On my bookshelf I have a book on formal speech, 敬語{けいご}, and it delineates respectful speech, 尊敬語{そんけいご}, from humble speech, 標準語{ひょうじゅんご}. And it combines both of these with polite speech, 丁寧語{てねいご}, as a matter of course.

This question mentioned another form of speech, 丁重語{ていちょうご}, which I've never really encountered. Maybe I just don't hang out with the emperor enough...?

The dictionary defines it as "courteous speech", and I found other definitions online that say it "refers to language that is used to deprecate oneself." But that doesn't really tell me enough to help me differentiate it from 標準語{ひょうじゅんご}. I looked it up on Japanese Wikipedia, but I have to admit, reading about how to use Japanese in Japanese does my head in a bit.

When is it used, and what differentiates it from other forms of formal speech?

1 Answer 1


I don't have expertise in this area, but here's the extent of what I've been able to find about it.

The main distinction that you'll be looking for is between 謙譲語 and 丁重語. Both serve to elevate the listener, and they overlap quite a bit. The key, however, is that the main use of 謙譲語 shows respect to those who appear in the conversation while 丁重語 expresses direct respect to the listener. This use is basically a subset of normal humble speech.

So for example, let's say you're talking to your boss. I'm borrowing these example sentences from the source below:

  1. その件は、部長に御説明しました。…「御説明する」謙譲語Ⅰ
  2. その件は、部長に説明いたしました。…「説明いたす」謙譲語Ⅱ(丁重語)

In the first one you are expressing respect for your boss through using ご説明 with him/her explicitly in the conversation. In the second one you are using 説明いたす to show respect to the listener, in this case still your boss.

To make it a little clearer you can switch 部長 to your friend 山田. He is the same rank as you and therefore doesn't take formal speech. So we take the following examples:

  1. その件は、山田に御説明しました。…謙譲語Ⅰ

  2. その件は、山田に説明いたしました。…謙譲語Ⅱ(丁重語)

In this situation, 1 is incorrect because you are using ご説明 to show respect to 山田 who is of the same rank as you. 2 is ok because you are not elevating 山田 with ご説明 but you are elevating your boss (whom you are speaking to) by using 説明いたす. This is 丁重語.

And you can take it one step further. You're talking to your 部長 about your 課長. What happens then?

  1. その件は、課長に御説明しました。…謙譲語Ⅰ
  2. その件は、課長に説明いたしました。…謙譲語Ⅱ(丁重語)

In this case 1 is not necessarily wrong because you are using ご説明 to refer to 課長. You just have to be careful not to upset your 部長 by using formal speech for 課長 but not for him (that is, using 謙譲語 but not 丁重語). 2 solves that by incorporating both forms.

All examples were borrowed from here:


  • The last example sentence should say その件は、課長に御説明いたしました。…「御説明いたす」謙譲語Ⅰ+謙譲語Ⅱ(丁重語). This is what is incorporating both forms.
    – jukbot
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 22:32

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