Here we introduce how to express actions from and towards someone or yourself, e.g. “I will have him do this for me”, “She did this for me”, and “I will do this for them”. To form these expressions we need to use the te form with three specific verbs which haven’t yet been introduced.

English Group Japanese
to deign Group 2 くれる
to give Group 2 あげる
to receive Group 1 もらう
My friend will give me a present.
I will give a present to my friend.
I will receive a present from my friend.

The use of the target particle with もらう can seem a little strange because we sometimes unwittingly associate it with “to” in English and yet here the meaning is “from my friend”. In fact, we can also use から with the verb もらう but に is formally correct.

All three are used with the te form; although you will most often here the te form used with くれる and もらう for reasons which I will explain shortly.

First let’s look at sentence use the te form and くれる.

My younger brother came to the airport to greet me.
Will you give me a call when you get to the station?
Thanks for putting the washing out.
I’m grateful to my senior who gave me guidance when I was a new graduate and didn’t understand the job.

As you may have noticed, in all of the above example sentences the action is one for which you are grateful or appreciative. This is because くれる contains this implication that someone did something for you. Consequently, the following is unnatural.

My boss rejected my proposal.

Clearly you’re not appreciative of the fact that your proposal was turned down.

It’s worth remembering the phrase ~てくれてありがとう.

Thanks for coming!
Thank you for lending a hand.

In contrast ~てあげる is used when you do something for someone else. The reason I say that it is not used as often is because it carries with it the slight risk that you are elevating yourself above your listener—as if you’re deigning to do something for them. Especially in Japanese, were relationship dynamics are an underlying part of the language and the default position is to put yourself in a position of deference to your listener, it can come across as slightly unnatural. Most commonly it is used in casual conversation between friends.

It’s tough moving on your own so I’ll give you a hand.
Shall I make tea?

The following dialogue sounds unnatural.

上司 いつレポートを提出するの?
Boss Can you hand in the report?
部下 明日提出してあげます。
Subordinate I’ll submit the report tomorrow.

The “double verb” ending doesn’t not change the meaning, but gives the sentence a slightly condescending nuance compounded by the informality of the verb やる. In this respect, it can be thought of as a more informal version of ~てあげる.

I’ll teach you Japanese.

I’m confident I can win—I’ll show you at the game tomorrow!

I can’t forgive that attitude. I’ll give him a piece of my mind.

Don’t worry. If you don’t have any money I’ll buy your share, too.

Things get a little bit trickier with ~てもらう. It is best to think of it as meaning “to have someone do something for you”. In other words, you have requested someone to perform an action for you or on your behalf. What trips learners up is that the particle that follows the person doing the action for you is に and we tend to think of this as the job of は or が.

My arm hurts so I will have the doctor take a look.

It might help to remember that you are the topic of the sentence and the final verb is “to receive”. The topic is still connected to the final verb of the sentence—in this case you are “receiving the action of being seen by the doctor”.

If you don’t have why don’t you have Akiko-san go for you?
Would you mind calling the restaurant and confirming the booking for me?
I had my university professor write me a letter of recommendation.
Eri is living close to a department store so shall we have her buy the cake?
I want you to listen to what I have to say.

Incidentally, to say that you want someone to do something for you we can also use the i-adjective ほしい with the te form. This requires the same grammar as above (i.e. the person performing the action takes the target particle), but it is quite a direct phrase and not particularly polite.

There’s something I want you to do for me.

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