As the title says, I'm asking in what situations I'm supposed to use those 2. I know what they mean, more or less. Is it just a matter of one being "superior" or "inferior" to you?

e.g., I'll be in Japan next month; long story short: I'll be having an interview with a teacher (from which I'm supposed to be "seen" as someone of 中級 level of knowledge、although I rarely, if ever, speak Japanese so I'll probably have issues there), so, in this case, am I supposed to use only and just only 尊敬語 and would I make a bad impression if I just talked to her/him with 丁寧語?


2 Answers 2


Forget the words superior and inferior, they are a poor fit it my experience.

Social elevation. Either you shall raise your friend or you shall lower yourself.
You may do both, but do not do both in the same sentence.

It is okay if you make mistakes and mix and match, but if a native speaker did it it would seem rude by "laying on the gravy of politeness"

So, depending on how much you have learned, always try to use keigo for the teacher's actions.

The sensei irrassharu's (arrives, leaves, and any te-iru)... The sensei ossharu's (speaks, elocutes) and not just "says"

"Oshatta toori" or "As you have said" is a great phrase to use in pretty much any situation where there is social elevation.

Humbling language... hmmm. ~~to moushimasu and the like? Yeah, it's good, but in my experience people get a bigger kick out of you being able to raise /their/ level than diminish your own. If you are in front of many people or in a crowd of sensei(s) then you will want to use this because it's important to be humbled-by-your-peers.

In groups of friends whom you are hanging out with, use whatever other people are using, and it is definitely OK to ask what level of politeness.

People might ask your age and address you accordingly, like if you're older they might start adding desu to everything. I think the best course of action is to say "you need not use polite language regarding me" or "watashi ni taishite teinei go wo tsukawanakute mo ii desu yo." Just some personal preference at play. Have fun and immerse yourself as much as possible.

Always be listening to Japanese and always be practicing sentences. In the shower, on the walk to the train. Tiny moments of practice add up! When you can master the pitch intonation (by repetitive listening to sound files or the what like) then people will truly be impressed! (bit of a rant at the end but I wanted to add what might be useful for ya!)



The 丁寧語 they teach in Japanese class is what you use in most everyday real-world situations, including talking to a teacher or your boss. 尊敬語 is how you would talk to a customer or something like that. For example, if you're talking to your teacher, you would say "来ます" but if you're a receptionist talking to a customer you would say "お越しになります". If you're calling a business on the phone and you're not sure exactly who is on the other end, you'll usually use 尊敬語 to be polite. For example if you're on the phone asking for a person named Sato you'd say "佐藤さんいらっしゃいますでしょうか" as opposed to "佐藤さんいますか".

My personal advice, though, is just don't worry about it too much, no one will hate you for making a mistake, and you'll get the hang of it pretty quickly.


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