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Keigo, the Complete Mess

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Keigo, the Complete Mess

Japanese has a complex system of honorific speech. This shows respect and an understanding of social rank.

When using “desu” instead of “da” or “~masu” instead of the dictionary form of verbs, you are actually using polite (teineigo) language already. Knowing honorifics beyond masu / desu will help you fit in better when talking with Japanese.

Take a deep breath and let’s go through a few honorifics.

1) Prefixes – お or ご (for kanji kings, both are written with this kanji 御):
  • お + noun (Usually the noun is of Japanese origin – This is the kun reading of 御)
  • ご + noun (Usually the noun is of foreign (Chinese) origin – This is the on reading of 御)

Examples:

ご飯 (gohan – rice/meal)
ご主人 (go shujin – your husband)
お茶 (ocha – tea)
お酒 (osake – sake/alcohol)
お金 (okane – money)
お土産 (omiyage – souvenir)


You may know set phrases using this such as:

よろしくお願いします
yoroshiku onegaishimasu
Nice to meet you.


2) Suffixes for names
  • sama – use in place of さん.
    To be polite to someone you don’t really know well or who has a higher social rank than you, use 様 after their name: 田中様 (tanaka sama – Mr. Tanaka)
  • You will also hear this at any store: お客様 okyakusama (notice the honorific お and 様)
  • Common usages that have really become words in their own right are: 神様 (kami sama – God), 王様 (ou sama – King)
  • As with さん you don’t use this with yourself unless you are wanting to be sarcastic – 俺様 (ore sama – I (something like Mr. Number one (meaning myself)))

3) Pronouns / Question Words
  • When on the phone, you shouldn’t ask “who is this” with “dare.” Instead use the more honorific “donata” when referring to the person on the other side of the line:
    誰 dare becomes どなた donata
    or on the phone, you can also say:
    どちら様ですか? dochira sama desu ka?
  • Use “kata” instead of “hito” when referring to someone else. You can also use the humble “mono” instead of “hito” when referring to oneself.
  • あの人  ano hito (that person) becomes あの方 ano kata (that person)

4) Verbs

There are three basic types of honorifics for verbs. It depends on your social rank as to which form to use.

A) Humble (謙譲語 kenjougo) – This is when referring to oneself or one’s family members and (usually) speaking to someone higher up in social rank, position or some other criteria for determining status. However even some people with high positions may choose to use the humble form with those under him/her.
B) ~masu – As mentioned above ~masu / desu is actually 丁寧語 teineigo or polite language, but I’m using the familiar ~masu form for an easy comparison to the the kenjougo and sonkeigo forms.
C) Respectful (尊敬語 sonkeigo) – This is what you say to your boss or those higher up when speaking to them. If you are speaking about yourself, you will use the humble form.

Humble
(speaking to your boss about yourself)
Normal
(speaking to your friends)
Respectful
(speaking to your boss about your boss)
拝見します
haiken shimasu

見ます
mimasu
to see
ご覧になります
goran ni narimasu 
申します
moushimasu
You know this from “name to moushimasu
言います
iimasu
to say
おっしゃいます
osshaimasu

頂きます
itadakimasu
食べます
tabemasu
to eat
召し上がります
meshi agarimasu
参ります
mairimasu
This is the humble form for both to come and go!
来ます
kimasu
to come行きます
ikimasu
to go
いらっしゃいます
irasshaimasuThis is the respectful form for both to come and go!
 致します
itashimasu
 します
shimasu
to do
なさいます
nasaimasu

Here is an example which should make things clear as mud: Red is humble and Blue is Respectful (black is normal)

A dialog at a company that makes Cakes

Employee: ただいま、(まい)りました社長(しゃちょう)がもうすぐこちらへいらっしゃいます

{The boss arrives}

Boss: おはよう。この書類(しょるい)を見(み)てくれますか?

Employee: はい、拝見(はいけん)します。こちらの書類(しょるい)ご覧(らん)になってください

{A cake is brought out for the boss}

Boss: このケーキは会社(かいしゃ)で一番(いちばん)おいしいな。

Employee: おっしゃたとおりでございます。みんなもそう(もう)しております。ケーキをどうぞ(め)し上(あ)がってください

Boss: (いただ)きます

  • When the boss is spoken of or to, it is BLUE (respectful)
  • When the employee and even the boss speaks of himself and wants to use keigo, he uses the humble RED form
  • On the last Employee statement, we use おります. This is actually the teineigo (polite) form of いる / います.

5) Special Conjugations

お + stem + になる (humble)


社長と話しましたか?
shachou to hanashimashita ka?
Did you speak with the boss? (normal)


 

社長とになりましたか?
shachou to o hanashi ni narimashita ka?
Did you speak with the boss? (humble)

何か飲みませんか?
nanika nomimasen ka?
Won’t you drink something? (normal)


 

何か飲みになりませんか?
nanika o nomi ni narimasen ka?
Won’t you drink something? (humble)


お + stem + ください This also makes a normal verb polite; it is used when asking things – “please give me…”


売ってください。
utte kudasai.
Please sell (me this). (normal)


 

お売りください。
o uri kudasai.
Please sell (me this) (humble)

食べてください。
tabete kudasai,
Please eat. (normal)


 

お食べください
o tabe kudasai.
Please eat. (humble)

Enjoy & Happy Sharing!

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