Japanese basic grammar topic Honorific and Humble Forms

Honorific and Humble Forms

Japanese can be roughly separated into three levels of politeness: casual, polite, and honorific/humble. So far, we have already gone over the polite forms using 「~です and 「~ます. We will now cover the next level of politeness using honorific and humble forms. You will often hear this type of language in any customer/consumer type situations such as fast food counters, restaurants, etc. For now, the first thing to remember is that the speaker always considers himself/herself to be at the lowest level. So any actions performed by oneself are in humble form while actions performed by anyone else seen from the view of the speaker uses the honorific form.

Set Expressions


1.    する (exception) - to do

2.    なさる - to do (honorific)

3.    致す いた・す (u-verb) - to do (humble)

4.    行く い・く (u-verb) - to go

5.    いらっしゃる - to be; to go; to come (honorific)

6.    おいでになる - to be; to go; to come (honorific)

7.    参る まい・る (u-verb) - to go; to come (humble)

8.    いる (ru-verb) - to exist (animate)

9.    おる (ru-verb) - to exist (animate) (humble)

10.  見る み・る (ru-verb) - to see

11.  ご覧になる ご・らん・になる - to see (honorific)

12.  拝見する はい・けん・する - to see (humble)

13.  聞く き・く (u-verb) - to ask; to listen

14.  伺う うかが・う (u-verb) - to ask; to listen (humble)

15.  言う い・う (u-verb) - to say

16.  おっしゃる - to say (honorific)

17.  申す もう・す (u-verb) - to say (humble)

18.  申し上げる もう・し・あ・げる (u-verb) - to say (humble)

19.  あげる (ru-verb) - to give; to raise

20.  差し上げる さ・し・あ・げる (ru-verb) - to give; to raise (humble)

21.  くれる (ru-verb) - to give

22.  下さる くだ・さる - to give (honorific)

23.  もらう (u-verb) - to receive

24.  いただく (u-verb) - to receive; to eat; to drink (humble)

25.  食べる た・べる (ru-verb) - to eat

26.  召し上がる め・し・あ・がる (ru-verb) - to eat; to drink (honorific)

27.  飲む の・む (u-verb) - to drink

28.  知る し・る (u-verb) - to know

29.  ご存じ ご・ぞん・じ - knowing (honorific)

30.  存じる ぞん・じる (ru-verb) - to know (humble)

31.  ござる - to be (formal)

32.  もう - already

33.  仕事 し・ごと - job

34.  なに/なん - what

35.  推薦状 すい・せん・じょう - letter of recommendation

36.  書く か・く (u-verb) - to write

37.  どちら - which way

38.  今日 きょう - today

39.  わたし - me; myself; I

40.  レポート - report

41.  失礼 しつ・れい - discourtesy

The difficult part of learning honorific and humble language is that there are a number of words that have separate verbs for honorific and humble forms. Anything that does not have its own special expression fall under the general rules of humble and honorific conjugations that we will cover next.







































Honorific and Humble Verbs

Honorific verbs with special conjugations

A number of these verbs do not follow the normal masu-conjugation rules and they include: なさる」、「いらっしゃる」、「おっしゃる」、「下さる」、 and ござる (which we will soon cover). For all masu-form tenses of these verbs, instead of the 「る」 becoming a 「り」 as it does with normal u-verbs, it instead becomes an 「い」. All other conjugations besides the masu-form do not change from regular u-verbs.



Past ます-form

Negative ます-form

Past-negative ます-form



























Examples of honorific form

We can now begin to see that ください is just a special conjugation of 下さる which is the honorific version of くれる. Let's look at some actual examples. Since these examples are all questions directed directly to someone (second person), they all use the honorific form.

1.    アリスさん、もう召し上がりました
Alice-san, did (you) eat already?

2.    仕事で何をなさっているんですか
What are you doing at work?

3.    推薦状を書いてくださるんです
You're going to give me the favor of writing a recommendation letter?

4.    どちらからいらっしゃいました
Where did you come from?

