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The answers and comments of my question Understanding of a sentence from Death Note make me think about the use of 思われる and the particles before it. And I've read some questions about it:
Interpretation of 思われる (spontaneous or passive?)
Uses of に思う in this statement
Can 思う take を and と at the same time?

There are some rules of transforming regular verbs into their passive or spontaneous form, such as changing を to が for a direct passive or spontaneous of a transitive verb. Based on these rules, considering 思われる is the passive and spontaneous form of 思う which is a transitive verb, we can make some sentences of 思われる transformed from those of 思う. But I'm not sure whether these sentences sound natural or not. For example:

〜を〜(だ)と思う

(他者が)彼を学者と思う => (他者に)彼が学者と思われる
(他者が)彼を学者だと思う => (他者に)彼が学者だと思われる

If the structure of latter is [彼が学者だ]と思われる, it may be also seen as made from [彼が学者だ]と思う. But here I just want to say the possibility of just changing が・を to に・が.

〜を〜に思う

(他者が)彼を立派に思う => (他者に)彼が立派に思われる

I'm not sure 彼を立派に思う can be used for expressing 彼を立派だと思う, just assume it.

Indirect Passive
I wonder if 思われる can be used as the indirect passive. If I want to say my son is considered to be a criminal (which makes me sad and annoyed).

(他者が)息子を犯罪者と思う => 私は(他者に)息子を犯罪者と思われる
(他者が)息子を犯罪者だと思う => 私は(他者に)息子を犯罪者だと思われる

just like

(犬が)手を噛んだ => 私は(犬に)手を噛まれた

I'm not sure here it should be 思われている for it's passive. And if changing the structure:

(他者が)[息子が犯罪者だ]と思う => 私は(他者に)[息子が犯罪者だ]と思われる

I wonder if the sentences I've written are natural and the transformations make sense.

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  • Great insights + thanks for the 3 links you posted! To make it easier for people with better knowledge in Japanese than us, while I'm not saying that the questions here need to be ones where one can answer "YES" or "NO", at least I didn't at first understand what you wanted to ask.
    – Tuomo
    May 13, 2023 at 14:16
  • @Tuomo I'm sorry for my disorganized words. I've made some changes on the title and the body, do you feel it's a little clearer now?
    – shepherd
    May 13, 2023 at 14:49

2 Answers 2

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The AをBと + verb (verb + A as B) construction can be made into the passive form like so:

  1. [non-passive] 山田氏を学者だと思う。
    (I) regard Mr. Yamada as a scholar.
  2. [(direct) passive] 山田氏は学者だと思われる。
    Mr. Yamada will be regarded (by someone) as a scholar.
  3. [indirect passive] (私は)山田氏を学者だと思われる。
    I will have Mr. Yamada (incorrectly) regarded as a scholar.
  4. [relativize 2/3] 学者だと思われる山田氏
    Mr. Yamada, who will be (incorrectly) regarded as a scholar

I added "will" in some of the corresponding English translations because you need to use 思われている when it's about something at present and the subject of "think" is a third person.

Since these are still AをBと, だ can be safely dropped:

  1. [non-passive] 山田氏を学者と思う。
    (I) regard Mr. Yamada as a scholar.
  2. [(direct) passive] 山田氏は学者と思われる。
    Mr. Yamada will be regarded (by someone) as a scholar.
  3. [indirect passive] (私は)山田氏を学者と思われる。
    I will have Mr. Yamada (incorrectly) regarded as a scholar.
  4. [relativize 6/7] 学者と思われる山田氏
    Mr. Yamada, who will be (incorrectly) regarded as a scholar

Sentence 3 and 7 are indirect passive sentences (unambiguously). However, Sentences 2, 4, 6 and 8 are usually not interpreted as above when there is no context. Instead, this type of 思われる is taken as spontaneous-れる by default:

  1. 山田氏は学者だと思われる。
    [spontaneous] I (spontaneously) think that Mr. Yamada is a scholar. / It appears that Mr. Yamada is a scholar.

Note that this sentence no longer has anything to do with passive voice even though it has れる. This れる just adds the mood of spontaneously (or somehow, vaguely, etc.)

Applying the rules of relative clauses, you can construct these noun phrases:

  1. 学者(だ)と思われる山田氏
    [from 2/6] Mr. Yamada, who will be (incorrectly) thought of as a scholar
  2. 学者だと思われる山田氏
    [from 9] Mr. Yamada, who appears to be a scholar

These look the same, but 11 is the default interpretation. The interpretation like 10 is not unnatural, but there needs to be a context such as that Mr. Yamada is clearly annoyed by being mistaken for a scholar.

Prescriptively speaking, when 11 is intended, だ should not be dropped. This is because it's from 山田氏は学者だ, which is a sentence. So this 学者だ is still a sentence, just like 大丈夫だ in 大丈夫(だ)と思います is a sentence. But I somehow feel it's safe to drop this だ in a very short case like this.

You can apply the same discussion with 彼が立派に思われる. Technically, it can mean both "He is going to be (incorrectly) thought of as being respectable" (passive) and "I feel he is respectable" (spontaneous). But for the former to make sense, you need some rare context where being thought of as a respectable person is undesirable to the speaker for some reason.

