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Grammar detail: using passive form as honorific

using passive form as honorific
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The passive form can be used as an honorific form, i.e. a polite form when describing the action of a third party respectfully, or talking humbly to a 'superior'.
スミス
せんせい
先生
てがみ
手紙
かれました

Mr Smith wrote a letter.
It can be difficult to tell whether this form is intended as passive or honorific. Generally the grammar of the sentence will provide enough clues. In the example above, the use of お (the honorific prefix) before
てがみ
手紙
provides one necessary clue. Additionally, if the verb was passive and the meaning was 'a letter was written by Mr Smith', the particle に would have to be used instead of the subject marker は.
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Kanji used in this grammar

シュ   hand   て    た-    
シ   かみ paper   
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セン   さき ahead   
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セイ   ショウ    life   なま raw   いかす to enliven   いきる to live   いける to arrange flowers   うまれる to be born   う to give birth to   き pure, undiluted   お to grow, to sprout   はえる to grow, to sprout   はやす to grow, cultivate   
ショ   か to write   
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