Why aren't we referring to Yamada as Yamada-san in the following sentences taken from the answer to a recent question (which took them from site at: http://www.e-hoki.com/column/current/68.html) where you are talking to your boss (課長)about a colleague of equal rank?


The first sentence is wrong anyway because the ごーon 説明 is unwarranted (see original question - link below) but in either sentence is it not correct to refer to others with ーさん?

In the second case the speaker could possibly be treating him as "part of his group" but, given we are talking to our section head, I would have thought we were all in the same group?

My thoughts:
Is it possibly because we are using 謙譲語 with our 課長 we therefore have to refer to our 同僚 such as Yamada without the さん?

If this is the case then if we speak in neutral Japanese to our 課長, should we keep the さん? ie:

山田さんに説明しました − correct
山田に説明しました − incorrect (or just a bit rough?, because I don't think it is unusual)

Recent question: What distinguishes 丁重語 from other honourific forms?

  • No more than a few users could read that page you linked to. It might help the community if you explained who the speaker, the listener and Yamada are in the sentences above.
    – user4032
    Mar 5, 2014 at 3:57
  • 自分は社員、相手は課長、山田は同僚
    – Robin
    Mar 5, 2014 at 4:42
  • @TokyoNagoya: I am not sure if you mean the site is unavailable or that the Japanese is too difficult for most JLSE correspondents (neither of which I can judge) but the information is also in the original question and has now been added.
    – Tim
    Mar 5, 2014 at 4:46

2 Answers 2


If you look at the site you linked, you'll see that it explains that the first sentence you mentioned is actually incorrect, because the assumption is that 山田 is your coworker and you would not be elevating him with 謙譲語Ⅰ.

So, yes, if you're assuming 山田 is not your coworker but in fact someone important, resulting in it making sense to use 謙譲語Ⅰ, then you would likely also want at least さん on his name for it to be a proper sentence.

  • Thanks. but it seems a bit odd to refer to a co-worker in conversation with our supervisor without the "san" - not impossible at least a bit rude/rough? (I've added my thoughts to the question itself.)
    – Tim
    Mar 5, 2014 at 5:17
  • 1
    How is that odd, rude or rough?? It is pretty normal in more formal or serious business conversations. It is possible, however, that the Japanese around you speak to you in a different kind of Japanese than what they use to speak to other Japanese. In my own experience, some (actually many) foreingers in Japan do not notice it even after a few years of working in Japan.
    – user4032
    Mar 7, 2014 at 1:51
  • @TokyoNagoya: I can accept that (thanks). It is consistent with what I have heard around me, although interestingly it contradicts both answers here which think さん is required, or at least "best practice". As an aside, I would also agree many Japanese will modify their Japanese in conversation with me. Likewise, I have learnt to adopt my English with (even pretty fluent) Japanese speakers of English to ensure a smooth conversation.
    – Tim
    Mar 7, 2014 at 2:15

The inside-outside relationship trumps and the speaker is still humbling themselves relative to the listener by using 致します. Even if you are talking about your boss to a customer for example, you would not add ~さん to you bosses name as the inside-outside relationship trumps the internal relationship in the organisation.

I've seen a lot of Japanese people (and many that really should know better) get this wrong as well when they speak in business situations.

  • 1
    Yes - if you take a look at my new "enhanced" question and then expand I might be able to accept ;-)
    – Tim
    Mar 5, 2014 at 5:13

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