Language | WELL SAID

The Japanese verb 'kuru' comes in many forms

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Suzuki-san ga koraretara, chotto o-machi itadaku yō ni. (When Mr. Suzuki comes, please ask him to wait for a few minutes.)

Situation 1: Section chief Mr. Okubo asks one of his employees for a favor.

大久保: 鈴木さんが来られたら、ちょっとお待ちいただくように。

グレイ: はい、承知しました。

Ōkubo: Suzuki-san ga koraretara, chotto o-machi-itadaku yō ni.

Gray: Hai, shōchi shimashita.

Okubo: When Mr. Suzuki comes, please ask him to wait for a few minutes.

Gray: Yes, I understand.

The irregular verb 来(く)る, which means “to come,” can have multiple meanings in its passive form 来(こ)られる. On one hand, it can work as a light honorific form of the verb, as in:

先生(せんせい)が後(あと)でこちらへ来られるそうです。 (I heard our professor will come here later.)

Men have traditionally used 来られる, while women tended to use the more polite form of the verb, いらっしゃる, as in: 先生が後でこちらへいらっしゃるそうです。 These days, however, such differences by gender are becoming less common.

To create the light honorific form with regular verbs, replace the final “u” with “areru.” For example, 飲(の)む (to drink) becomes 飲まれる and 変(か)える (to change) becomes 変えられる. The light honorific form of the irregular verb する (to do) is される.

Situation 2: Mitsuo is talking to his friend Takashi at school.

光男 : 明日、うちに来れる?

孝: うん、大丈夫。何時?

Mitsuo: Ashita, uchi ni koreru?.

Takashi: Un, daijōbu. Nanji?

Mitsuo: Can you come to my house tomorrow?.

Takashi: Yeah, OK. What time?

Mitsuo’s 来れる in Situation 2 is the potential form of 来る. The grammatically correct way to write this is 来られる, like the light honorific form, but nowadays the potential form is more commonly used without the “ら”: 来れる.

This dropping of “ら” happens when regular Group 2 verbs are put into their potential forms, too. For example: 変える should be 変えられる, but in casual conversation is often spoken as 変えれる. The potential form of 寝(ね)る (to sleep) would be 寝られる, but in conversation is often said as 寝れる; 着(き)る (to wear) would be said as 着れる instead of 着られる.

As stated before, 来られる is also the passive form of 来る. Passive forms often convey the nuance of the speaker’s feeling of annoyance or being injured in some way, as in:

セールスマンに家(いえ)に来られた (I was visited by a salesman [to my annoyance].)

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. Mita is chatting with his work colleague Mr. Sere who took the previous day off.

三田(みた): 昨日(きのう)、病気(びょうき)で休(やす)んだのに、色々(いろいろ)大変(たいへん)だったんだって?

セレ: うわさが広(ひろ)まるのは早(はや)いね。そうなんだよ。秘書課(ひしょか)の大山(おおやま)さんからお見舞(みま)いに来るってメールが来(き)たけど断(ことわ)ったんだ。だけど、書類(しょるい)を届(とど)けたいからって、強引(ごういん)に来られちゃって。

三田: そんなに急(いそ)ぎの書類だったわけ?

セレ: それが、そんなに重要(じゅうよう)とも思(おも)えないものだったんだけど、部屋(へや)に上(あ)がり込(こ)まれて、色々説明(せつめい)されて。ゆりが会社(かいしゃ)の帰(かえ)りに来れるって連絡(れんらく)くれていたから、鍵(かぎ)が開(あ)けっ放(ぱな)しにしてあったんだ。

三田: 大山さん、セレくんに気(き)があるんだな。いいなあ!

セレ: おもしろがらないでよ。ゆりが入(はい)ってきたとき、大山さんがものすごくあわてたから、とても怪(あや)しく見(み)えたらしいんだ。それで、ゆり、だまって帰っちゃって、その後いくら連絡(れんらく)しても無視(むし)されちゃって。

三田: そうか。できることなら、代(か)わってあげたいよ。

Mita: I heard that even though you took the day off because you were sick yesterday, you still had various difficulties.

Sere: Word gets around fast, doesn’t it. That’s correct. Ms. Oyama in the secretarial section emailed me to say she’d visit me, and I refused. But she insisted on coming, saying that she wanted to bring me some documents, so she pushed and just came.

Mita: Was it because they were urgent documents?

Sere: They weren’t all that important, but she barged into my room and began explaining stuff. Yuri had sent me an e-mail saying she can drop by my place after work, so I left my door unlocked.

Mita: Ms. Oyama must be interested in you, sweet!

Sere: Don’t tease. When Yuri came in, Ms. Oyama got terribly upset and I think Yuri saw the situation the wrong way. Yuri then left without a word and, ever since, has been ignoring all my attempts to make contact.

Mita: I see. If it were possible, I’d love to switch places.