, 2023 at 12:59
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    You, or we, would have to ask the poster whether they meant "one" or "we, Japanese", but there's no fundamental difference from the first example. I would understand the subject to be no one in particular because there's no reason to think they meant any particular group of people.
    – aguijonazo
    Feb 18, 2023 at 14:16
  • I understood it as “we” because in English they both wrote we. Was my understanding correct? I will try to formulate my posts about subtle grammar points such as these more clearly from now on. Feb 18, 2023 at 23:02

2 Answers 2

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Why use 用いる and not 用いられる? Who’s the subject?

I think those are separate questions.

Why use 用いる and not 用いられる?

The effect is basically the same in this context, just like "You use X when ..." and "X is used when..." mean basically the same. Because 用いる is shorter, it might be preferred. But that doesn't mean the 用いられる is wrong.

Who’s the subject?

Who the empty subject and the agent in a passive sentence refer to depends on the context. In instructions, the empty subject in Japanese would probably refer to the reader. In explaining how to use certain linguistic expressions, '(native) speakers' would be the default subject. I think in English the generic 'you' works similarly.

That said, at least in instructions, I think there is a subtle difference.

このボタンは非常時に押します
このボタンは非常時に押されます

the first version sounds more like the reader is supposed to push it, while the second version makes it more neutral - it can be the reader, but it can be someone else, or it can even be automatic.

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Since your example sentences are about the Japanese language, their implicit subject is Japanese-speaking people in general. Unlike Japanese, English is a language that requires an explicit subject. When translating such a sentence into English, you have to choose from you, one, people, or we, depending on the writing style and the type of the article, but I would say this has little to do with the Japanese language itself. You can choose whichever sounds the most natural to you.

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  • “but I would say this has little to do with the Japanese language itself” please could you elaborate on this? I would say that logically, only one option (one implicit subject) must be possible depending on context. So what sounds the most natural to me might not always be what the native speakers find the most natural. In these examples “native speakers” seemed the most natural and logical to me, so I went with that. Feb 26, 2023 at 17:10

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