Most Japanese think they're all equal. Nevertheless, the language still places heavy emphasis on choosing the correct register to address others. 敬語 makes oneself look more educated and better when used appropriately. Always consider the listener's position versus that of your own.
Everyone has trouble with 敬語 including Japanese people. Many honorific phrases are old-fashioned, but that shouldn't downplay the importance of 敬語. Interesting phenomenons today include "Xになります" instead of "Xでございます". The first is traditionally incorrect. However, it is so common now that it is here to stay.
So, what kind of expressions are in 敬語? As you should know by now, 敬語 is usually split up into three kinds: 尊敬語 (respectful speech), 謙譲語・謙遜語 (humble speech), and 丁寧語 (polite speech). However, there are other phrases based off words and phrases found in 敬語 that serve the opposite purpose of being rude. This can be very complicated, but we will look at some examples as to how that can be the case.
|Type||Object of Respect||Type of respect?||Subject of Action||例文|
*: To yourself, which is why it's boastful.
1. 丁寧語 used intransitively is specifically called 丁重語.
2. 尊敬語 is used to give/pay respect to one's out-group or to superiors in one's in-group.
3. 謙譲語 is used to lower oneself or one's in-group.
4. 尊大語 takes items meant for showing respect to others to direct respect to oneself in a boastful manner.
5. 軽蔑語 does not necessarily share vocabulary with the above kinds of speech, but it is the opposite of 尊敬語. The purpose of the speech style is to look down upon or contempt. It may also be referred to as 卑罵語 or 罵詈語.
You must consider diction changes that we've studied up to this point. For example, instead of あの人, use あの方. Attitude is also very important. Your words can be elegantly chosen, but if your posture and attitude are coarse, you do nothing but show a crude side of yourself.
Although there is a lot of information, this lesson only scratches the surface. The best way to learn honorifics is seeing and using it in real life. What you learn here, though, will give you the skills necessary to facilitate it. We will now study the intricacy of verbs in honorifics.
Both respectful and humble forms
have four general levels of politeness.
Patterns' Note: These charts are not exhaustive. Others including the following.
|お・ご...の||尊敬語||Refined feminine speech|
|～なさる||尊敬語|| Attaches to the 連用形; very honorific but normally seen in the command form ～なさい because people|
tend to incorrectly mix it with R3.
|～れる・られる||尊敬語|| This is light 敬語. These are the same endings |
as for the passive.
|お...になられる||誤用||This is a misuse.|
|お…なさる||誤用||Mostly deemed as a misuse.|
|お・ご...（を）たまわる||謙譲語||Humble pattern for receiving.|
|お・ご...（を)差し上げる||謙譲語||Humble pattern for giving.|
Prefix Note: ご～ is used instead of お～ in Sino-Japanese expressions.
Exception Note: 為さる・なさる is the respectful form of する and 致す・いたす is the humble form of する.
Usage Note: Think of the situations where the example sentences could be practically heard used. Who is speaking? To whom is the speaker addressing? This is all important in deciding which level of politeness is expected of you. Should a waiter have to use R3/H3, or because the guests' statuses are unknown, should he/she use R1/H1?
Base Note: Again, the 連用形 of verbs is either just る taken off for 一段 verbs or the base that ends in い for 五段 verbs.
| 届ける (一段) ＝ To deliver||呼ぶ (五段) ＝ To Call|
Speaker Variant Note: Not all speakers feel お…なさる is wrong. Historically, it has been correct and survives in phrases like お帰りなさい and お休みなさい. Examples using this pattern show that it is still actually used. Oddly enough, ご…なさる is fine for whenever ご is OK.
What are you looking for?
Have you forgotten?
Is this to-go?
Have you talked with Professor Tanaka?
Our paths seem to cross often lately, no?
Are you going out?
I humbly apologize.
Please accept my heartfelt apology.
I will contact you later.
I shall give you a tour of the company.
I will protect you.
By special delivery, please.
Please treat me well.
