第10課: Copular Sentences II: Polite Speech

As mentioned in Lesson 9, polite speech is used in everyday interactions with people who are neither family nor close friends. Polite speech, at times, can also be spoken in a casual manner, but its purpose is to keep some form of distance/formality between the speaker and the listener(s).

In polite speech, the part of the sentence that changes the most is the predicate, which is at the end of the sentence. Remember, the predicate simply means the part of sentence that gives some information about the subject. As will once more be the case in this lesson, the predicate will be the copula. This is always the case when the copula is used in an independent clausesomething that can stand alone as a sentence. Another characteristic of polite speech is that the verbal component—the predicate—is longer. There is a rule of thumb that the longer something is, the politer it is. 

Vocabulary List


Nihonjin 日本人 – Japanese person

Chūgokujin 中国人 – Chinese person

Taiwanjin 台湾人 – Taiwanese person

O-isha-san お医者さん – Doctor

・Shōgakusei 小学生 – Elementary student

Chūgakusei 中学生 – Junior high student

Kōkōsei  高校生 – High school student

Daigakusei 大学生 – College/university student

Giin 議員 – Legislator

Eiyū 英雄 – Hero

Nisemono 偽物 – A fake

Machigai 間違い - Mistake

Jikan 時間 – Time

Hebi 蛇 – Snake

Sotsugyōshiki 卒業式 – Graduation ceremony

Kaigō 会合 – Assembly

Nyūsu ニュース – News

Tero テロ – Terrorism

Ōkami オオカミ – Wolf

Uso 嘘 – Lie

Mogi shiken 模擬試験 – Mock exam

Yasumi 休み – Rest/absence/holiday


Sō そう – So

Mō sugu もうすぐ – Soon


Etto えっと – Uh/um

Hai はい – Yes

Iie いいえ – No  

 ・Goendama 五円玉 – five-yen coin

Jōdan 冗談 – Joke

Kiseki 奇跡 – Miracle

Shokudō 食堂 – Diner

Sensei 先生 – Teacher

Jūmin 住民 – Resident

O-hiru お昼 – Lunch

Kōhii コーヒー – Coffee

Onigiri お握り – Onigiri

Saru 猿 – Monkey

Hitori 1人 – One person

Futari 2人 – Two people

Otoko 男 – Man

Otoko-no-ko 男の子 – Boy

Keisatsukan 警察官 – Police officer

Shūryōbi 終了日 – End date

Nichiyōbi 日曜日 – Sunday

Mokuyōbi 木曜日 – Thursday

Kinō 昨日 – Yesterday

Ashita/asu 明日 – Tomorrow


Watashi 私 – I

Kare 彼 – He

Kanojo 彼女 – She

Kore これ – This

Sore それ – That

Are あれ – That (over there)

Anoあの – That (over there) (adj.)

Soko そこ – There

Tanaka-san 田中さん – Mr./Ms. Tanaka

Oda-san 小田さん – Mr./Ms. Oda

Rii-san リーさん  - Mr./Ms. Lee

Kenta-kun 健太君 – Kenta-kun

Copular Conjugations in Polite Speech

Polite Non-Past Form: Desu です

In polite speech, the non-past form of the copula is desu です. Just like da だ, desu です can stand for “will be,” “is,” and “are.” Below are examples of the basic noun-predicate sentence in polite speech: “X wa は Y desu です.”

Pronunciation Note: In Standard Japanese, the “u” in desu です is typically devoiced. It is still perceived as two morae but phonetically rendered as /de.s/. However, devoicing does not mean dropping the vowel altogether. The mouth is still articulated to form the sound. It’s simply not vocalized at that point. It is important to note that this phenomenon doesn’t occur much outside Eastern Japan. This means that you will hear speakers that fully articulate both “de” and “su.” Lastly, whenever something directly follows desu です, the /u/ becomes fully pronounced.

Present Tense

1. 彼女(かのじょ)台湾人(たいわんじん)です。
Kanojo wa Taiwanjin desu.
She is Taiwanese.

2. (わたし)はアメリカ(じん)です。
Watashi wa Amerikajin desu.
I’m an American.

3. 時間(じかん)です。
Jikan desu.
It’s time.

4. えっと、日本人(にほんじん)です。
Etto, Nihonjin desu.
Um, I’m Japanese.

Grammar Note: Remember that the subject is often omitted. This isn’t just for “it.” In fact, “I” is frequently not stated in a sentence, so long as it is contextually obvious.

5. あれは(へび)ですよ。
Are wa hebi desu yo.
That is a snake.

Grammar Note: The particle yo よ is added to the end of a sentence to emphasize something you’re trying to bring to someone’s attention. It is implied that the listener doesn’t already know what you’re saying.

6. はい、そうです。
Hai, sō desu.
Yes, that’s right.

