I'm trying to understand what ごめん comes from. From the following questions:

I've compiled a possible explanation:

There's an archaic word that means forgiveness. 免 + する = 免ずる (rendaku) - to forgive.

There are two ways for する to become なさい:

  • する -> (imperative) しろ -> (honorific) なさい
  • する -> (honorific) なさる -> (imperative) なさい

That is, なさい is the honorific imperative version of する. And ご is a honorific prefix. As such, ごめんなさい is the honorific imperative version of 免ずる. And ごめん is the contraction of ごめんなさい (which probably, particularly, makes it more casual).

To sum it up:

  • 免 -> (verb) 免ずる -> (honorific) ご免なさる -> (imperative) ごめんなさい
  • 免 -> (verb) 免ずる -> (imperative) 免しろ -> (honorific) ごめんなさい

There's also 免じる, which looks like a synonym of 免ずる. And じる may be another way する undergoes rendaku. jisho.org supposedly confirms it (-zuru verbs are alternative forms of -jiru verbs).

Does this look right?

If it does, then how come there's 見なさい, although there's no 見する. Or every noun (免, 見) can become a verb by adding する?

  • 1
    This looks more like an answer to me. What remains to be resolved from your perspective? May 27 at 3:14
  • Yes, please clarify. As your post currently stands, it is not clear what your question is. May 27 at 3:15
  • @YusukeMatsubara First I'm not sure if my explanation is correct. But if it mostly is... If 免ずる becomes ごめんなさい because it ends with する (する undergoes a couple of transformations and becomes なさい), then 見る doesn't end with する, but can be transformed into 見なさい. Or what is transformed here are not verbs (免ずる, 見る), but nouns (免, 見)? Also in one of my previous questions I was told that I didn't search before asking, so this time I did. But as a result indeed my question contains a possible answer, I'm just not sure if it's correct.
    – x-yuri
    May 27 at 4:26

2 Answers 2


There are multiple parts to your question, but we can focus most of it by restating the main question:

What is ごめんなさい? What does this derive from?

Let's dive in.

ごめん: derivation and part of speech

ごめん itself is 御【ご】 (honorific prefix) + 免【めん】 ("forgiving, allowing, excusing").

The 御【ご】 prefix is a hint that the following piece here is treated as a noun: verbs and adjectives do not express honorific senses through prefixing like this.

Many nouns can be turned into verbs (or verb phrases) by the addition of the basic verb する (literally "to do"), such as noun 勉強【べんきょう】 ("studying") + する ("to do") → 勉強【べんきょう】する (literally "to do studying", idiomatically "to study"). We can do that with 御免【ごめん】 as well, as 御免【ごめん】する ("to forgive, to allow, to excuse").

なさい: derivation

The なさい part is very common in various expressions, and its derivation is a bit complicated.

なさい is a contraction of older polite なさいませ, the imperative of なさいます, from older なさります, from なさる, from なす.

  • なす → "to do", very old word, basically the transitive / causative counterpart to なる "to become".
  • なさる → verb なす + passive / honorific ending -(r)aru. This is the older version of what we see today as -(r)areru. The -(r)aru ending used the so-called 四段【よだん】 or "quadrigrade" conjugation paradigm in Old and Classical Japanese, so called for the four different vowels that appear on the verb stem before the various endings (like -masu or -nai), the precursor to today's 五段【ごだん】 or "quintigrade" conjugation paradigm. When adding the polite -masu ending, the verb stem ends in -i, so we get:
  • なさります → honorific なさる (showing honor to the actor, the agent of the verb) + polite ending -masu (showing deference to the listener or audience). In certain specific phonological contexts, -ri- becomes just -i-, so we get:
  • なさいます → honorific polite なさります + sound change. Then:
  • なさいませ → honorific polite なさいます + imperative. Then this contracts:
  • なさい → なさいませ dropping the polite imperative -mase. We see this same contraction in the everyday word ください, which also was previously くださいませ (and sometimes you'll still hear this in hyper-polite contexts).

なさい: usage

This has two basic uses: one as a replacement for する, and one as a verb supplement / supplementary verb / auxiliary verb (補助動詞【ほじょどうし】, for which the English terminology is a bit unsettled).

As a する replacement

As we saw above, the なす core verb underlying なさい basically means "to do", and as such, なさい can be used as a replacement for する -- or more specifically, since なさい is specifically the imperative conjugation, as a replacement for しろ. So in any case where you have the [NOUN] + する construction to verb-ify the noun, you can replace the imperative しろ with なさい.

  • Note that なさい is from the honorific polite imperative form なさいませ, and from this background, なさい today is still much more polite than しろ.
  • Note too that, in idiomatic Japanese, なさい isn't actually used for just any [NOUN] + しろ construction. For instance, 勉強なさい does not sound natural. For most such verb-ified nouns, natural Japanese generally uses [NOUN] + なさい instead -- which leads us to our second use pattern for なさい.

