ていねいご【丁寧語】

■polite speech, one form of 敬語 (けいご)

Use of 丁寧語 is similar to saying "would like" in English rather than "want." The rules governing 丁寧語 are more fluid than the other forms of 敬語 (けいご), so while 丁寧語 is easier to use, it is more difficult to master.

The purpose of 丁寧語 is generally to show respect, though not so much along the lines of social status as to simply be polite. Examples found in English, though not identical, include the use of words such as expectorate for spit and facilities for toilet.

There are three parts of speech in which 丁寧語 is employed: adjectives, verbs and nouns.

1. Adjectives: At one time, any adjective could be used in 丁寧語, but today only a few frozen forms are found in daily speech. (Other adjectives may be found in extremely polite social conditions.) The verb ござる is suffixed to a special form of the adjective. These include:

Note that the ございます in the first three is often dropped in informal speech. The verb ござる is not usually conjugated into all the possible forms in modern speech; ございますございました are common, and ございましたら is used formally. The verb ござる is almost never heard or seen other than in these three forms in modern Japanese.

2. Verbs: This is the ますです forms of verbs.

3. Nouns: In addition to special nouns such as いかが for どう and どちらさま for だれ, many nouns take prefixes to indicate 丁寧語. The general rule is that native Japanese words take an prefix and Chinese/foreign borrowed words take a prefix. While not common, either may be written as 御. Sometimes the prefixes are reversed and in a few cases, either may be used.

While many nouns can take , the vast majority do not, and dictionaries are not user-friendly on this matter. Careful attention to the social setting and speaker must be paid when they are learned for a firm grasp of their use. In addition, there are varying degrees of politeness of the prefixes, from normal to polite.

Dialects differ on their treatment of 敬語. Kyoto tends to have a rich inflection, whereas respectful speech is generally not used at all in the Ise dialect. (The latter is sometimes attributed to the fishing industry where quick speech is important in life-and-death situations on boats.)


This entry was created by Benjamin Barrett with suggestions from Matthew Stevens.


Created 2001-06-08. Typo ("hot" and "cold" were reversed) corrected 2002-12-16.


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