Grammar Note: そう is an adverb, not a noun, which literally translates as "so." In English grammar, "so" as in "that is so," is in place of an adjective, but in all other instances of English grammar, it is apparent that it inherently behaves as an adverb (Ex. "This is so cool"). In Japanese, words don't change part of speech unless they're able to conjugate. In Japanese, adverbs are incapable of conjugating, just like nouns, which allows most adverbs and nouns to be followed by the copula verb in the same fashion.  

Future Tense

7. 卒業式(そつぎょうしき)明日(あした)です。
Sotsugyōshiki wa ashita desu.
Graduation is/will be tomorrow

8. 会合(かいごう)明日(あした)です。
Kaigō wa ashita desu.
The assembly is/will be tomorrow.

9. 終了日(しゅうりょうび)木曜日(もくようび)です。
Shūryōbi wa mokuyōbi desu.
The end date is/will be Thursday.

10. もうすぐです。
Mō sugu desu.
It’ll be soon.

Grammar Note: Mō sugu もうすぐ is also an adverb, but the grammar is still the same.

Grammar Note: Unlike with da だ, the polite form desu です is not usually omitted at the end of a sentence. This is because its purpose is to provide politeness.

Polite Past Tense: Deshita でした

The past tense form of desu です is deshita でした. As you can see, -TA appears once more.

Conjugation Recap

 Non-Past Tense Past Tense
 Desu です Deshita でした 

11. 日本人(にほんじん)2(ふた)()でした。
Nihonjin wa futari deshita.
There were two Japanese people.

12. 中国人(ちゅうごくじん)1(ひと)()でした。
Chūgokujin wa hitori deshita.
There was one Chinese person.

13. あの(おとこ)警察官(けいさつかん)でした。
Ano otoko wa keisatsukan deshita.
That man was a policeman.

Grammar Note: Ano あの is the attributive form of are あれ.  

14. ニュースでした。
Nyūsu deshita.
This has been the news.

Grammar Note: In Japanese, the past tense form also extends to perfect tenses (completion).

15. あれはテロでした。
Are wa tero deshita.
That was terrorism.

16. あの()(おとこ)()でした。
Ano ko wa otoko-no-ko deshita.
That child was a boy.

Variation Note: Some speakers use datta desu だったです instead of deshita でした, but this is deemed incorrect by most native speakers. As such, it is best to always use deshita でした but understand what people mean when they use datta desu だったです instead.

Polite Negative 1: De wa nai desu ではないです

To make the copula negative in polite speech, you have two options at your disposal. The path you take determines how formal you are. The first method takes the least amount of effort, which is adding desu です to [de wa/ja] nai 【では・じゃ】ない. This method is typically avoided in more formal, serious situations, but it is very common in conversation. With the contraction ja じゃ also being most common in speech, you will hear ja nai desu じゃないです a lot.  

Conjugation Recap

 Non-Past Tense Past Tense Negative 1
 Desu です Deshita でした De wa nai desu ではないです
 Ja nai desu じゃないです 

17. (わたし)中学生(ちゅうがくせい)ではないです。
Watashi wa chūgakusei de wa nai desu.
I am not a junior high student.

18. 彼女(かのじょ)はお医者(いしゃ)さんではないです。
Kanojo wa o-isha-san de wa nai desu.
She is not a doctor.

19. (かれ)高校生(こうこうせい)ではないです。
Kare wa kōkōsei de wa nai desu.
He is not a high school student.

20. 健太君(けんたくん)小学生(しょうがくせい)じゃないです。
Kenta-kun wa shōgakusei ja nai desu.
Kenta-kun isn’t a student.

Grammar Note: -kun 君 is often added affectionately to male names.

21. あれはオオカミじゃないです。
Are wa ōkami ja nai desu.
That isn’t a wolf.

22. それは(うそ)じゃないです。
Sore wa uso ja nai desu.
That’s not a lie.

Polite Negative 2: De wa arimasen ではありません

The second method to make the polite negative form is by using de wa arimasen ではありません. This form is considerably politer, and as such, its contracted form ja arimasen じゃありません is on par with de wa arimasen ではありません even in conversation as a result. This is because people typically wish to capitalize on how polite they are when the situation calls for it, and avoiding contractions is one way to accomplish this.

You may be wondering; how do you get arimasen ありません out of nai ない? The answer is that nai ない is the negative form of an actual verb, aru ある. Although we haven't learned about verbs just yet, aru ある is the basic existential verb of Japanese. Meaning, it demonstrates that something "is" and is actually embedded etymologically into all copular phrases of the language.

Just like the copula, verbs also have their own plain and polite conjugations. Just like the copula, there are two means of making the polite negative. The less polite form of aru ある is nai desu ないです. Its politer form is arimasen ありません. Although there isn't any need to break down arimasen ありません, it's important to note that the /n/ at the end is what brings about the negative meaning. Since nai ない also has /n/ in it, this should be easy to remember.

