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I'm at the proverbial izakaya and my friend tells me one is more polite. I think theyre the same. Who's right? When can I use one or the other?

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Off-topic: I did not know the word “proverbial,” and “proverbial izakaya” sounded to me like izakaya which features proverbs such as “Time flies like an arrow.” I thought that it is nerdy and cool at the same time. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 17 '11 at 15:51
    
Haha,unfortunately not! Just misusing English the way Australians love to. Let me know if you find the isseki nichou izakaya anytime soon? –  crunchyt Jun 17 '11 at 22:44

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

ません is the correct pronunciation, so on that count I suppose it would be considered more polite by a very small margin. But just like in English, people can be lazy with pronunciation, which is why you'll sometimes hear すません. You also might run across すません and すん, but from what I've read these are more Kansai-isms than anything else. When in doubt, stick with the standard pronunciation, but in all cases the difference is in pronunciation only (the meaning stays the same).

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すんまへん definitely sounds Kansai-ben. すんません does not sound Kansai-ben to me (but my knowledge on Kansai-ben is very limited), but it just sounds slightly more informal than すいません. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 17 '11 at 15:47
    
@Tsuyoshi: Yeah, I have to say I'm not too sure on すんません either. I've heard it from Kantō speakers, but not enough to tell whether it's common in that area or if they're just throwing some Kansai-ben into their speech for humorous effect. –  Derek Schaab Jun 17 '11 at 15:50
    
Yappari. Thanks for explaining it so well –  crunchyt Jun 17 '11 at 22:46

If you compare these two phrases, すみません is more formal than すいません, and therefore probably more polite.

すみません is literally the polite form of the negation of すむ (済む). 済む means to be finished or completed.

宿題が済んだら遊びに行く。 (しゅくだいがすんだらあそびにいく。) Once the homework is done, I will go out to play.

すみません, whose literal meaning would be “It will not be finished,” means apology probably because the speaker admits that what he/she did requires some follow-up action.

すいません (suimasen) is the result of dropping the consonant “m” in すみません (sumimasen) and is less formal than すみません.

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+1 for explaining the etymology of this idiom –  crunchyt Jun 17 '11 at 22:46

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