[VS-series] 「あげる」 vs 「くれる」 vs 「もらう」

「あげる」, 「くれる」, and「もらう」. These three verbs are called 「授受動詞」(“giving and receiving verbs”) and are used when exchanging things with someone.
The verbs used differ depending on which point of view you are in: the giver or the receiver. Since it is rare for a language to have three different terms, it is said to be one of the most difficult verbs for Japanese learners to understand. Let’s take a look at the meaning of each and the concepts of 「うち」 and 「そと」 (“inside” and “outside”).

Table of Contents


The concept of 「うち」 and 「そと」

The concept of 「うち」 and 「そと」 is important in understanding the verbs we learn here.

「うち」directly translates to “inside” or “home” in English and refers to people who are (perceived as) on your side from the speaker’s point of view, such as friends or family.「そと」 refers to the rest of the people. The scope of 「うち」 and 「そと」 depends on the context of the conversation. *When you read it the first time, you don’t have to try to understand it fully. Read the meaning of each verb below, and then look back here again.

For example, if you consider yourself as 「うち」 you can consider your mother as 「そと」.

“My mother sent me vegetables.”

For example, if you consider your family, including your mother, to be 「うち」 would be 「そと」.

“My mother gave a sweet gift to my colleagues at work.”

Your colleagues can be also regarded as 「うち」. In this example, the general manager of another company is recognized as 「そと」.

“Our company sent a retirement gift to the general manager of one of our clients’ companies.”


“A (the speaker) give/do something for B (someone)”
honorific: (〜して)さしあげる

It means that the speaker gives or does something for the other person. Basically, the subject comes to the speaker, the speaker’s family, or people on the same team who fit into「うち」 for the speaker.

“I ordered two of these shirts by mistake, so I’ll give one to my sister.”
*「うち」: 私 (I), 「そと」: 妹 (younger sister)

“My grandpa gave my boyfriend some old books.”
*「うち」: 私のおじいちゃん (my grandpa), 「そと」: 私の彼氏 (my boyfriend)


“B (someone) give/do something for A (the speaker)”
honorific: (〜して)くださる

It implies that the other person has given or done something for the speaker, and the speaker is grateful.

“This restaurant always gives my kids some snacks.”
*「うち」: 子供たち (my kids), 「そと」: このレストラン (this restaurant)

Basically, it is a verb used to express gratitude for something the other person has voluntarily done for the speaker.
However, we often use 「くれる」 when we want to say, “someone did such a great job (beyond our expectations),” even if the act was done because we asked them to do so.

“During our trip, my friend took care of my dog.”

*In this case, the friend did not take care of the speaker’s pet voluntarily, but the speaker probably asked his friend to do so. The speaker uses this verb because he appreciates that his friend did a better job of taking care of the pet than he asked (or expected).


*When the subject is “I” or “we”, we tend to use 「は」 as a particle.
“A (the speaker) request/ask B (someone) to give/do something and s/he actually does”
honorific: (〜して)いただく

It implies that the other gives or does something the speaker asks for, and the speaker is grateful.

“I had a headache this morning, so I asked my sister to give me some headache pills (and she did).”
*「うち」: 私 (myself), 「そと」: 姉 (my older sister)

Even when the action is not based on a request, it is preferred to use 「もらう」 to express respect or gratitude for an action done by someone of higher age or status. (For example, when an action is performed by a king, a president, or an older person who is highly respected.)

“The president gave me warm encouragement every time I met him in the hallway.”

In this case, the speaker did not request the president to say, “Please give me warm encouragement,” but the president must have encouraged the speaker by his own will. He did not request it, but he used 「もらう」 to express his gratitude that the president took the trouble to comprehend my mind and treated me so kindly.

* As mentioned, there are many exceptions. As long as you use 「うち」 and 「そと」correctly for the subject, you use either「くれる」 and 「もらう」. So, rather than which verb to use, pay attention to whether you are using the right subject that fits the 「うち」 and 「そと」 concepts.

Connecting after other verbs

All of these verbs mean “give” or “receive” when used alone, but when connected after another verb with「て形」(Te-form), they become 補助動詞 (auxiliary verbs), meaning “someone does something for someone else.”

AがBに~してあげる: A does something for B
“I lend a comic book to a friend.”

BがAに~してくれる: B does something for A
“A senior colleague showed me how to use this system.”

AがBに~してもらう: A asks /requests B to do something for A and B actually does (B does something for A on A’s request.)
“My mother asked the doctor to give her extra medicine, and he did.”

Which one should I use when talking about third parties?

These are verbs that can be used to refer to third parties that do not fall into either 「うち」 and 「そと」 without any problem. In such cases, check the following three items.

Who is the subject?
a giver belongs to 「うち」is あげる; a giver belongs to 「そと」 is くれる; a receiver belongs to 「うち」 is もらう.

Whether the action was done upon request
If yes, it’s もらう.

Whether the act was done by someone of higher status or age
If yes, it’s もらう.

Example 1: When the status of the giver and receiver are different

When you see the news and want to say to your friend, “Ed Sheeran was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire)!” you can say as below.

“Prince Charles gave Ed Sheeran the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)!”
*There is a nuance of attention to Prince Charles, or the speaker is surprised by what Prince Charles did.

“Ed Sheeran received the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)!”
*There’s a nuance of attention to Ed Sheeran, or the speaker is surprised by the fact that Ed Sheeran was chosen.

*In this case, Prince Charles is considered a person of higher rank than Ed Sheeran, so it is better to use 「もらう」 than 「くれる」.

Example 2: When the status of the giver and receiver are the same

If you want to tell your friends about the episode when Katy Perry and Taylor Swift made up like “Taylor baked cookies for Katie.”, you can say as below.


“Taylor baked cookies for Katie.”
*There is a nuance of feeling that the speaker is just stating facts. Or like the speaker is talking about Taylor’s generosity from Taylor’s side (Taylor’s fan’s side).


“Taylor baked cookies for Katie.”
*There’s a nuance of being on Katy’s side [as a fan of Katy’s] and talking about Taylor’s kindness.

*In this case, Katie probably didn’t ask Taylor to bake cookies, and they are friends, so 「くれる」 sounds more natural than 「もらう」.


1- My son and I visited a friend’s house.

“My friend gave my son some chocolates.”

*Basically, the subject must be a person of 「うち」. When comparing a friend to a son, the friend is the person of「そと」, so when you would like to set the friend as the subject, you use 「くれる」.
If you dare to use 「あげる」 for this situation, it sounds like you blame your friend for giving chocolates to your son, who is not supposed to have them yet because he’s still one year old.

“My friend gave my son some chocolates.”
*I am grateful for my friend’s willingness to welcome my son with chocolates.

“My son received chocolates from my friend.”
*I am grateful my friend gave my son chocolates because he wanted (or seemed to want) them.

2- Suddenly it rains unexpectedly.

“I lent an umbrella to my friend.”
*I offered an umbrella to a friend who had not brought one.

“My friend lent me an umbrella.”
*My friend was so kind as to lend me an umbrella, as I had not brought one with me.

“I asked my friend to lend me an umbrella.”
*I had not brought an umbrella, so I asked a friend who had two umbrellas to lend me one.

Key points

The subjectgivergiverreceiver
Upon requestyessometimes yesyes

Who is the subject:
If it’s a giver, 「あげる」「くれる」; receiver, 「もらう」.

Whether the action was taken upon request:
If yes,「もらう」.

Whether the act was done by someone of higher status or age:
If yes, 「もらう」.