I hear that Chief Kishida is going to go on a business trip.
I borrowed this book from the section manager last night.
Usage Note: When speaking to friends/colleagues, it is possible to use respectful speech in reference to a superior while the overall speech level is polite/plain, but not doing so isn't necessarily considered rude. You may also humble yourself when referring to a superior even when the overall conversation is in polite/plain speech.
R4 VS H4
|R4 お...下さる||H4 お...いただく|
R4 is expressed from the favor-giver side and H4 is expressed from the favor-receiving side. The person doing the favor in R4 is marked by が or は but is marked by に (by) or から (from) in H4. In H4, this person is from whom something is received. When に is already used in the same sentence, から is often used rather than に. Remember that に can only mark whom one is receiving, not what. After all, honorifics is improper outside the realm of people. For R4, に marks who the object/favor is being directed. In either case, if there is a direct object を, is used.
I was invited by the bank president.
Mr. Ito told us a story.
Double 敬語 Alert
Remember that ～（ら）れる can be used to make sentences more polite than simple polite sentences but less polite than true honorific sentences. Using it with honorific patterns is called "Double 敬語" and is not correct. Despite this, you might hear it.
18. テニスを｛なさられますか △・なさいますか 〇・されますか 〇｝。
Will you play/do you play tennis?
Exception Note: する’s respectful form is なさる.
Warning Note: There are other entire phrases to avoid in 敬語. Asking if your superior can do something is forbidden! Asking directly whether your superior wants to do something or is thinking something is also bad. Consider the following.
19a. 部長は、韓国語はお分かりになりましたか。X (すごく失礼な言い方)
19b. 部長は、韓国語をお話になりますか。 〇 (礼儀正しい言い方)
Chief, can you understand Korean? → Chief, do you speak Korean?
20. お茶をお飲みになりたいですか。 X → お茶をお飲みになりますか。
Do you want to drink tea? → Will you drink tea?
You can also see in less respectful situations です replaced by だ. This is reminiscent of the use of honorifics in a mix of polite/plain speech that was a hallmark of wife speech. Nowadays, examples like the first are simply set expressions but those like the second are still very much signature of more refined feminine speech. Even towards colleagues, many women still use honorifics in otherwise plain speech to show their own refinement.
Where did you go for the summer?
My, you've come quite early this morning.
Such and such is going home!
Sentence Note: This last sentence sounds like it would be said by people who run establishments with close customer relations. Places like 居酒屋 or scenes from plays come to mind.
24. お帰り！ (Casual)
1. いらす is a contracted form of the respectful いらっしゃる, which is the respectful form of 行く in this case.
2. お出まし is an honorific word for 出席. Note that the honorific word itself is not feminine.
One's Boss: Humble Speech?
It is important that you just don't run with the title of this section. To some, including Japanese people, it is very hard to not always speak of your boss respectfully, but when you're addressing someone in one's out-group, you refer to people in your in-group, including your boss, with humble speech. This includes 呼び捨て, the dropping of titles. Again, this is in reference to your in-group.
Situation A: 岩間さん is an employee at A社. The person on the other line when he answers the phone is 高田さん of B社. 高田さん acts about whether A社長, 岩間さん's boss is available or not. The following response is what 岩間さん should say if his boss is currently out and unavailable.
I'm terrible sorry, but A is currently out.
Using respectful speech is a common mistake by newbies in the Japanese workplace. At least it's not as bad as not using 敬語 entirely.
Question: Is there any situation where you would refer to your boss to an out-group person with respectful speech?
Answer: Yes. Say you were in a huge company and rarely or never have a chance to work with your boss, it becomes even more natural and understandable to use respectful speech as your boss is no doubt very 偉い to regular workers like yourself. However, the person answering the phone for a message like above is probably in constant contact with the boss, so this would not work.
