Keigo and Japanese Verbs
A Brief Introduction to Keigo
Keigo, or "honorific speech," is comprised of three classes of polite language: teineigo, sonkeigo,
Teineigo is the normal way of being polite. In terms of verbs, this means using -masu forms
and desu, but it also has implications for other parts of the sentence. Nouns can take on the
polite prefixes "o-" and "go-" to make them polite, especially when indicating something that
belongs to someone else. In addition, there are quite often different
words which are considered more formal, which can substitute for more common words. For instance,
"honjitsu" may be used in place of "kyou" to mean "today."
Sonkeigo, which is honorific forms, is language which recognizes that the subject of the sentence has a higher
social status than the speaker.
Kenjougo, or humble forms, is language which lowers the position of the subject, usually the speaker
or someone in the subject's in-group, when speaking to someone of higher social position.
Another form to be aware of is the expression of respect that's
commonly used when inquiring about another person directly. Simply
asking with "normal polite" language could actually be considered
rude much of the time (especially from a native speaker). For
instance, instead of asking
nan nin kodomosan ga imasu ka?
How many children do you have?
you might say
nan nin kodomosan ga oraremasu ka?
or, applying an honorific variant,
nan nin kodomosan ga irasshaimasu ka?
There is more information in the "passive" inflection case section.