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Let’s/Shall Posted by on Nov 15, 2009 in Grammar

For today’s grammar point, let’s look at a sentence like this, “レストラン に いきましょう“. (レストラン = restaurant. = ni particle. いきましょう = let’s go.) This sentence means, “Let’s go to [a/the] restaurant”. To form the “let’s” construction, just add ましょう to the stem of the verb. In this case the verb we used was いく, which means “to go”. When you conjugate this verb in the present polite affirmative you get いきます. When you leave off the ます you get the stem いき. Take the stem and attach it to ましょう. So let’s take a verb like たべる following the same steps we used for いく.

In the present polite affirmative たべる becomes たべます. Leave off the ます and attach ましょう. You get たべましょう as the final product. The interesting thing about using the “let’s” construction is that sometimes the “let’s” construction can be a veiled form of a wish or command. For example my housemate had this tendency to sleep late into the afternoon. My host mother would often say in an irritated voice, “いま おきましょう“. (いま = now. おきましょう = get up.) Literally this would mean “Let’s wake up”. Now normally sentences with the “let’s” form is used when you want to suggest a plan of action.

However in this situation, it’s more of a command. Since the host mother is not my housemate’s real mother, she can’t really “command” the housemate to wake up. Also, in an effort to be polite, she is using a gentle method to get the housemate to do something. Sometimes Japanese people are careful so as not to  seem overbearing or commanding. That’s why normally verbs with the ましょう ending literally mean “let’s” but it all depends on context. Like in all languages, the tone of the person’s voice (whether the person sounds happy, annoyed etc) can also help you better figure out the context of the situation.

Now let’s look at a sentence like this, “てつたいましょうか“. Here in addition to the ましょう, you have added to ましょう. In English, the addition of this turns this sentence in the “shall” form. So in English this phrase would mean, “Shall [I] help?” Now depending on the context, this same phrase may not be a question, but a offer of help. In other words, “てつたいましょうか” could mean “I’ll help”. In turn “あけましょうか” could mean “Shall [I] open [it]?” or it could mean “I’ll open [it]”. If the person is already walking across the room to open a window, this phrase may make more sense to mean “I’ll open [it/window]” but if the person is hesitating and waiting for your response, this phrase may mean “Shall [I] open [it/window]?”. Again, it all depends upon the context.

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  1. roffe:

    can one ask someone superior (上) the question 「てつだいましょうか?」 or does that sound rude? as if the person offering help is looking down on the other one?