ある is a little tricky in 敬語. If you have any older textbooks that are older than the 1960s, you will notice a lot of old forms listed. If you happen to read slightly old-fashioned literature, you'll also see them. This section will show you these forms for completeness, but you must understand what is used today. In the chart below, forms not listed as 古風 are still used. As for 尊敬語, the most common and important form is ございます. おありです may be used sometimes in making questions, but it's starting to become old-fashioned as well.
|丁寧語||謙譲語 (古風)||尊敬語||尊敬語 (古風)|
| ございます||おありでございます|| ございます|
26b. マッチをお持ちですか。 (丁寧語)
Do you have a match?
I'm terribly sorry.
Literally: I have no excuse.
Do you have some change?
I don't have a kotatsu in my house.
Variant Note: お炬燵 has become out of use for many speakers. Opinions differ on its correctness, and what should be used instead depends partly on gender and partly on norms for everyone, which is represented in the notes above.
30a. お姉様がおありでいらっしゃいますか。(やや古風; もはや使われていない)
Do you have an elder sister?
Do you have any questions?
Scene I: You are asked by your boss to go out to a very fine dinner. You have to decline, but you don't want to be rude. You would say something like:
It would be an honor, but I'm afraid I have to decline.
～させていただきます shows a feeling of humble diffidence to convey one's arbitrary action or intention while being considerate of the speaker and his or her status. As such, you should use this pattern rather than other humble patterns with certain verbs when you should recognize authority. ～ていただく implies receiving a favor. Its question forms are ～させていただけませんか and ～させていただけないでしょうか. When you want to ask someone to do something like this, you don't use the causative.
Student: Since I have a headache today, may I go home early?
Teacher: That's no good. Take care.
Student: Teacher, I have to take a MEXT exam Friday of next week, so may I skip school (that day)?
Teacher: Ah, that's ok. Good luck.
Abbreviation Note: MEXT stands for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Student: May I make a copy of it?
Teacher: Yes, but you need to return it by tomorrow.
A: Excuse me, but may I take your picture.
B: Ah, that's OK.
Could you introduce me to Fujiyama Sensei?
When ～させていただけないでしょうか is not 100% Appropriate
When you use this expression, it makes the listener feel as if he or she has to say yes. Therefore, it is often the case that it is not appropriate to use this towards someone like a teacher or president. In such case, using ～ても構いませんか is the best choice.
Student: I'm terribly sorry, but I forgot to bring my homework, so may I turn it in tomorrow?
Teacher: I guess there's no other way. Well, please don't forget it tomorrow.
Student: Sorry, I can't say this in Japanese, so may I say it in English?
Teacher: That's OK, but what is it?
Scene II: Your friend is speaking to you. Yet, you're irked at him. He asks if you want to go somewhere. However, you're not really interested in your friend and you say without emotion, "せっかくですが、遠慮させていただきます"。 You were extremely sarcastic and rude. This pattern is sadly effective in asking for divorce.
Scene III: As a social norm, you should always get permission before you do something, particularly in advance. However, there are those instances where you have to dig yourself out of a hole. In this case, you can use ～させていただきます.
Since you weren't here, I took the privilege of forwarding it.
You should have gotten permission in advance, but in this case couldn't for some reason. In such case, using the following phrase may cause the listener to reluctantly consent.
さ入れ Note: Some speakers add さ even when it is a 五段 verb to the expression because it sounds more polite despite the fact that the resultant expression is technically incorrect.
41. 急がさせていただきます。 (X)
Please let me hurry.
Historical Note: This phrase is clearly used to be more indirect about the speaker doing something. This, though, used to not be representative of Tokyo speech honorifics. In fact, this pattern comes from the 関西地方. Yes, this is 関西弁 that seeped into 標準語 which has since become standard.
Yesterday, my English teacher wrote a letter of recommendation for me.
My sympathies are with you.
The Particle にて: The Original Form of で
で is actually the contraction of にて. にて has the same functions as で and is seen in formal situations.
It will be held in Kobe.
Today's field trip will be dismissed here.
I was absent yesterday due to a cold.