What is the practical difference between なさい and ください? Is it only different in politeness or does it have a different meaning and application?

Also is なさい used the same way as ください? -te form plus the なさい?

Now there's this sentence I'm trying to come up with, could you help me? Is it right, does it sound natural? What could I improve on that? (I just making these sentence to exercise my grammar)


In case it is not clear, my intention was something like:

I can talk a bit o Japanese but I can only talk simple stuff.


Grammatically speaking:

  • 「continuative form (連用形) + なさい」 is for telling / ordering someone to do something. なさい is the honorific form of the imperative "しろ (or せよ)". (In other words, なさい is the imperative form of なさる, which is the honorific verb of する.) 
  • 「te-form + ください」 is for asking someone to do something. It's the honorific form of 「te-form + くれ」. (くれ is the imperative form of くれる, "to give (me/us)". In other words, ください is the imperative form of くださる, which is the honorific verb of くれる.)


見ろ。-- ordering "Look." -- casual form
見なさい。-- ordering "Look." -- polite form
見てくれ。-- asking "(Please) look." -- casual form
見てください。-- asking "Please look." -- polite form


  • しろ、見ろ etc. are pretty strong, often masculine, and sound a bit rough.
  • ~なさい sounds a bit softer than しろ、見ろ etc. but this would make you sound like a school teacher or a mother talking to children. Usually used by someone older/superior towards someone younger/inferior. (And I think it's also often said by police officers...)
  • ~てくれ sounds masculine and informal. Instead of しろ or ~てくれ, 「~て。」 is commonly used in daily conversation, especially by female speakers. Eg 見て。助けて。教えて。 You can also say 「~てくれる?」「~てくれない?」("Can you~~?") to sound softer.
  • ~てください is politer than the others. If you want to sound even politer and formal, you could use 「~てくださいますか」「~てくださいませんか」("Could you please~~?") etc.

"I can talk a bit of Japanese but I can only talk simple stuff."

  • ~を話せる is acceptable but ~話せる would be more natural. (since 話せる is a potential verb)
  • 簡単 is a na-adjective. 簡単の → 簡単
  • 簡単なもの → 簡単なこと (Use もの for physical things, こと for abstract things)
  • Place のみ / だけ after 簡単なこと. (eg "only coffee" 「コーヒーだけ / コーヒーのみ」)
  • You don't need two polite markers in one verb phrase (×ます~です). 話せますのですよ → 話せるのですよ, 話せるんですよ or 話せますよ
  • しか話せない would be more natural than だけが話せる. (しか~ない ≂ only)

俺/僕は日本語がちょっと話せますが、簡単なことしか話せないのですよ。/ 話せないんですよ。

Keep up! :)

  • 1
    Amazing answer as always, everything is crystal clear! I only have one question, when should use もの over 物 like in 物語 ? Is there times when it's better to use the hiragana over the kanji? – Felipe Chaves de Oliveira Sep 15 '16 at 16:36
  • I have one more doubt, what would be the translation of なさい in words like ごめんなさい? – Felipe Chaves de Oliveira Sep 16 '16 at 0:11
  • 物 is almost always written in kanji when used in compound words or phrases like 物語, 品物, 持ち物 etc. I think we also use kanji for 物 in the sense of "(physical) object (≂物体), item, substance(≂物質)". For 物/もの as "things/what" as in 見えるもの(What I see), 家にあるもの(What I have at home) etc., I think you can use either 物 or もの (←Maybe personal preference?). – Chocolate Sep 16 '16 at 1:40
  • ~なさい is the honorific form of ~しろ, so grammatically speaking it's "polite imperative", so it'd literally be "Please do~~.", but practically speaking it doesn't sound so polite, so I think you can translate it as just "Do~~.", as something said by a mother, teacher, or someone older/superior. ごめんなさい is a fixed phrase, literally meaning "Please forgive/excuse." (ご=polite prefix, めん(免)=forgive, なさい=please do), so it's used to say "Excuse me" and "I'm sorry". – Chocolate Sep 16 '16 at 1:59
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    @dgg32 「te-form + いなさい・いろ・います・いる etc.」 often gets shortened to 「te-form なさい・ろ・ます・る etc.」 in colloquial speech (The い in いる gets dropped). eg 見ていなさい⇒見てなさい, 知っています⇒知ってます. So 「引っ込んでなさい」 is a colloquial contracted form of 「引っ込んでなさい」. For more on ている⇒てる contraction, please refer to: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/33463/9831 – Chocolate Aug 25 '17 at 23:37

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