5.    今日は、どちらへいらっしゃいます
Where are you going today?

Examples of humble form

The following examples are all actions done by the speaker so they all use the humble form.

1.    私はキムと申します
As for me, (people) say Kim. (I am called Kim.)

2.    私が書いたレポートを見ていただけます
Will I be able to receive the favor of getting my report looked at?

3.    失礼致します
Excuse me. (lit: I am doing a discourtesy.)

Other substitutions


1.    こちら - this way

2.    わたし - me, myself, I

3.    部屋 へ・や - room

4.    ござる - to be (formal)

5.    お手洗い お・て・あら・い - bathroom

6.    この - this abbr. of これの

7.    ビル - building

8.    ~階 【~かい - counter for story/floor

9.    いい (i-adj) - good

10.  よろしい (i-adj) - good (formal)

11.  悪い わる・い (i-adj) - bad

12.  すいません - sorry (polite)

13.  ごめん - sorry (casual)

14.  ごめんなさい - sorry (polite)

15.  すみません - sorry (polite)

16.  申し訳ありません もう・し・わけ・ありません - sorry (formal)

17.  言い訳 い・い・わけ - excuse

18.  恐れ入ります おそ・れ・い・ります - sorry (formal)

19.  恐縮です きょう・しゅく・です - sorry (formal)

20.  ~様 【~さま - honorific name suffix

21.  さん - polite name suffix

22.  お客様 お・きゃく・さま - customer (formal)

23.  神様 かみ・さま - god (formal)

In addition to these set expressions, there are some words that also have more polite counterparts. Probably the most important is the politer version of ある, which is ござる. This verb can be used for both inanimate and animate objects. It is neither honorific nor humble but it is a step above ある in politeness. However, unless you want to sound like a samurai, ござる is always used in the polite form: ございます.

By extension, the politer version of です is でございます. This is essentially the masu-form conjugation of でござる, which comes from である literally meaning, "to exist as" (to be covered much later).


1.    こちらは、私の部屋です
Over here is my room.

2.    こちらは、私の部屋でございます
This way is my room.

1.    お手洗いはこのビルの二階にあります
The bathroom is on the second floor of this building.

2.    お手洗いはこのビルの二階にございます
The bathroom is on the second floor of this building.

Other examples include いい, which is more formally expressed as よろしい. There are also six different ways to say, "I'm sorry" (not counting 悪いね or slight inflection changes like すいません).

Successively politer expressions for apologizing:

1.    ごめん

2.    ごめんなさい

3.    すみません

4.    申し訳ありません (申し訳 is the humble form of 言い訳)

5.    恐れ入ります

6.    恐縮です

In addition, the politest suffix for names is 「様」, one level above さん. You won't be using this suffix too often in actual speech even if you speak to that person in honorific/humble speech. However, expect to use it when writing letters even to people you are somewhat familiar with. Also, service people such as cashiers or waitresses/waiters will normally refer to the customer as お客様. Of course, royalty and deities are always accompanied by 「様」 such as 神様.

Honorific and Humble Conjugations


1.    お酒 お・さけ - alcohol

2.    お茶 お・ちゃ - tea

3.    お金 お・かね - money

4.    音読み おん・よ・み - Chinese reading

5.    意見 い・けん - opinion

6.    ご飯 ご・はん - rice; meal

7.    訓読み くん・よ・み - Japanese reading

8.    仕事 し・ごと - job

9.    お好み焼き お・この・み・や・き - okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pancake)

10.  お土産 お・みやげ - souvenir

11.  返事 へん・じ - reply

12.  先生 せん・せい - teacher

13.  見える み・える (ru-verb) - to be visible

14.  なる (u-verb) - to become

15.  もう - already

16.  帰る かえ・る (u-verb) - to go home

17.  店内 てん・ない - store interior

18.  召し上がる め・し・あ・がる (ru-verb) - to eat; to drink (honorific)

19.  二重敬語 に・じゅう・けい・ご - redundant honorific

20.  下さる くだ・さる - to give (honorific)

