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[List included] Easy once you get the hang of it! How to use honorific language correctly in Japanese!

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In Japan, honorific language is used in various places and situations. If you can use the correct words to suit the person and the situation, you will be able to communicate better. Therefore, if you want to get a job, have a part-time job, or settle down in Japan, you need to remember honorific language.

Here, we will explain what honorific language is and when and how to use it in an easy-to-understand manner while practicing.

What is honorific language in Japanese?

Keigo is a Japanese expression that shows respect for the person you are speaking to, or the person or object being discussed. It is mainly used when the person you are talking to is someone superior to you, such as a senior or boss, or someone you don't know very well, or in casual situations such as interviews or ceremonies.

When it comes to honorific language, you need to use different words depending on the person, situation, and situation.

Types of honorific language

Keigo can be roughly divided into three types. The type to use depends on who is performing the action in the sentence.

Honorific language (Sonnkeigo)

Honorific language is an expression that respects and uplifts the other person. Therefore, it is used when the person acting in the sentence is someone superior to you, such as a senior, boss, or teacher.

Kennjyougo

Kenjogo is an expression that respects the other person by speaking in a way that respects oneself or one's relatives. Therefore, it is used when the person acting in the sentence is yourself or a relative.

Teineigo

Polite language is a way to express things politely, regardless of the person you are speaking to or the situation. Therefore, it is a magical honorific word that can be used in various situations and with different people.

List of respectful words, humble words, and polite words

We have compiled a list of frequently used expressions.

EnglishBasic typehonorific wordHumble languagePolite language
DoSuruNasaru
Sareru
Itasu
Let me do it (Saseteitadaku)
I will (Shimasu)
BeIruIrassyaruOruI'm here (Imasu)
GoGo (Iku)Irassyaru
Come on (Oideninaru)
Mairu
Listen (Ukagau)
Let's go (Ikimasu)
ComeCome (Kuru)Irassyaru
Come on (Oideninaru)
You will be seen (Omieninaru)
Coming (Okoshininaru)
Mairu
Listen (Ukagau)
I'm coming (Kimasu)
MeetMeet (Au)I'll see you (Oaininaru)
Awareru
I'll see you (Omenikakaru)I'll meet you (Aimasu)
WatchSee (Miru)Take a look (Goranninaru)See (Haikensuru)I'll see (Mimasu)
ListenListen (Kiku)Listen (Okikininaru)
I hear it (Omiminihairu)
Listen (Haicyousuru)
Listen (Ukagau)
Listen (Kikimasu)
SaySay (Iu)Ossyaru
Iwareru
Mousu
I say this (Mousiageru)
Say (Iimasu)
EatEat (Taberu)Eat (Mesiagaru)
Eat (Otabeninaru)
Itadaku
receive (Cyoudaisuru)
Eat (Tabemasu)
KnowKnow (Shiru)Know (Osirininaru) Know (Gozonji)Know (Zonjiru)
Know (Zonjiageru)
I understand (Syouchisuru)
I know (Sitteimasu)

Situations where honorific language is used

In Japan, honorific language is used in a variety of situations, including the workplace, school, city hall, and banks.

Also, when meeting someone for the first time, use honorific language, regardless of age. Even if you become friends with your co-workers and start hanging out in private, it's still a good idea to use honorific language when other people are looking at you at work.

Also, even if the teacher at school is friendly towards the students, students should still use honorific language towards the teacher. On the other hand, there are times when you shouldn't use honorific language. This applies to family members, close friends, lovers, etc. Do not use honorific language with people you are close to.

Examples of how to use honorific language

Now, let's actually learn how to use honorific language.

Please use honorific expressions in the following example sentences. 

Let's solve the problem while thinking about whether it is preferable to use honorific language or humble language.

[Example 1] Please use honorific language to say "The president is coming."

[Answer] "The president is here." (It's OK if he shows up or comes over.)

[Explanation] Who takes the action in the sentence? When you think about it, it's the president who's coming, so use honorific language.

[Example 2] Please use honorific language to say "The teacher eats school lunch."

[Answer] “The teacher will eat the school lunch.” (It is OK to eat the school lunch)

[Explanation] Who takes action? When you think about it, teachers are the ones who eat school lunch, so they use honorific language.

[Example 3] Please use honorific language to say "My father looks at the photo."

[Answer] “My father looks at the photo.”

[Explanation] Who takes action? When I think about it, the person looking at the photo is my father, and my father is a relative, so I use ``kenjogo''.

[Example 4] Please use honorific language to say "I have lunch with my boss."

[Answer] “I will have lunch with my boss.”

[Explanation] Since the sentence says ``boss,'' it seems likely that honorific language will be used, but in this sentence, ``humbly language'' is used.

In this case, the original sentence would be "I will have lunch with my boss." In Japanese, you need to be careful because sometimes you leave out the "wa" when speaking.

Considering this,

Who will act as before? If you think about it, you should use ``kenjogo'' because you are the one who eats it.

How to use honorific language

Many people find it difficult to use honorific language because they have to be used differently depending on the person and the situation. It's very easy once you get the hang of it.

Tips for forming honorific expressions

  1. [All honorific language] Use the verbs introduced in the table above
  2. [All honorific language] Add "o/go" at the beginning of nouns and adjectives. For example, "Name → Your name"
  3. [Honorific language] Change the verb into the form ``O(go)~naru''. For example, "Read → Read"
  4. [Honorific language] Add ``reru'' to the auxiliary verb. For example, "come → come"
  5. [Kenjogo] Change the verb into the form of "go". For example, "deliver → deliver"
  6. [Polite language] Add ``desu'', ``masu'', and ``zaimasu'' at the end of the sentence. For example, "Tomorrow is a day off."

summary

This time, I explained honorific language in detail. There are many Japanese people who cannot use the correct honorific language. That's why Japanese honorifics are so complicated and difficult.

However, if you can use proper honorific language, people around you will think that your Japanese is beautiful and that you have dignity, and they will gain more trust in you. You can learn Japanese more and more by actually speaking with people. Don't be ashamed of your mistakes and use them as much as you like.

First, let's try using polite words that include "desu/masu" at the end.


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