As a verb supplement

なさい is also used as basically a verb suffix, with similar mechanics as we see with ~ます or ~ながら: you conjugate the verb stem into the so-called 連用形【れんようけい】 (for vowel-stem verbs, this is the form ending in -i, same as for the -masu form), and then you stick the なさい on the end. The meaning is the same as above -- this forms a polite imperative, much politer than the plain imperative conjugation, such as しろ above, or のめ for "drink!" or いけ for "go!".

So for 見【み】る in your question post, the なさい in 見【み】なさい isn't replacing any する -- instead, the なさい is used here as a supplementary verb suffix.

Side question: "Can any noun become a verb by adding する?"

Technically, syntactically, yes, that seems to be possible. However, semantically, in terms of meaning, many such combinations just don't say anything sensible. Consider 犬【いぬ】する ("to dog"?) or リンゴする ("to apple"?) or 机【つくえ】する ("to desk"?).

These are syntactically possible, but they produce nonsense. I suppose it's possible that these might make sense, in some super-specific slang-y context, but without that context, these are gibberish.

Please comment if the above does not answer your questions.

  • So I guess the なさい derivation can be summed up this way: なす to do; なす + passive / honorific ending -(r)aru = なさる; なさる + polite ending ます = なさります; なさります -> なさいます (sound change); なさいます -> なさいませ (imperative); なさいませ -> なさい (contraction) And なさい is a polite honorific imperative version of なす to do. | You say that -(r)aru is a passive/honorific ending, but it doesn't seem like なさい adds particularly passive voice to its recepients. What does "passive" mean in this context?...
    – x-yuri
    May 28 at 3:14
  • ...Why does り become い? I can understand that it just changed with time, but "in certain specific phonological contexts" sounds sort of mysterious. | On a side note, there is a verb "to dog" in English :)
    – x-yuri
    May 28 at 3:16
  • 1
    @x-yuri -- Re: "you say that -(r)aru is a passive/honorific ending", you are correct that なさい doesn't add any passivity. The passive construction is one way to also express honorificness, and it is the honorificness that is expressed in なさい. The only "passiveness" at work in this word is its historical derivation -- not in its meaning. :) May 28 at 6:32
  • 1
    @x-yuri -- Re: "Why does り become い?" In certain circumstances, medial //r// is elided (omitted). This is most apparent in different dialects and branches of Japanese and Japonic, such as mainstream われ ("I") reflecting as わい ("I") in Kagoshima-ben, or mainstream 蟻【あり】 ("ant") reflecting as あい ("ant") in Okinawan. A small handful of mainstream Japanese verbs demonstrate this same elision of medial //r// -- なさる・ござる・くださる・いらっしゃる・おっしゃる. May 28 at 6:39
  • @x-yuri -- Re: "to dog" in English, granted that this exists, but it does not mean "to canine-animal", which is roughly what 犬【いぬ】する works out to. 😉 May 28 at 6:40

Yes that looks right for the etymology of ごめんなさい. Now let's look at your questions:

If it does, then how come there's 見なさい, although there's no 見する. Or every noun (免, 見) can become a verb by adding する?

As you have noted, basically every verb in modern Japanese can have the stem+なさい polite-imperative form. 見なさい、食べなさい、走りなさい and so on and so forth. Now what about する?

Technically, yes. stem+する is valid grammatically, and although the "stem+する" itself is not customary in modern Japanese, it's other conjugated forms are still in wide use in modern Japanese.


You may remember that to emphasize that you are NOT gonna do something, like 残る, to remain, if you're absolutely NOT gonna stay, instead of saying 俺は残らない, you could say 俺は残りはしない to really emphasize. The 残りはしない is basically what you were looking for, the stem + する, just in negative.

It's not customary to say 残りする, but grammatically it's not wrong. It's both customary and grammatical to say 残り(は)しない


Remember お願いします? Yeah, that's basically 願います, but more respectful. You put 願う into it's stem, add お for extra politeness, then use する in its polite form as well. That's basically just 願いする. This "お+stem+します" construct is called 謙譲語 and applies to almost all verbs.

  • 流れる => お流れします
  • 開く => お開きします

Not all verbs because for some verbs, instead of お+stem we just use another verb.

  • 食べる => お食べします(grammatical, but not customary) => 頂きます
  • 見る => お見します(grammatical, but not customary) => 参ります
  • Yes that looks right I guess what should be added to my explanation (corrected) is that in しろ -> (honorific) なさい and する -> (honorific) なさる we're not changing the form of the verb する, but replacing する (or its form) with a form of the equivalent verb なす (to do).
    – x-yuri
    May 28 at 3:54
  • 1
    @x-yuri -- this kind of replacement, where certain inflected forms of a given word (here, する) actually derive from a completely different word (here, なす), is called suppletion. HTH! :) May 28 at 6:43

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