Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Beyond the Basics
In Japanese, there are two ways to say "to give" depending on whether you are on the giver's or the receiver's side.
When you are on the giver's side, you use the word あげる. So if you want to say something like "I gave my friend a present," you use あげる. The other way of saying “to give” is くれる, but it's used when you're on the receiver's side. So to say, "my friend gave me a present," くれる is the right choice.
Pretty straightforward, right? But bear in mind that even though くれる means you're receiving something, it still always means "to give," not "to receive/get." So you can't use くれる for a phrase like "I got a present from my friend," even though you're the receiver. When you use くれる, the subject is always the person who's giving, like "my friend gave me a present."
Then how would you say "I got a present from my friend," without making your friend the subject? That's when the word もらう comes into play. もらう means "to receive," and you can use it whenever you are on the receiver's side.
But why all the variations? They're all useful because they let you clarify your perspective, and they show who is feeling thankful or being thanked during any given exchange. It means あげる, which is "to give" from the giver's perspective, can express the connotation that you should be thanked. And くれる and もらう, which both are from the receiver's perspective, can express gratitude.
For these situations, あげる, くれる, and もらう are all used when you can assume the receiver appreciates and feels happy about what's being given. In other words, these words may not be suited for something unwanted. We'll talk more about this later, so for now just remember that you generally use these words for good things that probably make the receiver happy.
Patterns of Use
Pattern of あげる
In general, あげる is used in the following pattern.
- I give gum to Jenny.
Pattern of くれる
In general, くれる is used in the following pattern.
- Jenny gives gum to me.
Note that if the giver or the receiver is you yourself, you can often omit the 私に part in Japanese. Hence, 私に is in parentheses in the above examples.
Pattern of もらう
In general, もらう is used in the following patterns.
Receiver が Giver [に/から] Object を もらう。
With もらう, the giver is marked either by the particle に or the particle から. Here, the main difference in nuance is that に suggests direct contact with the giver, whereas から just indicates the source of the gift.
- I get gum from Jenny.
- I get gum from Jenny.
But when the giver is a company or a government (for example) instead of a person, it's generally more appropriate to consider them as merely the source of what you receive rather than as a direct contact. Hence から becomes more suitable.
- I receive money from the company.
Note again that if you yourself are the receiver, 私が can often be omitted in Japanese. Hence, 私が is in parentheses in the above examples.
Which Side of Giving and Receiving Are You On?
In this section, let's take a closer look at how くれる, あげる, and もらう work.
Two Ways to Say "To Give": あげる and くれる
As a refresher, Japanese has two ways of saying "to give" ー あげる for when you are on the giver's side and くれる for when you are on the receiver's side.
Did you notice the word "side," as in "the giver's side" and "the receiver's side"?
The reason it's not just "the giver" and "the receiver" is that sometimes you yourself aren't giving or receiving, but you still have some relation to one side or the other. In these situations, you take the same standpoint as the people in your in-group (uchi), as opposed to people outside your social circle (soto). If your friend gave your brother a present, you'd say "thank you," right? It's a similar idea — you choose あげる or くれる according to your relationship with the person who's receiving/giving. In other words, according to whether they are your uchi (in-group) or soto (out-group).
Uchi and soto are words that mean "inside" and "outside." In Japanese culture, these two concepts also apply to social relationships. That is, uchi refers to the people in the social circle you belong to (in-group), and soto refers to the people outside of the circle (out-group). The uchi and soto distinction is relative, and you can freely decide who is your uchi or soto, but there are some common tendencies. For example, people tend to consider their own family as their uchi. So, let's say your brother gives a gift to your friend. In this case, the giver is your uchi, so you can take the giver's standpoint and use あげる:
- My brother gives a birthday present to my friend.
In the same way, if your friend gives a gift to your brother, you can take the receiver's standpoint and use くれる:
- My friend gives a present to my brother.
