Basic Japanese Grammar: Use あげる, くれる, もらう to Express “Give” and “Get”
Our Season 2 Episode 12 of the Nihongo Master Podcast is actually a follow-up episode of our Study Saturday Christmas special, where we discussed how to express wants in Japanese. That was the perfect grammar to ask for the ideal Christmas present!
The follow-up episode looked at how to express we got something, gave something, and someone gave something to us for Christmas! It’s only a matter of time before I ask this question: did you get the present you wanted for Christmas?
This article is a summary of that podcast episode: we looked at three different grammar languages to convey these gift-giving and gift-receiving exchanges, focusing on communicating what we got, what we gave, and what people gave us...for Christmas!
Before going into the grammar point, there’s the concept of soto and uchi. They play huge roles in direction and what grammar to use for who:
Soto & Uchi
In English, we use “to give” for any two parties — whether it’s a friend to a friend, a family member to you, or you to a stranger. In Japanese, however, it’s all about point-of-view and direction — there’s this concept of “soto” (外, outside) and “uchi” (内,inside). Long story short, uchi refers to your inner circle like yourself, your family, and people you’re close with. Soto refers to everyone else.
So when do you use ageru? To simplify it, I’ll list it out:
- the first is when the giver is “watashi”, and receiver is soto or uchi (it doesn’t matter)
- Second is when someone from your uchi is the giver, and the receiver is someone from soto
- Third is when both giver and receiver are people from soto
Now, here is when you use kureru:
- First is when the giver is either soto or uchi, and the receiver is “watashi”
- Second is when the giver is soto and the receiver is uchi.
We usually looked at example sentences when explaining new grammar points. The first sentence was “I gave my boyfriend a wallet”. For this kind of sentence, we use the grammar point “ageru” ().
The basic formula you’ll need is: giver + ha () + receiver + ni () + object + wo () + ageru.
In this case, the giver is me (watashi, 私); the receiver is my boyfriend (kareshi, 彼氏); the object is a wallet (saifu, 財布). All together, it’ll be: watashi ha kareshi ni saifu wo ageta (私は彼氏に財布をあげた).
So the subject of the sentence is the giver, and in that example, it was me. How about this sentence: My boyfriend gave me a necklace for Christmas. The giver is still the subject, but who is it? Yup, it’s the boyfriend. In this case, we use a different grammar point: “kureru” (くれる).
Lucky for us, the same formula applies — the giver is boyfriend; the receiver is me; the object is a necklace (nekkurasu, ネックラス). What do we get when we put them all together: Kareshi ha watashi ni nekkurasu wo kureta (彼氏は私にネックラスをくれた).
The third grammar point isn’t as confusing as the first two, because it translates to “to receive”. Soto and uchi don’t play a part here — both the receiver and giver can be anyone from your inner or outer circle.
What if you want to say that you got something from someone? Let’s use this sentence as an example: “I got a scarf from him.” We use the grammar point “morau” (もらう). Unlike the first two where the subject is the giver, this one has the receiver as the subject.
The formula is slightly different then, and we have: receiver + ha + giver + ni/kara + object + wo + morau.
In this case, I am the receiver, the giver is “he” (kare, 彼), the object is a scarf (sukāfu, スカーフ). You get this sentence: “watashi ha kare ni sukāfu wo moratta” (私は彼にスカーフをもらった).
We wrapped the episode up with a quick vocab recap. Here’s a list of them for your convenience:
Kareshi (彼氏) — boyfriend
Saifu (財布) — wallet
Soto (外) — outside
Uchi (内) — inside
Tomodachi () — friend
Hana (花) — flower
Tanoshii (楽しい) — fun
Sugoku (すごく) — very, kind of like “meccha” (めっちゃ) and “totemo” (とても)
Urayamashi () — jealous
Tsumaranai (つまらない) — boring
Toku ni nani mo (特に何も) — nothing special
Piasu (ピアス) — earrings
Ureshii (嬉しい) — happy
Takai (高い) — expensive, but it can also mean “high”
Boushi (帽子) — cap
Kaban (カバン) — bag
Atarashii (新しい) — new
Shashin (写真) — picture
Wasurechatta (忘れちゃった) — to forget
Tanjoubi omedeto (誕生日おめでとう) — happy birthday, the word for birthday is “tanjoubi” (誕生日)
Shigoto (仕事) — work
Yasashii (優しい) — kind
Shinyū (刺入) — best friend
Kutsu (靴) — shoes
Kutsu shita (靴下) — socks
Sumaho (スマホ) — smartphone
Saikō (最高) — the best
Not only can you use these grammar points to talk about what you got and gave for Christmas, but also in other conversations in everyday situations. For examples of how to use this, our full episode has two roleplaying scenarios exemplifying these grammar points. Check it out!
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