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I can understand what the phrase means 「お世{せ}話{わ}になりました」- "Thank you for everything". But literally it's quite strange to me. Could you explain the logic of it? Also would be very nice to know more about 「お世{せ}話{わ}になります」.

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The most common meaning of 世話 is care or looking after, but it is often used in set expressions such as

お世話になりました。

As you say it means "Thank you for everything." or "Thank you for everything you have done for me/taking care of me" but you might use it even if someone has not really done anything except be around, be cooperative and ready to help. It is also used as greeting on the phone, often in business where a relationship exists:

いつもお世話になっております。

世話になる is not just used in fixed greeting:

息子はその婦人にたいへんお世話になった。
My son owes that woman a great deal.

and there is also a する-verb (世話する):

その婦人は母のない子供を5人世話している。
That woman is taking care of five motherless children.

I think it is important to remember these because the passive nature of the fixed expression ("Thank for taking care of me") can be confusing. It is normally clear from the context who is taking care of who, but (as I demonstrated in my hastily typed first answer) it is easy to get the subject and object the wrong way around:

Aがいつもお世話になっております。
"Thank you for always taking care of A"

Aさんにはいつもお世話になっております。
"A-san,you always take very good care of us. (Thank you)"

Note: "us" is implied. It just could also be another from your group, such as "my son", the meaning depends on the context. Also, it is only my feeling, but if you can use this expression with the names correctly it will carry more weight.

  • I think this answer more deeply explains it. But this phrase is still a little bit mysterious to me. Nevertheless, I will have to remember it and pay attention in the future. – Ernestas Gruodis Sep 30 '14 at 11:05
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    Two of your example sentences, 「Aさんはいつもお世話になっております。」 and 「Aにいつもお世話になっております。」 do not at all mean what your English translations say. Do these just happen to be typos or a sign that you yourself probably do not understand the phrase? – l'électeur Sep 30 '14 at 11:19
  • So which one to believe then? :) Like I've said - the phrase is still mysterious.. – Ernestas Gruodis Sep 30 '14 at 11:21
  • @Tim From what example sentences I have access to (which is not much - ALC and Progressive - sense 1), it seems like if に marks a person A, then A is the person who is providing help. And if は marks a person B, then B is the person who is receiving help. Not sure if it's a general pattern or anything. – 3 to 5 business days Sep 30 '14 at 12:14
  • @Tim "Thank for always being so good to A." for this you want Aがいつもお世話になっております(例:parent to teacher「息子がいつもお世話になっております」). So が not に. – Robin Sep 30 '14 at 15:10
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世話 is a fixed expression that has a deep cultural meaning. I don't think it will translate well without the cultural background.

I'm not sure where you got "thank you for everything" as a translation. I would say that's a semi-functional translation for when it might be appropriate to use the expression, but it doesn't explain what it means to say it very well. In other words, you would say that when in English you might say "thank you so much for everything" but if you tried to parse it that would not show up and if you thought that's exactly what it means you would be wrong.

I would translate it as "I've been a burden on you and caused you a lot of difficulty and trouble." But it's basically a set phrase so that might not even be a good translation in some contexts.


Piece by piece breakdown (if that's what you mean by logic):

お = to make it more polite
世話 = care, attention, consideration
にな[る] = to become
 ~りました = polite past-tense
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The exact meaning/translation could be a matter of discussion (as we can see from the above answers), but here is its usage.

In Japan, when we write an email to our colleagues (in the same company), we usually start the email with お疲れ様です. Likewise, when we write an email to a business partner/customer/someone in a different company, we write お世話になります。Same goes for answering phone call. After receiving the call, if it turns out that the call is from a colleague in the same company, we say お疲れ様です, but if it turns out that the call is from a business partner/customer/someone in a different company, we say お世話になります.

On a related note, お世話になっております is more formal version of お世話になります. Thanks.

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