Although your brother is your uchi and your friend is your soto in the above examples, you can consider your friend as uchi in different situations because the concepts of uchi and soto are all relative. For example, say your friend is somehow giving away presents to random people on the street. In this case, you know your friend but not the passersby, so your friend falls into the uchi category. It's natural for you to take the giver's perspective and use あげる.
- My friend gives presents to passersby.
Here, you cannot use くれる because it adds a nuance that sounds like, "my friend is giving presents to my fellow passersby." And that is very odd.
Like in the above examples, you need to judge whether the people involved in the giving action are your uchi or soto, situation by situation. To learn more about uchi and soto, check out our article devoted to the concepts.
One Way to Say "To Receive": もらう
Don't forget we have another word to talk about ー もらう, for the receiving action. This one is simpler because you have only one choice, and it always takes the receiver's perspective.
So when you receive a gift from your friend, you use もらう:
- I get a present from my friend.
When someone in your uchi, like your brother, receives a gift from your friend, you also use もらう:
- My brother gets a present from my friend.
Again, もらう can express some gratitude, but since the focus is on the receiving act, it can also add the nuance that you (and your uchi) owe the giver or otherwise feel thankful. 1 On the other hand, くれる focuses on the giving act, so it generally emphasizes the kindness of the giver rather than the receiver's gratitude.
あげる vs もらう for When You're a Complete Outsider
So you've learned that when the giver or the receiver is your uchi, you can put yourself in their shoes and describe the situation from their point of view. But what if you're a complete outsider?
Being a complete outsider means you can observe the whole situation from a third-person perspective. However, you still have to identify the relationship between the giver and receiver and select either あげる or もらう depending on the point of view you'd like to emphasize.
To emphasize the giver's standpoint, you use あげる.
- The teacher gives donuts to the students.
The reasons you go with あげる can vary. Maybe you want to shed light on the good deed of the teacher. Maybe you are a student in a different class and trying to say it's unfair for the teacher to give donuts only to their homeroom students. Whatever the reason, あげる places focus on the giver and the act of giving — presumably something that makes the receiver happy.
To emphasize the receiver's standpoint, you use もらう.
- The students get donuts from the teacher.
In this case, your focus is on the students receiving the donuts. Again, the reasons you choose もらう can vary. Maybe you are watching a TV show about hungry students and sympathize with them when they finally receive some delicious donuts. Maybe this is a caption that goes with a picture about the students' school life. Whatever it is, もらう clarifies that your focus is on the receiver and on them receiving something that should make them happy.
くれる doesn't work when you're a complete outsider because it describes the act of "giving" from the receiver's perspective and always indicates that you or your uchi is the receiver. For example, let's try to switch あげる to くれる in the earlier example:
- The teacher gives donuts to the students.
In this example, your focus is still on the teacher giving the donuts, but くれる suggests you are either a student or someone on the students' side of things, like a parent. It no longer sounds like you are a neutral observer, so it doesn't work in situations where you are an outsider.
Beyond the Basics
〜てあげる, 〜てくれる, and 〜てもらう
あげる, くれる, and もらう can attach to the て form of another verb to indicate that someone is performing the action for someone else.
In this case, the basic concepts remain the same, but now what's given or received is an action, such as teaching or eating, instead of something physical like a present.
So, when you or your uchi does something for someone else, you use 〜てあげる.
- I will teach my friend Japanese.
In this example, 〜てあげる clarifies that you are doing a favor for your friend, so it could sound a little pushy. Although it's usually okay to use this expression when explaining your good deed to a third party, you should be careful when talking directly to the recipient of the favor. It could end up sounding really condescending. For example, if you attached あげる to 遊ぶ (play) and said 遊んであげる to your friend, it would sound like you think you're doing your friend a favor by hanging out with them. Kind of a strange implication, right?
On the other hand, when someone does something for you or your uchi, you use 〜てくれる.
- My friend will teach me Japanese.
Here, くれる indicates you are the receiver of the favor, but its focus is still on the friend who's doing the favor for you. Hence, it can show that you are aware your friend is taking time to help you and that you appreciate their efforts. So 〜てくれる is a humble way of saying someone is doing something for you.
