While stumbling across Lucky Star episode 15 (26-second clip, from 8:51 - 9:17), I found that there was a scene where the characters were watching a quiz show, where one of the questions asked was on keigo:



(The characters were all certain it was 伺{うかが}う, but they all agree with 参る later.)

Now, if I am not mistaken, 伺う is used when the act of going to a place involves the listener (eg. saying はい、うかがいます! to one's boss, when asked to go to him) and 参る is used when the movement is not related to the listener (eg. not the boss' company, country, home, etc.). I think both verbs are humble forms of 行く.

Why, then, is 参る preferred as an answer to 伺う? Is there a nuance I am missing here?

2 Answers 2


While there were many blog entries on keigo usage that said both 参る and 伺う are 謙譲語 for 行く, all of the dictionaries I checked (広辞苑, 新明解, 大辞林, etc.) agreed that 伺う is a 謙譲語 for 訪問する/訪れる, not 行く.

So the quiz segment is technically correct, even though it seems like a lot of people think 伺う is also a 謙譲語 for 行く. This is probably because 参る and 伺う are often interchangeable.

In terms of nuance in usage, I think the more important distinction is:

  • 参る humbles yourself in relation to the listener
  • 伺う humbles yourself in relation to the place you're visiting (or someone who is there)

So you can say 「妹のいる東京に参ります」 but not 「妹のいる東京に伺います」.

You can read more on the two types of 謙譲語, categorized by who the humbleness is directed toward.


I believe that 伺う means more "to visit" than "to go". Thus, 伺う is more like the humble form of 訪{たず}ねる.

Of course, "visiting" someone/somewhere does necessarily involve changing locations, but because (訪ねる / 伺う) can both be transitive, the emphasis seems to be on who/what you are visiting (the direct object).

With regard to 行く and 参る, both are only intransitive. The subject is the "actor" and he/she is simply going somewhere. The emphasis seems primarily to be the act of "going". Perhaps because 参る and 行く are strictly intransitive, is feels like a better fit. And grammatically, it is definitely a better fit.

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