When I started studying Japanese, I learnt the word 謙譲語 which means "humble language" (one type of 敬語). At that point, I looked up the word 謙譲 at the dictionary jisho.org and found out that it also existed as a word meaning "modesty, humility". For some years, I was happy to translate "modesty, humility" (or "modest, humble") as 謙譲.

However, to my surprise, I recently came across the word 謙遜 in my textbook. This word seems to have the same meaning according to jisho.org..

The facts that 謙遜 appears at my textbook and it is labelled as "common word" at jisho.org makes me suspect that it is the actual word in use to mean "modesty, humility", whereas 謙譲 is rarely seen alone or must have some specific context or collocation where it can be used.

Am I safe to assume that "modesty, humility" in Japanese is 謙遜 and forget about 謙譲, or there is any situation in particular where 謙譲 should be used rather than 謙遜?


  • 4
    謙譲 is never used as a verb. But something like 謙譲の美徳 would be said, while 謙遜の美徳 would not.
    – cats
    Commented Apr 2, 2021 at 2:06

1 Answer 1


Jisho.org shouldn't be relied on for precise usage notes. For example, they say 謙譲 is a な-adjective... but you should use 謙遜 instead for a な-adjective from the 2.

From a quick corpus search:

  • "謙遜さ" is more common than "謙譲さ"
  • "謙遜の" is less common than "謙譲の"
  • "謙遜が好き" is a thousand times more common than "謙譲が好き"

謙譲の美徳 is a notable idiomatic phrase to learn (as already mentioned by @cats).

At the end of the day, the context in which you translate 'modesty/humility' matters.

  • 謙遜 is not so common as a な-adjective, either. I would recommend 謙虚.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 5:52

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