128 - Keigo Japanese - Part III

Keigo-Part 3!

Don’t worry, this is the easy part.

We have already figured out how to change the verbs in a keigo sentence, either to 謙譲語 (けんじょうご) or 尊敬語(そんけいご). In this lesson I want to focus on nouns and other parts of speech that can also be changed when speaking in keigo. This is usually simply called 丁寧語(ていねいご), which means “polite words.”

Replacing Words

There are two ways to make nouns and adjectives in your sentence into keigoJapanese. The first is simple. Just replace the word with a more formal one. Here is a list of some of the most common words that change when you are speaking keigo:

Good — いい — よろしい
A little — ちょっと — 少々 (しょうしょう)
Person — 人 (ひと) — (かた)
Today — 今日 (きょう) — 本日 (ほんじつ)
I apologize — ごめんなさい — 申し訳ありません (もうしわけありません)
Soon — すぐ — 間もなく (まもなく)
*Copula — です — でございます

If you have ever been in a Japanese restaurant, you are most likely familiar with the phrase

しょうしょう おまち ください。
Please wait a moment.
Literally: "a little + wait + please"

In regular polite Japanese this would be ちょっと待ってください(ちょっとまってください

When a train is arriving at your station you will hear

まもなく とうきょうえき に とうちゃく いたします。
Soon, we will be arriving at Tokyo Station.
Literally: "soon + Tokyo + station + に + arrive + to do"

In regular polite Japanese this would be もうすぐ、東京駅に到着します。(もうすぐ、とうきょうえきにとうちゃくします

If a restaurant is closed for the day, you might see

もうしわけありません が、 ほんじつ は りんじきゅうぎょう いたします。
We apologize, but we are closed for today.
Literally: "sorry + が + today + は + special holiday + do"

In regular polite Japanese this would be ごめんなさい、今日は臨時休業です。(ごめんなさい、きょうはりんじきゅうぎょうです).


If you have been paying attention (and I hope you have!), you will realize that a lot of nouns in Japanese start with or . They both come from the same kanji: .

This denotes politeness and has a nuance of respect for the object you are talking about. Some nouns like お水(おみず) are almost never used without the prefix お or ご. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule about which nouns should have an お or a ご as a prefix. This is something you will just have to learn to remember with each word. Here is a list of common words you will see with the 御 prefix when you are using keigo.

Tea —お茶 (おちゃ)
Customer —お客様 (おきゃくさま)
Information —ご案内 (ごあんない)
Chopsticks —お箸 (おはし)
Question —ご質問 (ごしつもん)
To transfer (trains) — お乗りかえ (おのりかえ)
Slowly —ごゆっくり

Note: Typically (though not always), words with a Chinese origin (i.e. words that use onyomi) will use ご as an honorific prefix, whereas words with a Japanese origin (i.e. words with kunyomi) will use お. Getting a feel for this should come naturally over time.

So, in a business email, you would say:

ごしつもん が ありましたら、 えんりょなく わたし へ ごれんらく ください。
If you have any question, please don’t hesitate and contact me.
Literally: "question + が + have + if + hesitate + なく + me + へ + contact + please"

When the waiter sets your plate down at a restaurant, you will often hear them say:

どうぞごゆっくりお召し上がり くださいませ
どうぞ ごゆっくり おめしあがり くださいませ
Please take your time to eat.
Literally: "go head + slowly + eat + please"

Note: ませ is used as the imperative here. As in いらっしゃいませ, it is politely asking you to do an action.

On the train, you might hear this phrase in an announcement:

ジェイアールせん は、 おのりかえ ください。
Please transfer to the JR line.
Literally: "JR + line + transfer + please"


There it is! Now you have the three major parts of keigo down. How about a small test? I know you LOVE tests. Go take a refresher on 謙譲語 (けんじょうご) and 尊敬語(そんけいご) (i.e. Lessons #126 and #127) if you need to before we start.

Just in case you are nervous, here is a picture of a cute kitten.

OK. I think we are ready now.

Here are a few sentences of keigo you might hear in the announcements on the train. Can you understand them? Don't worry if you don't understand some of the nouns. (Answers are in English below.)

まもなく きょうと、 きょうと えき に とうちゃく いたします。

この でんしゃ の おてあらい は にごうしゃ に ございます。

おべんとう、 サンドイッチ、 おのみもの など を ごようい して、 かかりいん が おせき まで うかがいます。

1. Soon, the train will arrive in Kyoto, Kyoto station.
2. The restroom is in car number 2 on this train.
3. Boxed meals, sandwiches and beverages are available. The salesperson will come by your seat.

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

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