Keigo - Formality in the Japanese language


I think everyone knows the discipline and education of the Japanese, there is a huge cultural difference between the Japanese and Brazilians, the level of formality is almost absent among us while it is exaggerated among the Japanese, including in the Japanese Japanese language.

As much as Japan has been westernized in recent years, there is still a great hierarchy, where there are different types of formality according to the person's social level.

In the Japanese language there is keigo (敬語) which is used to talk formally with people at different levels. Using different vocabulary and structures and expressions. O Keigo this is divided into 3 categories: Educated, Respectful and Humble.

Simple form

Before we talk about the 3 Keigo, it is worth remembering that there is also a simple and informal way, which is common to be used with people you already have an intimacy with (relatives, friends), this way is known as dictionary shape, because it presents the words at their root, in the simplest way.


Example: the verb “to eat” in simple form is 食べる (TABERU)

丁寧語 - Teineigo - Educated

This is the keigo most used is considered the standard of formality, you will normally use it with people from a membership above yours. This keigo shows courtesy or respect for the person to whom we address. This includes the “masu” and “desu” structures.

We use it when we talk to strangers, people we are not intimate with, older and superiors or anyone we want to show respect for (their boss, their teacher). This is usually the way foreigners are taught to speak Japanese, as it is ideal for everyday interactions; it is also the form most used by newspapers and news.

Example: the verb “to eat” in polished form is 食べます (TABEMASU)

尊敬語 –  Sonkeigo - Respectful

It is commonly called the Honorific Form. This Keigo is used when addressing or talking about people well above our hierarchy, such as superiors and customers, usually people in a position of power.


Widely used by receptionists in stores, markets, pharmacies, clerks, proletariat of the genre. You may have come across the phrase いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase), which customers hear when entering a store.

Its function is to honor and exalt the person we speak of, almost as if we idolize him; therefore, this form should NEVER be used to talk about ourselves and our own actions!

Example: the verb “to eat” in the honorific form is 召しあがる (MESHI AGARU)

謙譲語 – Kenjougo – Humilde

Commonly called the Form of Humility, this is the type of formality used by customers when addressing those who serve them. It can also be used when asking for something in the most formal way possible for someone that the speaker considers superior, or worthy of respect, as for example, in the expression that many should already know: よろしくお願いします (yoroshiku onegai shimasu), in which that who speaks formally asks the hearer to be kind, or as we translate "pleasure to meet you".

This keigo is used when we talk about ourselves or the group we belong to, but placing us in a position of extreme humility in relation to those who hear, diminishing ourselves. Generally, this discourse implies that our actions are aimed at satisfying, helping or serving the listener, so it is very common to hear merchants and store attendants using it.

Example: the verb “to eat” in the humble form is 頂く (ITADAKU)


The verbs

It may seem complicated, because it is already difficult to learn one word for each thing, imagine four? Only time, and life in Japan can get you used to keigo, even Japanese people have a hard time, but it's worth studying, so you don't get lost when reading or talking to someone, memorize at least some verbs I'm leaving in the list below:

Verb Simple Sonkeigo Kenjōgo Teineigo
See and look 見る; miru -覧になる go-ran ni naru 拝見する suru Haiken 見ます mimasu
See more 会う au お会いになる o-ai ni naru お目にかかる me or Kakaru 会います aimasu
To be one ある aru ござる gozaru
いる iru Ass らっしゃる irassharu
おいでになる o-ide ni naru
おる oru おる oru
Come / go 来る kuru (come)
行く Iku (go)
Aga う ukagau
参る Mairu
参る Mairu
To know 知る shiru ご存じ go-zonji 存じあげる zonji ageru 存じている Zonjite iru
Eat Drink 食べる taberu (eating)
飲む nomu (drink / drink)
召しあがる-meshi-agaru 頂く itadaku 頂く itadaku
To receive もらう Morau 頂く itadaku
頂戴する Chodai-suru
Imas らいます moraimasu
To give (do, bring) When you practice the action. やる yaru (considered rude today, except for kansai)

あげる ageru (since the humble way)

差しあげる sashiageru あげます agemasu
To giveWhen others practice action. くれる kureru くださる Kudasaru くれます kuremasu
Do / Do する suru なさる nasaru 致す itasu します shimasu
Tell 言う iu おっしゃる ossharu 申し上げる Moshi-ageru
言います iimasu
Use 着る kiru お召しになる omeshi ni naru 着ます kimasu
To sleep 寝る neru お休みになる The yasumi ni naru 休みます Yasumimasu
Die 死ぬ Shinu お亡くなりになる The nakunari ni naru 亡くなる Nakunaru

Finally, let's examine some examples and phrases using Keigo.

The first example shows the sentence "This is a book" at different levels of formality.

Informal Educated Formal Polite and Formal
これは本だ kore wa hon da.
これは本ですkore wa hon desu.
これは本である kore wa hon de aru.
これは本でございます kore wa hon de gozaimasu.

The second example has shown how to do requests or commands. There are several different ways of formality for some occasions, we will show the famous phrase to interact and ask for a favor or friendship.

  1. よろしく頼む / yoroshiku tanomu (to be used among male, educated friends)
  2. よろしく頼みます / yoroshiku tanomimasu (Familiar people)
  3. よろしくお願いします / yoroshiku onegai shimasu (Educated)
  4. Or ろしくお願い致します。 / yoroshiku onegai itashimasu. (Humble)
  5. よろしくお願い申し上げます。 / yoroshiku onegai mōshiagemasu. (Extremely formal)

Of course, there are many other things not mentioned in this article that are related to keigosuch as honorary titles or Japanese suffixes. Keigo is a very big subject to be studied, in the future other articles on this subject will be created. I hope you enjoyed.

Sources: Mainichi Nihongo / Wiki