127 - Keigo Japanese - Part II

Are you ready for keigo lesson 2? I hope so, cause here we go! Don’t worry, this is the last hard one, it’s all downhill after this.

Last lesson we talked about the humble form of keigo called 謙譲語(けんじょうご), which is what you use when lowering your own status in a conversation.

This time we will go over the honorific form, called 尊敬語(そんけいご), which is what you use to raise the status of the person you are speaking to. When you type or speak in keigo, this is the form you will be using when you talk about someone else’s actions. You would never use this form when speaking about yourself or your own actions.

Being a customer in Japan, you will hear the honorific form used almost every day. In restaurants, convenience stores, or banks and hospitals, people will use 尊敬語(そんけいご) to make you feel like the best customer, patient, or client in the world!

Same as in the previous lesson, there are 2 ways to conjugate verbs, the first is to replace the entire verb with a more formal one, and the second is one simple rule.

Here is the list of the most common verbs that change when you are using or hearing the honorific form:

To go — 行きます (いきます) —> いらっしゃいます
To come — 来ます (きます) —> いらっしゃいます
To be — います —> いらっしゃいます
To eat — 食べます (たべます) —> 召し上がります (めしあがります)
To drink — 飲みます (のみます) —> 召し上がります (めしあがります)
To see — 見ます (みます) —> ご覧になります (ごらんになります)
To say — 言います (います) —> おっしゃいます
To do — します —> なさいます
To know — 知っています (しっています) —> ご存知です (ごぞんじです)
To receive — くれます—> くださいます

Note: As you can see, the verbs “to come,” “to go,” and “to be,” are all changed into いらっしゃいます, while the verbs “to eat” and “to drink,” are both changed to 召し上がります(めしあがります).

If you have ever been in a Japanese store, you are most definitely familiar with the common いらっしゃいませ that the employees yell when you enter. This is a conjugation of いらっしゃいます for “to come.”

Using the above rules, let’s go over a few examples.

One of the most common ways you will use this is when you are offering someone food in a formal situation, in this case you would say:

どうぞ、 めしあがって ください。
Please go ahead and eat.
Literally: "go ahead + eat + please"

In regular polite Japanese, this would be どうぞ、食べてください。(どうぞ、たべてください。)

If you want to ask your boss if he saw the e-mail you sent you would ask:

その メール を ごらんになりました か?
Did you see that e-mail?
Literally: "that + e-mail + を + see + か"

In regular polite Japanese, this would be そのメールを見ましたか。(そのメールをみましたか。)

A coworker might ask you if you know another foreigner in your company (cause, you know, we all know each other):

ジョンさん の こと は ごぞんじです か?
Do you know John?
Literally: "John + の + thing + は + know + か"

In regular polite Japanese, this would be ジョンさんのことは知っていますか (ジョンさんのことはしっていますか.)

As you can see, in each one of the instances, the person speaking is not talking about their own actions, but another’s, that is why the honorific form is used.

Now onto the second way to conjugate verbs in 尊敬語, which is this simple rule:


So 読みます (よみます) becomes お読みになります (およみに なります).

If you want to ask your boss about a rumor you heard, you would say:

お聞きになりましたか ?
おきき に なりました か?
Did you hear (about what happened)?
Literally: “hear + か”

In regular polite Japanese, this would be 聞きましたか?(ききましたか?).
And in casual Japanese it would be 聞いた?(きいた?).

Sometimes the “になって” is eliminated from the sentence to make it easier to say, such as:

どうぞお入り (になって)ください。
どうぞ おはいり (になって) ください。
Please, come in.
Literally: “go ahead + enter + please”

In regular polite Japanese, this would be: どうぞ入ってください。(どうぞはいってください。)

Whew! We are done with the two major parts of keigo. Now you have some of the most important tools in being able to speak like a polite adult. I hope you get a chance to try them out!

The next lesson will focus on some nouns and phrases that go with keigo, but those will be easy, I promise.

This lesson was written by Cassy L., a guest contributor: