In the Japanese language, polite forms play an important role in defining status, position, "direction", and intimacy. Not using the correct level of politeness can be confusing, unprofessional, or even insulting to the Japanese.

Informal language

The informal language should only be used by friends and family. It creates an atmosphere of intimacy by which people who do not know you would feel very uncomfortable. Using the informal construction when speaking to whom you should be showing respect, like a teacher or a boss, is considered insulting. All sentences that lack polite forms and verbs are supposed to be informal.

The basic polite forms: ます (masu) and です (desu)

Using the basic polite forms puts some distance between you and the person to whom you are speaking. At the same time, it shows respect to the person you are speaking to, without being humble. This basic form can be constructed by adding ます (masu) to the ren'youkei conjugation of verbs, or です (desu) to the rentaikei conjugation of verbal adjectives. です (desu) by itself is the polite form of だ (da).

Instead of ます (masu) you can also add のです (no desu) to the rentaikei conjugation of verbs. This construction can be used to put some variety into your sentences or to make a sentence polite if you forgot to use the ます form.

買う kau買います kaimasu
-買うのです kau no desu
書く kaku書きます kakimasu
-書くのです kaku no desu
出す dasu出します dashimasu
-出すのです dasu no desu
待つ matsu待ちます machimasu
-待つのです matsu no desu
食べる taberu食べます tabemasu
-食べるのです taberu no desu
見る miru見ます mimasu
-見るのです miru no desu
する suruします shimasu
-するのです suru no desu
来る kuru来ます kimasu
-来るのです kuru no desu
高い takai高いです takai desu
-高いのです takai no desu
難しい muzukashii難しいです muzukashii desu
-難しいのです muzukashii no desu

When speaking with friends, this form should be avoided as it puts distance between you and your friends, and can give the impression that they did something wrong. On the other hand, if you have offended your friends in some way, using this form may restore some of the respect your friends had for you.

Note: When conjugating the polite forms with です (desu) the main verb is conjugated. です (desu) remains unconjugated. The only exception is when です (desu) is used by itself as the polite form of だ (da). In that case, of course, です (desu) is conjugated since then that's the main verb. When you conjugate the polite verbs with ます (masu) most of the time ます (masu) is conjugated.

Polite verbs and words

Japanese has a number of polite synonyms. When using these, you upgrade the overall politeness level without the use of humble and honorific words.

Neutral politeVery politeMeaning
です desuでございます de gozaimasuto be
あります arimasuございます gozaimasuthere are (of inanimate objects)
・・・さん ...san・・・様 ...samahonourific suffix
少し sukoshi少々 shōshōa little
いい ii宜しい yoroshiito be good
誰 dare何方 donatawho
今日 kyō本日 honjitsutoday
後で ato de後程 nochihodolater
さっき sakki先程 sakihodoearlier
どう dōいかが ikagahow
私 watashi私 watakushiI, me

You can make any noun polite by adding the honorific お (o) or ご (go). お (o) should be used with kun'yomi words and ご (go) with on'yomi words.

You can also use the passive form to increase the politeness. The polite, passive form maintains the normal construction a typical sentence would.

Anata ga mou shokuji wo taberaremashita ka.
Have you had dinner yet?

Ashita, koraremasu ka.
Will you come by tomorrow?

Humble and honorific verbs

In some cases, the normal polite forms may not be sufficient. Honorific and humble verbs are used when you need to show more respect than normal. These circumstances include: dealing with customers, asking for favours, and making up for errors and mistakes. Also when speaking to people who are much higher on the social ladder, it may be appropriate to use these verbs.

Humble verbs can only be used for yourself and honorific verbs just for other people. Using honorific verbs for yourself, even as a joke, won't be understood by Japanese people as they will automatically assume you are talking about them.

いる iruおる oruthere are (of living beings)
来る / 行く kuru / iku参る mairuto come / to go
言う iu申す mousuto say, to speak
する suru致す itasuto do
見る miru拝見する haiken suruto see, to watch, to look
聞く kiku伺う ukagauto ask, to listen, to hear
会う auお目にかかる o-me ni kakaruto meet
伝える tsutaeru申し伝える moushitsutaeruto tell
知る / 思う shiru / omou存じる zonjiruto know, to think
やる yaru上げる ageruto give (to someone else)
-差し上げる sashiageru-
もらう morau頂く itadakuto receive

いる iruいらっしゃる irassharuthere are (of living beings)
-]お出でになる o-ide ni naru-
-お出でです o-ide desu-
来る / 行く kuru / ikuいらっしゃる irassharuto come / to go
-お出でになる o-ide ni naru-
-お出でです o-ide desu-
言う iu仰る ossharuto say, to speak
する suru為さる nasaruto do
見る miruご覧になる go-ran ni naruto see, to watch, to look
食べる / 飲む taberu / nomu召し上がる meshiagaruto eat, to drink
くれる kureru下さる kudasaruto give (to me)

You can make any verb honorific by using the following construction:

お + ren'youkei + になる (o-ren'youkei ni naru)

Atarashii kuruma wo o-kai ni narimashita ka.
Did you buy a new car?