Overview of Honorific Japanese Language

  • We already know that Japanese is one of the hardest languages to learn. It is even more difficult to master, especially when it comes to the use of keigo. Keigo or honorific language is a way of expressing politeness, addressing superiority and expressing humility. There are three types of honorific language in Japan: 1) Polite language, 2) Respectful language, and 3) Humble language


    1. Polite Language

    Of the the three types of Honorific Language, Polite language or teineigo is the easiest to follow. Just add ‘masu’ at the ending of a verb. Let’s take, for example, the verbs for eat – taberu, go – iku, and do – suru. Taberu becomes tabemasu (ru verb: drop ru and add masu), iku becomes ikimasu (u verb: change u to i and add masu) and suru becomes shimasu (irregular verb). (You may do an in-depth study about these rules if you like). For nouns, it is simple. Just add masu after the noun. For example, bag – kaban, you say ‘Kaban desu’. So when you say your name, put desu after it to make it polite. ‘Maryan desu.’


    2. Respectful Language

    Respectful language is called sonkeigo in Japanese. This is used when speaking about your superiors’ actions, speaking to elders or to a person you just met. In this case, taberu becomes meshiagaru, iku becomes irassharu, and suru becomes nasaru. To make it very honorific, it is further changed to polite forms, which is basically formed by using masu. Thus, meshiagaru becomes meshiagarimasu; but, in a special case, irassharu becomes irasshaimasu and nasaru becomes nasaimasu (exception to the rule). Nouns and verbs are made honorific by using the prefixes o and go. (Again, you may do an in-depth study about this.)


    3. Humble Language

    Kenjougo, as it is called in Japanese, is used when speaking about oneself or one’s actions. Taberu becomes itadaku, which then becomes itadakimasu (the word said before meals). Iku becomes mairu and then to its polite form mairimasu. Suru becomes itasu, which becomes itashimasu.

    To Sum It Up


    Language is a part of the culture, or it can be the culture itself. the honorific language used in Japan shows how Japanese honors superiority and expresses humility. It reflects the importance of hierarchy in the society (even within private groups). It is reflected in the culture of being senior or being junior – the sempai-kouhai relationship. It also shows the politeness of the Japanese people.
    By learning the language, you learn the culture.