Honorific Speech – Sonkeigo (2nd Article of 3)

2014 November 24
by Dani A

Welcome to the this page! This article is on the beastly sonkeigo 尊敬語, Japanese respectful language. Sonkeigo, or keigo, is used when you are speaking with or about someone who is well respected, has your respect, or has a respectful position, such as any member of a royal family, presidents, professors/teachers, or senpai (big brother or sister in a club or company). You will often be the recipient of sonkeigo when in a Japanese restaurant. However, you never ever speak about yourself in this language. To do so would be beyond narcissistic and is superbly looked down upon in Japan. Just don’t do it.

This article is broken into 3 parts:

Special Verbs

Regular Verbs

Additional Things

 

Special Verbs

Since regular words are too informal to show proper deference, they have to change. Most verbs get some minor tweaking, while others take on a special form. The following shows these special verbs and how they are conjugated, as well as their non-keigo equivalents:

ますstem                      Keigo dictionary form                                            Keigo ますstem

行きます                           いらっしゃる or おいでになる                                            いらっしゃます or おいでになります

来ます                               いらっしゃる/おいでになる/お見えになる                       いらっしゃます/おいでになります/お見えになります

います                               いらっしゃる or おいでになる                 いらっしゃます or おいでになります

見ます                                ご覧になる (goran ni naru)                                            ご覧になります

言います                            おっしゃる                                                                              おっしゃます

くれます                             くださる                                                                                  くださます

寝ます                                お休みになる                                                                        お休みになります

食べます                           召し上がる (meshi agaru)                                                召し上がります

飲みます                           召し上がる                                                                             召し上がります

します                                 なさる                                                                                      なさます

知っています                  ご存知です (gozon ji desu)

Notice how most of the verbs ending in る conjugate into ます, instead of ります. And yes, 行く, くる, and いる have the same keigo pattern. This only means you have to rely on context to figure out which verb the speaker is indicating. It’s the same with 食べる and 飲む, but those are easier to guess. For past tense, you only change ます to ました, like with non-keigo verbs. Here are some example sentences:

– オバマ大統領がいらっしゃいますか。= Is President Obama here?

– オバマ大統領は朝ご飯を召し上がりましたか。= Has President Obama eaten breakfast?

 

Regular Verbs

Thankfully, for all verbs (excluding the above) the following formula is applied: おV(ますstem)になる/なります

ますstem                       Keigo dictionary form                         Keigo ますstem        

教えます           お教えになる                                                      お教えになります

使います                           お使いになる                                                      お使いになります

* 食べる and 飲む can actually have this pattern too: お食べになる,  お飲みになる. Examples phrases:

– この本はオバマ大統領がお書きになりましたか。= Did President Obama write this book?

– このクッキーはオバマ大統領がお作りになったそうです。= I heard President Obama made these cookies.

 

Additional Things

Things like て-form, ている, てください, and です follow either the special or regular verb structures (seen above).

Non-Keigo                    Keigo ますstem                                              Example

ている                                  ていらしゃます or ておいでです      研究していらっしゃいます or 研究しておいでです。

てください                            おV(ますstem)ください             お読みください

Nouns have either お or ご placed in front of them, with two exceptions:

Non-Keigo                       Keigo form

元気                                        お元気

忙しい                                     お忙しい

上手な                                    お上手な

家族                                        ご家族

立派な (rippa na)               ご立派な

注文 (chuu mon)               ご注文

人                                            方 (kata)

家                                            お宅 (otaku)

*お宅 is keigo for house. オタク is a word for a geeky fanatic, who is most commonly associated with anime or manga (this word does not have nice connotations):

– ご家族はお元気ですいらっしゃいますか or ご家族はお元気ですか。= Is your family well?

 

Personally, I have never used sonkeigo outside of class, but I’m also not yet in the corporate world. However, if you are in business with a Japanese company (or plan to be), it’s important to know this language – it shows your Japanese clientele or partner that you respect them. Even if you haven’t mastered it, just showing that you are at least familiar with this level of Japanese makes a difference. And FYI, this respectful language is even difficult for Japanese people to remember (as said by my Japanese friends).

Thanks for reading and 頑張って!

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