Lastly, when you or your uchi receives a favor, you use 〜てもらう.
- I will get Japanese lessons from my friend.
Like くれる, もらう can also express some gratitude toward your friend. However, the focus of もらう is on you as the recipient of the favor, and carries an "I owe them" kind of nuance. For this nuance, もらう is often suitable when the favor is done upon your request. The way these words function when you're an outsider is also the same. When neither the giver nor the receiver is your uchi, you choose 〜てあげる or 〜てもらう depending on the standpoint you'd like to emphasize.
- The teacher will teach Japanese to the students.
- The students will get Japanese lessons from the teacher.
In this case, 〜てくれる can't be used for the same reason explained earlier.
When Giving and Receiving Don't Involve Gratitude
As explained earlier, あげる, くれる, and もらう all assume the receiver feels happy about what's being given. To avoid adding that nuance, you need to use other verbs.
For example, imagine a situation where a teacher gives a program schedule to the students. Some students may feel happy about getting the program schedule, but most wouldn't really feel anything about it.
So, to describe this kind of neutral "giving" and "receiving," you can use words like 渡す (hand out, give) and 受け取る (receive).
- The teacher gave the schedule to the students.
- The students received the schedule from the teacher.
If you use あげる, くれる, or もらう here, it will add the nuance that the program schedule is somehow beneficial to the students and that they would feel thankful for it.
Other times, what's given can be unwanted by the receiver. For example, imagine there is some terrible person who forces their garbage on you. To describe this troublesome giving, you can use a word like 押し付ける (push, forcefully give).
- That person pushed their garbage on me.
In this case, if you want to focus on yourself getting the garbage, you can also use its passive form to show you were pushed to take it.
- I was given garbage by that person.
What a terrible person! I hope no one like that shows up in your real life.
There are different versions of くれる, あげる, and もらう with different degrees of politeness.
|< CasualPolite >|
|to give (someone)||やる||あげる||差し上げる|
|to give (me/us)||くれる||くださる|
| to receive
やる, あげる, and 差し上げる
Originally, あげる meant to humbly give something to someone of a higher status than you. 2 When giving something to someone in the same or lower position, you would use やる.
- I give a book to my teacher.
- I give food to the cat.
However, the formality has been shifting. Nowadays, most people use あげる more casually in all kinds of situations.
- I give a book to my friend.
- I give food to the cat.
Similarly, やる has become much more casual. In general, those who use やる tend to speak bluntly and often carry a masculine tone.
- I'll give this to you.
Since the formality of あげる has decreased, in formal situations you'll now use the even more humble 差し上げる when you express your act of giving to someone in a higher position.
- I give a letter to my client.
くれる and くださる
くれる is an ordinary word and can be used for anyone in general situations. In more formal situations where you want to express your respect towards the giver, you may want to switch くれる to its honorific counterpart くださる. In this case, the giver is probably someone in a higher position than you, such as a professor.
- My professor gives me a book.
Note that くださる's polite ます form generally becomes くださいます instead of くださります.
もらう and いただく
Since もらう means "to receive" from the receiver's perspective, it expresses gratitude toward the giver and sounds somewhat humble as is. Hence, you can still use もらう when the giver is in a higher position in ordinary situations.
- I receive a book from my teacher.
To sound more polite, however, you should use いただく, which is the more humble and formal version of もらう.
- I receive a book from my teacher.
For example, when a significant event in life is being celebrated, such as a birth or marriage, Japanese have the custom of sending a gift called お祝い (a celebratory gift), and also of sending a gift back in thanks called お祝い返し (a celebratory gift in return).
Japan has a big gift-giving culture, and reciprocity through gift-giving is much more prevalent than in Western cultures. But it's not all just from the goodness of people's hearts. It's more like a custom, and when one gets a gift, one is usually expected to give some gift in return. ↩
あげる shares the same origin as its homonym 上げる (to raise). So it could imply raising something up to someone above you in Japanese hierarchical social relationships. Hence, it was originally used as a respectful expression of "to give." ↩