In Japanese, the more indirect a question (or a sentence in general) is, the more polite it is considered. Is there a reason for this?

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    In English, too, the more indirect a question is, the more polite it sounds, no? Like, "Could you tell me what..." sounds politer than "What's..?", "Would you mind doing...?" than "Do...", right? What's the reason for this?
    – chocolate
    Nov 10, 2019 at 1:05
  • I don't know, that's why I'm asking
    – jarmanso7
    Nov 10, 2019 at 8:54

1 Answer 1


Asking a question is a very complicated transaction. In theory the questioner is lowering themself - the reason they are asking the question is because they don't know the answer. But the questioner is also imposing on the other: they could be seen to be demanding a response. If the other doesn't know the answer, then they will have to display their ignorance. If they do know the answer, they will have to display their superiority over the questioner.

So we want to avoid questions that sound like a command from a superior to an inferior: "Tell me where the hotel is!" This questions has two possible replies: a confident "It's 200 m down the road on the left opposite the hospital." or an abject "I'm sorry I have no idea." We avoid the risk of creating the possible harm to the other by not asking that question.

Instead we want to ask a question that sounds more like we're thinking aloud to an equal: "I wonder if there's a hotel in this area? What do you think"

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