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I know it's used for greetings in a restaurant or store. But what type of verb conjugation (ex: polite, plain, honorific, imperative, or something else) is it? Is it used with other verbs? Is it archaic Japanese or modern Japanese?

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~ませ is the imperative form of the polite auxiliary verb ~ます which connects to the conjunctive form of verbs. According to Daijirin it's used with the verbs いらっしゃる, おっしゃる, くださる, なさる, 申す and 召す etc (I've only seen いらっしゃいませ, くださいませ and なさいませ used myself though, so I'm not sure how common the other ones are).

It's used in modern Japanese, and I think it's frequently used with honorific language (though maybe not restricted to it as 申す and 召す are humble language). It's used to make requests/demands more polite as well as to add politeness to greetings as in お帰りなさいませ.

いらっしゃいませ/くださいませ etc are euphonic changes from the conjunctive forms いらっしゃり/くださり to いらっしゃい/ください (rather than being the imperative いらっしゃい/ください), together with the imperative polite ~ませ.


(References: Space ALC 日本語Q&A, Dajirin, Dajisen)

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Just to supplement the others, here is the scheme of ます:

未然形 (Irrealis form) - ませ (ましよ)
連用形 (Continuative form) - まし
連体形 (Attributive form) - ます
已然形 / 仮定形 (Realis/Hypothetical form) - ますれ
命令形 (Imperative form) - ませ (まし)

Source: Nihongoresources

And also from nihongoresources further congujations of ます

  • Not to be picky, but do you mind putting the english definition or example of what the kanji on the left side says? – dotnetN00b Jul 9 '12 at 6:42
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    @dotnetN00b I've been told that they're not significant in terms of modern analysis of Japanese grammar. But I'll add it in anyway. – Flaw Jul 9 '12 at 6:43
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    @dotnetN00b 已然形 is only relevant in pre-modern Japanese. In modern Japanese it is 仮定形. – Dono Jul 9 '12 at 6:45
  • @Dono As I'm not familiar with those forms (or kanji), it's all greek to me (excuse the expression). – dotnetN00b Jul 9 '12 at 6:49
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It's polite imperative. It is derived from Edo-ben (as is all 丁寧語), but is still considered modern even though it isn't used outside 尊敬語 verbs.

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