21.  少々 しょう・しょう - just a minute; small quantity;

22.  待つ ま・つ (u-verb) - to wait

23.  こちら - this way

24.  ご覧下さい ご・らん・くだ・さい - please look (honorific)

25.  閉まる し・まる (u-verb) - to close

26.  ドア - door

27.  注意 ちゅう・い - caution

28.  よろしい (i-adj) - good (formal)

29.  願う ねが・う (u-verb) - to wish; to request

30.  する (exception) - to do

31.  聞く き・く (u-verb) - to ask; to listen

32.  こと - event, matter

33.  ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)

34.  すみません - sorry (polite)

35.  千円 せん・えん - 1,000 yen

36.  預かる あず・かる - to look after; to hold on to;

37.  致す いた・す (u-verb) - to do (humble)

For all other verbs without set expressions, there are conjugation rules to change them into honorific and humble forms. They both involve a common practice of attaching a polite prefix 「御」. In Japanese, there is an practice of attaching an honorific prefix 「御」 to certain (not all) nouns to show politeness. In fact, some words like お酒」、 お茶」、or お金 come with this prefix so often that it's become practically the word itself. In general, 「御」 is written in hiragana as either 「ご」 for words read as 音読み e.g. ご意見、ご飯 or 「お」 for words read as 訓読み e.g. お金 お仕事. In fact, you may have been using this prefix already without realizing it like お好み焼き or お土産. There are some exceptions to this rule such as お返事. Luckily since 「御」 is rarely written in kanji, identifying the exceptions should not really be a problem.

Honorific Form

The honorific form of verbs that are not among the set honorific expressions given above can be formed in two different ways.

Honorific Conjugation 1: + stem + なる

This kind of makes sense if you think of it as a person becoming the honorific state of a verb. All subsequent conjugations follow the normal rules of conjugating the u-verb なる. To be honest, this type of sentence formulation is rarely used.

·         先生はお見えになります
Have you seen the teacher?

Honorific Conjugation 2: + stem + です

1.    もうお帰りです
You're going home already?

2.    店内でお召し上がりです
Will you be dining in?

Service people want to be extra polite so they will often use this type of "double honorific" conjugation or 二重敬語 (in this case, the honorific 召し上がる combined with the honorific conjugation). Whether it's necessary or grammatically proper is another story.

Using ください with honorifics

You can also use 下さい with a honorific verb by replacing になる with ください. This is useful for when you want to ask somebody to do something but still use a honorific verb.

Yet another often-used expression.

·         少々お待ちください- Please wait a moment.

Similarly, with ご覧になる, you simply replace になる with ください.

·         こちらにご覧下さい
Please look this way.

This works for other nouns as well. For example, riding the trains...

·         閉まるドアにご注意下さい
Please be careful of the closing doors.

Humble Form

Humble verbs are formed in the following fashion.

Humble Conjugation: + stem + する

You've probably already heard the first example many times before but now you know exactly where it comes from.

1.    よろしくお願いします
I properly make request.

2.    先生、お聞きしたいことがありますが
Teacher, there's something I want to ask you.

3.    すみません、お待たせしました
Sorry, I made you wait (causative form).

4.    千円からお預かりいたします
We'll be holding on [from?] your 1000 yen.

You'll hear something like example 4 when, for example, you need to get change after paying 1000 yen. Again, the 二重敬語 where する has been converted to the humble 致す form when it's already in the +stem+する humble form. Some Japanese people complain that this makes no sense and that から should really be 「を」.

Making honorific requests


1.    下さる くだ・さる - to give (honorific)

2.    いらっしゃる - to be; to go; to come (honorific)

3.    なさる - to do (honorific)

4.    おっしゃる - to say (honorific)

5.    する (exception) - to do

6.    いらっしゃいませ - please come in (formal)

7.    いらっしゃい - please come in

8.    ありがとうございました - thank you (polite)

9.    また - again

10.  越す こ・す - to go over

11.  どうぞ - please

12.  ゆっくり - slowly

We learned how to make polite requests using 「~ください in a previous section and we just looked at how to use honorific verbs with requests as well. However, there is yet another way to make requests using honorific verbs. This grammar only applies to the honorific verbs with special 「~ます conjugations that we just covered. This includes 下さる」、「いらっしゃる」、「なさる」、and おっしゃる. I've never actually seen this used with おっしゃる, but it is grammatically possible.

