There are at least four verbs that mean "to do" in Japanese: する, なさる, いたす, and やる. What is the purpose of each, and when is it appropriate to use them?

  • There's also おこなう and probably a few more! – sartak Jun 1 '11 at 13:56
  • @sartak: Edited the question to give it a bit more focus. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 1 '11 at 13:58
  • +1 nice question :D – Alenanno Jun 1 '11 at 14:04

する is the most general, neither too polite nor too formal. やる is more informal and could tend to lean toward rudeness. Note that やる cannot replace する in sino-Japanese compounds. For example, 電話する could not change to 電話やる. なさる is keigo (尊敬語), used for someone "higher" than yourself. いたす is humble keigo (謙譲語), referring humbly to yourself or others in your group.

Usage-wise, there is not much difference between them, except for what I noted above.

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    Ah, but 宿題をやる and 掃除をやる are perfectly valid constructions, so it's not always the case that やる can't replace する with 漢語. (And in more informal settings, the を is dropped, such as in 宿題やった?) (But 電話(を)やる certainly sounds odd; the line dictating when you can switch out one for the other is a fuzzy one.) – Derek Schaab Jun 1 '11 at 14:28
  • @Derek: The line is not fuzzy. Yaru is a more rude version of suru (to make it simple) just like istrasci said. Use it carefully, it also means to have sex (using the F word) or to kill. As for the dropping of the を particle in 宿題やった is not grammatically correct. This is spoken and very familiar Japanese. About "to phone", the verb is 電話する. This is 1 verb and you cannot add a particle. Whereas "to do homework" has no verb but a combination of a noun+verb. Thus the need for particle + する (or やる if very familiar or impolite) – repecmps Jun 1 '11 at 14:52
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    @repecmps: Thank you for your comment. I am aware of the additional definitions of やる which you kindly pointed out, but in my comment I was specifically referring to the combination of やる with Chinese-derived words. While 宿題やった may not be "grammatically correct", it is allowable in an appropriate (casual) setting. Finally, 電話する may in fact include the particle を to become 電話をする. To verify this, simply search Google for the phrase "電話をする" (including the quotes). These forms are identical in meaning and acceptable for use anywhere. – Derek Schaab Jun 1 '11 at 15:04
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    Btw is it true that 電話いたします is considered ungrammatical, or is it simply that it is grammatical, but altogether a different "grammar" compared to 電話をいたします ? – Pacerier Aug 31 '11 at 21:14

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