I've just started learning Japanese last week.

I'm playing a video game in Japanese. One of the characters said: "礼を言う" (rewoiu) just by itself. The English translation was "Thank you."

I didn't recognize this as any version of "thank you" I had heard before.

The translation I get when searching is: "Say thanks". But this is basically just a non-past verb. Can you use non-past verbs by themselves usually?

Does "say thanks" in Japanese also mean "thank you"? If so, when is it appropriate to use this over other common forms of thank you; what's the difference between this and "arigatou"?

  • Would you find something like 感謝します similarly confusing? Is it just because it matches the dictionary form that you're questioning it?
    – Leebo
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 5:45
  • The translation I get for "礼を言う" is "say thanks" though... not "Thank you." Which makes me think it should be part of a sentence and not stand alone. In "感謝します" your translation is "thank you" or "I appreciate", right? That does make sense. So I can say "礼を言う" and it means the same thing as "arigatou" essentially?
    – Logan
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 5:56
  • 1
    It's normal for Japanese sentences to not have subjects or objects mentioned explicitly. But they are obviously implied in something like 礼を言う. What do you mean by "the translation I get"? You mean like google translate? There are certainly restrictions on how to use something like 礼を言う. It's not always possible to use it, but I'll leave that to someone answering. I was just trying to clarify what was confusing about it.
    – Leebo
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 6:07
  • Yeah, Google Translate and other searches show it as a verb - "say thanks", as if it should not be used alone. I understand Japanese omits subjects. I guess it doesn't make sense to me simply because "say thanks" is not the same as "thank you"... even if you do omit the subject. I looked up example sentences with it and none of them show " 礼を言う" by itself either.
    – Logan
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 6:14
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    i think, in terms of its usage, 礼{れい}をいう is similar to our usage of “i would like to express my condolences”. (i’m NOT saying they mean the same thing. far from it.) but why not in english say, “i’m sorry for your loss”? “i would like to express my condolences “ is technically not expressing anything but an intention to say something and yet it is used as if you were actually expressing your condolences. i’d take 礼をいう in the same vein.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


So, my guess is that you're playing Ghost of Tsushima, yeah? I'm playing with Japanese audio as well and have heard several characters use 礼を言う.

Based on context, I believe you are correct that it just means 'Thank you'. However, I have never heard this expression used in real life. My guess is that it is meant to give the characters an old-timey feel to match the Kamakura-jidai setting of the game.

I'm really enjoying the Japanese audio track - it definitely makes the game more emersive and is great for some passive listening practice. I'd be careful if you're going to study from it though, cause they are definitely using some 'old-timey' feeling expressions and you probably don't want to sound like an old-timey samurai in real life :)

Also, you can definitely use non-past plain verbs (dictionary form) in regular speech. They are the basis of several grammatical constructions and are used all the time to talk in present/future tense in a casual setting with friends.

Welcome to the journey that is learning Japanese. がんばってください。

  • 1
    For what it's worth, the phrase 礼を言う definitely did not mean "thank you" during the Kamakura period (or any other period of premodern Japanese history).
    – Nanigashi
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 20:33
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    Yeah, I highly suspected as much. I haven't had a whole bunch of exposure to classical Japanese, but what I have seen is quite different. The whole game is kind of a mis-match of periods and asthetics. Definitely immersive, but not academically accurate. Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 2:38
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    @SpiritTamer Haha yep that's what I'm playing! I actually first thought it was something like "old-timey" speech but after searching I wasn't able to find anything on it. Another interesting one I heard a lot was "Dewa" used as "bye".
    – Logan
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 4:53
  • I think I heard it also in some anime, but I can't remember which one(s); about this topic: detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q10137203685
    – Mauro
    Commented Mar 2, 2022 at 11:00
  • In addition to GoT, I have also heard this phrase used among samurai in the 2010 movie "13 Assassins" -- while it may not be an actual phrase used during the Kamakura or Sengoku period, it clearly has become a marker of "old-timey"-ness in modern Japanese as @SpiritTamer surmised.
    – he77kat_
    Commented May 8 at 18:44

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