Making requests for honorific actions

·     Conjugate the honorific verb to the special masu-conjugation and replace the last 「す」 with 「せ」

1.    下さ → 下さいま → 下さいま

2.    いらっしゃ → いらっしゃいま → いらっしゃいま

·     An abbreviated and less formal version of this is to simply remove the ます after conjugating to the special masu-form

1.    下さ → 下さいます → 下さい

2.    いらっしゃ → いらっしゃいます → いらっしゃい

Now you finally know where grammar such as なさい and してください actually came from. Let's look at a few quick examples.


You'll probably hear this one a million times every time you enter some kind of store in Japan.

·         いらっしゃいませ
Please come in!

However, a middle-aged sushi chef will probably use the abbreviated version.

·         いらっしゃい
Please come in!

Some more examples...

1.    ありがとうございました。またお越しくださいませ
Thank you very much. Please come again.

2.    どうぞ、ごゆっくりなさいませ
Please take your time and relax.


App 3.0 ↓
A p p   F o r   P h o n e
  • Android
  • iOS
A p p   F o r   P h o n e
  • Android
  • iOS
Basic grammar

  • 1 :Addressing People
  • 2 :Adjective Practice Exercises
  • 3 :Adjectives
  • 4 :Advanced proximity of actions
  • 5 :Advanced Topics
  • 6 :Advanced Volitional
  • 7 :Adverbs and Sentence-ending particles
  • 8 :Basic Grammar
  • 9 :Casual Patterns and Slang
  • 10 :Causative and Passive Verbs
  • 11 :Compound Sentences
  • 12 :Conditionals
  • 13 :Covered by something
  • 14 :Defining and Describing
  • 15 :Desire and Suggestions
  • 16 :Essential Grammar
  • 17 :Expressing amounts
  • 18 :Expressing must or have to
  • 19 :Expressing State-of-Being
  • 20 :Expressing the minimum expectation
  • 21 :Expressing time-specific actions
  • 22 :Expressing various levels of certainty
  • 23 :Formal expressions of non-feasibility
  • 24 :Formal Expressions
  • 25 :Giving and Receiving
  • 26 :Hiragana
  • 27 :Honorific and Humble Forms
  • 28 :Hypothesizing and Concluding
  • 29 :Introduction to Particles
  • 30 :Introduction
  • 31 :Kanji
  • 32 :Katakana
  • 33 :Leaving something the way it is
  • 34 :Making requests
  • 35 :More negative verbs
  • 36 :Negative Verb Practice Exercises
  • 37 :Negative Verbs
  • 38 :Noun-related Particles
  • 39 :Numbers and Counting
  • 40 :Other Grammar
  • 41 :Other uses of the te-form
  • 42 :Particles used with verbs
  • 43 :Past Tense
  • 44 :Past Verb Practice Exercises
  • 45 :Performing an action on a relative clause
  • 46 :Polite Form and Verb Stems
  • 47 :Potential Form
  • 48 :Relative Clauses and Sentence Order
  • 49 :Review and more sentence-ending particles
  • 50 :Saying something is easy or difficult to do
  • 51 :Showing signs of something
  • 52 :Special expressions with generic nouns
  • 53 :Special Expressions
  • 54 :Tendencies
  • 55 :The Question Marker
  • 56 :The Writing System
  • 57 :Things that happen unintentionally
  • 58 :Things that should be a certain way
  • 59 :Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
  • 60 :Trying something out or attempting to do something
  • 61 :Using suru and naru with the ni particle
  • 62 :Using yoru for comparisons and other functions
  • 63 :Various ways to express similarity and hearsay
  • 64 :Verb Basics
  • 65 :Verb Practice Exercises