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The question is raised from the famous movie Love Letter (ラブレター), where Hiroko cried to her dead boyfriend Itsuki and said 「お元気ですか?あたしは元気です。」.

But I'm taught that the「です」's after sentences and 「お」's before nouns are all markers of honorific speech and therefore are usually used to the seniors etc. So my question is: can such sentences like 「お元気ですか?あたしは元気です。」 be used between lovers and why?

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    It is mostly about the difference between registers in writing letters and in talking to each other. Assuming one is mature enough, using です・ます in letters to anyone is simply normal.
    – sundowner
    Dec 23, 2022 at 9:22
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    I would also just note that there is a difference between "honorific" speech and "polite" speech. です/〜ます/etc are not actually honorific, they are merely polite speech. The お prefix is technically an honorific prefix, but it is what I tend to call "functional honorific", because nowadays it is usually used with most common expressions (such as お元気) more to (respectfully) indicate who you are talking about (i.e. your health vs their health) rather than to express any particular level of honor/relationship/etc.
    – Foogod
    Dec 23, 2022 at 19:28

1 Answer 1

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お元気ですか? あたしは元気です

This is a typical opening expression of a letter to your family member, something said right after お母さんへ ("Dear Mom") or such. Most Japanese elementary schoolers have written something like this as homework. So just by looking at this, a native speaker can tell she is "reading a virtual letter" to her boyfriend.

Sentences you use in letters are more formal and polite than usual, and it is not unnatural at all to use です and other polite expressions, even if the letter is to your mother or your lover.

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  • That's surprising! As a non-native speaker, I can hardly realize that this is a expression in letter and this is "reading a virtual letter". And very much thanks! Your answer helps me a lot, in terms of either Japanese learning or movie understanding.
    – C.K.
    Dec 24, 2022 at 13:27

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