Japanese Language Blog

Let’s Learn Keigo! – Part 1 Posted by on Jul 20, 2015 in Culture, Grammar

I have received many comments requesting to cover Keigo(けいご、敬語), Japanese honorific speech recently. Let me cover some of the most common Keigo expressions in my next few articles this month as Keigo is an essential part of Japanese language.



What is Keigo(けいご、敬語)?


Keigo is simply a polite and respectful way of speaking to others. There are three types of Keigo’s that you need to know.


1) Polite Language (Teinei go, ていねいご、丁寧語)

ていねいご is used when talking or writing to someone you don’t know too well, or to a large group of people. You show respect by using expressions such as, ~ です。(~desu) ~ます。(~masu) ~でございます。(~degozaimasu)


2) Respectful Language (Sonkei go, そんけいご、尊敬語)

そんけいご is used when you want to show respect to others, such as customers or superiors.  These expressions are used to talk to others directly, not to talk about yourself. Typical respectful language examples are: おっしゃる(Ossharu, speaks)、くださる(kudasaru, given), etc..


3) Humble Language (Kenjo-go,けんじょうご、謙譲語)

けんじょうご is a very unique expression in that by lowering yourself or your family members, you show respect to the person you are speaking to or referring to. Perhaps, けんじょうご the hardest to understand among all Keigo expressions, in my opinion. Verbs used in けんじょうご expression often changes to something totally different. For example, Iku(行く、いく) (go) becomes Ukagau(うかがう、伺う), and also Taberu  (食べる、たべる) (eat) becomes Itadaku (頂く、いただく). These are just a few examples of けんじょうご.


To master these three forms of Keigo’s, you will just need to learn the basic examples of each, and then practice in a different situations as much as you can. You just need to become familiar with all sorts of Keigo’s to practice. Trust me, I make mistakes in using which one in a certain situation. I often say one of these Keigo’s to someone, and catch myself thinking “that was not the right way of using the Keigo!”.  So, I know how hard the use of these expressions could get.

For the next few articles, I would like to go over the details of each Keigo forms so you will know the difference among three and how to apply which form to a certain occasion.  So, look for the Keigo related articles in between my summer posts. Thanks!


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About the Author: keiko

Born and raised in Japan. She currently lives in U.S. with her husband and two kids.