Fortunately, thanks to this rule, you will see 思われている (not 思われる) when the passive voice is intended and the sentence is not about something in the future. Compare:

  1. 学者だと思われる山田氏
    Mr. Yamada, who appears to be a scholar
  2. 学者(だ)と思われている山田氏
    Mr. Yamada, who is (incorrectly) thought of as a scholar

Therefore, the rule of thumb is that when you see 思われる (and 感じられる, 考えられる) for something not in the future, you can say it's spontaneous (or honorific). Also note that something like 認める is always an intentional action, so 認められる does not allow a "spontaneous" interpretation.

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  • Thank you for your explicit anwser! But again in the sentence: 今までに明らかになった被害者と思われる心臓麻痺死者の全ては日本で情報を得る事が可能だった者という裏付けが取れました, I somehow feel 思われる is a passive voice, just meaning "心臓麻痺死者 who is thought of as 被害者" , considering the background of Death Note. And compared to the sentence 9 in your anwser, there is no meaning of "will" and the suffering sense of "incorrectly". Right? Or do you think the meaning is "心臓麻痺死者 who appear to be 被害者", which I think is not so appropriate.
    – shepherd
    May 15, 2023 at 2:09
  • And 1 more questions: When 彼が立派に思われる is a spontaneous, it's also made from 彼を立派に思う, right? That means to transform to a spontaneous, we should change を to が as for passive, right? But why we can't just drop the だ in 7 and 10, and see 山田氏は学者と思われる as a spontaneous made from 山田氏を学者と思う? I mean there's no need to see the part before と in a spontaneous as a whole sentense.
    – shepherd
    May 15, 2023 at 2:52
  • @shepherd The sentence clearly says 今まで, so it is definitely not about something in the future. If it were passive, it must have been 被害者と思われている心臓麻痺死者. The correct interpretation is "heart attack deaths that apparently are (not accidental but) victims (of the homicide)".
    – naruto
    May 15, 2023 at 2:53
  • @shepherd As for you second question, 彼を立派に思う ("I consider him respectable") is correct but 彼を立派に思われる somehow does not make sense as a spontaneous sentence; it's always indirect passive. That is, 彼が立派に思われる is made from nothing; it's just another way of saying (私は)彼が立派だなと(自然に)思う.
    – naruto
    May 15, 2023 at 3:01
  • 1
    @shepherd Oh, so there's a textbook that explains this rule! / Thanks, I fixed the number (again). Sorry for the inconvenience. / Direct passives are less likely to have the sense of suffering as compared to indirect passives, so I reflected that in my translations above. But yes, direct passives still tend to have such a sense as compared to English passive constructions.
    – naruto
    May 15, 2023 at 7:00
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Whether they are natural or not is a matter of context or aspect.

It is possible to see 彼が学者だと思われる as part of a sentence, but as a translation of He is considered to be a scholar, it should use は and 思われている

  • 学者だと思われている

Likewise for the others

  • 彼は町の人から誇りに思われている (Using passive is not too natural here, though.)

  • 私は息子が犯罪者だと思われている


Typically, 思われる is used in a clause:

  • 彼が犯人だと思われることはない (because he has a perfect alibi)
  • 息子が犯罪者だと思われるのは不愉快だ (in this case, the subject is usually omitted).

The following may sound 'spontaneous' by default.

  • 彼が犯人だと思われる It seems that he is the culprit

But I guess it is hardly distinguishable from passive (He is considered to be the culprit)

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  • Thanks! Do you think 彼は学者だと思われている is passive but not spontaneous? And what's the structure of this sentence? 彼は[学者だ]と思われている or [彼は学者だ]と思われている or both make sense? If it's the former, I think we can drop the だ: 彼は学者と思われている.
    – shepherd
    May 14, 2023 at 4:19
  • @shepherd In the particular case, I think it does not really make much difference. I added the last paragraph. In short, 思われている is usually passive. 思われる could be 'spontaneous' but there is always ambiguity (at the bottom they share the root).
    – sundowner
    May 14, 2023 at 6:07
  • Many thanks! and my point is: if the structure is [彼は学者だ]と思われている, と is a quotative-と, which means the part before it is a complete sentence, where だ can't be dropped. But if it's 彼は[学者だ]と思われている where 彼 is the subject of 思われている, it can be seen as made from 彼を[学者だ]と思っている where だ can be safely dropped, so that we can say 彼は学者と思われている. In fact, I think 彼は学者と思われている is natural, is it?
    – shepherd
    May 14, 2023 at 6:27
  • @shepherd Dropping だ is independent of the meaning of れる. I kinda see what you mean, but 彼が犯人だと思われる・彼が犯人と思われる are mostly equivalent to me. Any differentiation requires surrounding construction (like embedding in a clause), and it's a case-by-case matter. I suppose it's the same thing it seems/ he is considered to .. in English.
    – sundowner
    May 14, 2023 at 8:31
  • OK, I know that. Thanks! And the last question: 私は息子が犯罪者と思われている(drop だ) and 私は息子犯罪者と思われている(a possible indirect passive made from 息子を犯罪者と思っている) are natural?
    – shepherd
    May 14, 2023 at 8:55

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