 Non-Past Past Tense Negative 1
 Desu です Deshita でした De wa nai desu ではないです
 Ja nai desu じゃないです
   Negative 2
   De wa arimasen ではありません
 Ja arimasen じゃありません 

23. かれ議員ぎいんではありません。
Kare wa giin de wa arimasen.
He is not a legislator.

24. リーさんは大学生だいがくせいではありません。
Rii-san wa daigakusei de wa arimasen.
Mr. Lee is not a college student.

25. あれは偽物にせものではありません。
Are wa nisemono de wa arimasen.
That is not a fake.

26. かれ英雄えいゆうじゃありません。
Kare wa eiyū ja arimasen.
He isn’t a hero.

27. それは間違まちがいじゃありません。
Sore wa machigai ja arimasen.
That isn’t a mistake.

28. いいえ、そうじゃありません。
Iie, sō ja arimasen.
No, that isn’t so.

Polite Negative-Past 1: De wa nakatta desu ではなかったです

Just like above, there are two methods to making the polite negative-past form. The first simply involves adding desu です to [de wa/ja] nakatta 【では・じゃ】なかった. This form, though not as polite as the one that will follow, is still frequently used in conversation. Given that it is used a lot in conversation, you will hear it as ja nakatta desu じゃなかったです the most.

 Non-Past Past Negative 1 Negative-Past 1
 Desu です Deshita でした De wa nai desu ではないです
 Ja nai desu じゃないです
 De wa nakatta desu 
 ではなかった です

 Ja nakatta desu 

   Negative 2 
   De wa arimasen ではありません
 Ja arimasen じゃありません

Kinō wa yasumi de wa nakatta desu.
Yesterday was not a holiday.

30. 昨日きのう日曜日にちようびではなかったです。
Kinō wa Nichiyōbi de wa nakatta desu.
Yesterday was not Sunday.

31. それは五円玉ごえんだまではなかったです。
Sore wa goendama de wa nakatta desu.
That wasn’t a five-yen coin.

32. これは模擬試験もぎしけんじゃなかったです。
Kore wa mogi shiken ja nakatta desu.
This wasn’t a mock exam.

33. 冗談じょうだんじゃなかったですよ。
Jōdan ja nakatta desu yo.
It wasn’t a joke.

34. 奇跡きせきじゃなかったですよ。
Kiseki ja nakatta desu yo.
It wasn’t a miracle.

Polite Negative-Past 2: De wa arimasendeshita ではありませんでした

To make the negative-past form politer, you need to conjugate arimasen ありません into the past tense. To this, you add deshita でした to the end, giving arimasendeshita ありませんでした. Altogether, you get [de wa/ja] arimasendeshita 【では・じゃ】ありませんでした. Due to the nature of this form being inherently polite, both ja arimasendeshita じゃありませんでした and de wa arimasendeshita ではありませんでした are used frequently in the spoken language. However, in the written language, de wa arimasendeshita ではありませんでした is overwhelmingly preferred.

Conjugation Recap

 Non-Past Past Negative 1 Negative-Past 1
 Desu です Deshita でした De wa nai desu ではないです
 Ja nai desu じゃないです
 De wa nakatta desu 

 Ja nakatta desu 

   Negative 2 Negative-Past 2
   De wa arimasen ではありません
 Ja arimasen じゃありません
 De wa arimasendeshita 

 Ja arimasendeshita 

 35. (そこは)食堂しょくどうではありませんでした。
(Soko wa) shokudō de wa arimasendeshita.
(That/it) was not a diner.

36. 田中たなかさんは先生せんせいではありませんでした。
Tanaka-san wa sensei de wa arimasendeshita.
Mr. Tanaka was not a teacher.

37. 小田おださんは住民じゅうみんではありませんでした。
Oda-san wa jūmin de wa arimasendeshita.
Mr. Oda was not a resident.

38. おひるはおにぎりじゃありませんでした。
O-hiru wa onigiri ja arimasendeshita.
Lunch wasn’t onigiri.

39. それはコーヒーじゃありませんでした。
Sore wa kōhii ja arimasendeshita.
That wasn’t coffee.

40. あれはさるじゃありませんでした。
Are wa saru ja arimasendeshita.
That wasn’t a monkey.


7. リーさんは学生がくせいではありません。(Polite negative)
  Mr. Lee isn't a student.  



8. いいえ、そうじゃありません。(Polite negative) 
  No, it isn't.



7. リーさんは学生がくせいではありません。(Polite negative)
  Mr. Lee isn't a student.  



8. いいえ、そうじゃありません。(Polite negative) 
  No, it isn't.



7. リーさんは学生がくせいではありません。(Polite negative)
  Mr. Lee isn't a student.  



8. いいえ、そうじゃありません。(Polite negative) 
  No, it isn't.



7. リーさんは学生がくせいではありません。(Polite negative)
  Mr. Lee isn't a student.  



8. いいえ、そうじゃありません。(Polite negative) 
  No, it isn't.