Last modified on 1 August 2012, at 10:28

Japanese/Grammar/Honorifics

In American and other Western societies, hierarchy is based on supposed skill level and theoretically, everyone has equal opportunity. In Japanese society, by contrast, people are "ranked" based on their age, job or grade level, and other criteria. Japanese language reflects this: there are a variety of ways to express formality (politeness) and informality (impoliteness) in Japanese language. This is called the honorifics system.

Verbs (動詞 - Doushi)Edit

Japanese has three different ways to espress formality in verbs: the plain form (くだけた, kudaketa, "chatty" or "impolite"), the simple polite form (ていねい, teinei, "polite") and the advanced polite form (敬語, keigo, "honorific language"). Kudaketa verbs build off the dictionary form of a verb. Teinei verbs build off the stem of a verb + ma + the tense endings. Keigo is usually formed by archaic or highly irregular verbs that can be divided into two further groups: 尊敬語, sonkeigo, or honorific, and 謙譲語, kenjougo, or humble language. Sonkeigo" is a honorific way of speaking in which you elevate the rank of the person you're speaking to or about way above your own. Kenjougo is a humble way of speaking in which you humble yourself or lower your rank below the person you're speaking to.

Below is a chart comparing kudaketa verbs to teinei verbs.

Kudaketa/Plain Form Teinei/Polite Form Tense Translation
食べる

taberu

食べます

tabemasu

nonpast eat
食べない

tabenai

食べません

tabemasen

nonpast negative do not eat
食べた

tabeta

食べました

tabemashita

past ate
食べなかった

tabenakatta

食べませんでした

tabemasen-deshita

past negative did not eat
食べろ

tabero

食べなさい

tabenasai

imperative eat
食べよう

tabeyou

食べましょう

tabemashou

volitional let's eat
食べて

tabete

食べまして

tabemashite*

conjunctive (See note below)
食べれば

tabereba

食べますれば

tabemasureba*

conditional If...eats

* These forms are not used commonly. Usually, the plain forms of the conjunctive and conditional tenses would be used.

On the conjunctive, also known as the "-te form:" This is used as a variety of tenses but mainly when several verbs come in succession of each other (私はピザを食べて、眠りました。 - Watashi wa piza wo tabete, nemurimashita. - I ate pizza, then slept.)

Regular Keigo Verb Forms

丁寧 Teinei 謙譲語 kenjougo (humble) 尊敬語 sonkeigo (polite)
Vstem+ます

stem+masu

お+Vstem+します

o+stem+shimasu

お+Vstem+になります

o+stem+ninarimasu

待ちます

machimasu

おまちします

omachishimasu

おまちになります

omachininarimasu

作ります

tsukurimasu

おつくりします

otsukurishimasu

おつくりになります

otsukurininarimasu

教えます

oshiemasu

おおしえします

ooshieshimasu

おおしえになります

ooshieninarimasu

書きます

kakimasu

おかきします

okakishimasu

おかきになります

okakininarimasu

Irregular Keigo Verb Forms

丁寧 Teinei 謙譲語 kenjougo (humble) 尊敬語 sonkeigo (polite)
言います

iimasu

申します

moushimasu

おっしゃいます

osshaimasu

食べます
tabemasu
飲みます
nomimasu
いただきます

itadakimasu

めしあがります

meshiagarimasu

行きます
ikimasu
来ます
kimasu
まいります

mairimasu

いらっしゃいます
irasshaimasu
おいでになります
oideninarimasu
います

imasu

おります

orimasu

いらっしゃいます
irasshaimasu
おいでになります
oideninarimasu
N+です

N+desu

N+でございます

N+degozaimasu

N+でいらっしゃいます

N+deirasshaimasu

します

shimasu

いたします

itashimasu

なさいます

nasaimasu

知っています

shitteimasu

ぞんじています or 存じております

zonjiteimasu or zojiteorimasu

ごぞんじです or ご存知でいらっしゃいます

gozonjidesu or gozonjideirasshaimasu

願います

negaimasu

おねがいします or お願いいたします

onegaishimasu or onegaiitashimasu

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聞きます

kikimasu

伺います(うかがいます)

ukagaimasu

------
会います

aimasu

おめにかかります

omenikakarimasu

------

The おいでになります oideninarimasu comes from the regular forms above applied to the old verb いづ izu (= modern 出る deru).

Honorifics (敬語 - Keigo)Edit

A variety of ways can be employed to make words polite or impolite. One way that can be used is simply choosing a certain word (i.e., instead of using あなた (anata) to refer to the second person, one can use their name) or employ the usage of special affixes. Notably one of the most common is -さん (-san), used to denote something like Mr./Mrs./Ms. onto a name. A list of affixes is below.

Affix Romaji Translation
お- o- Honorific title used on words of typically Japanese origin or other titles
ご- go- Honorific title used on words of typically foreign origin
-さん -san Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss
-ちゃん -chan Used to denote familiarity or a kind of cuteness
-君 (-くん) -kun Used to denote someone of lower rank or a small level of impoliteness
-後輩 (-こうはい) -kohai Used to denote someone of a lower grade than the speaker ('underclassman')*
-先輩 (-せんぱい) -senpai Used to denote someone of a higher grade than the speaker ('upperclassman')
-様 (-さま) -sama Used to denote someone of royalty or godhood

* -こうはい (kohai) is rarely used as an affix. Most people in a senpai position would use -くん (kun) instead.

Note that -くん (kun) is a somehow (not strictly, just more often) preferred affix speaking to or between boys (although boyfriends are sometimes addressed with -ちゃん). Girls tend to use -ちゃん (chan) in a similar manner, although -くん (kun) is also used sometimes. Unlike -さん (san) which is commonly used with a family name, these two affixes can also be used with given names (moreover, the name used may be shortened in front of these two affixes).

See alsoEdit