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Sonkei verbs


10 Mar 2003
Hello everyone, this is my first post on the board, so first let me congratulate you all for the beautiful forum.

In my japanese studies I came across 尊敬形 (sonkei) and I could not figure out when I should use it, to make things worse, it looks to me just like 受身 (ukemi).. How can I tell the difference?

confused (and not for the first time),
Konnichiwa Dswbg-san!

Welcome and Hajimemashite. Please enjoy the forum!🙂

Yes, Sonkei-go is difficult even the Japanese. There are four speaking forms in Japan, Futuu, Sonkei-go, Kenjou-go, Teinei-go. Those forms are different from the passive(Ukemi).

The most important matter is the situation of the subject in the passive and active.

The active : He ate a fish.
The passive : He was pounced on a shark.

I think that you can understand easily the difference between the two. But Sonkei-go is different from the passive totally.

Japan is a class society. An example, a school. There is not equal between teacher and student. Because teacher is older than student and has many knowledge. In Japan, senior and intellectual is an object of respect. And student must use Sonkei-go for teacher, but not Futuu("Futuu" is a normal language). Sonkei-go is a language to show respect. Sonkei-go is translated "honorific language" in English. But Sonkei means "respect" in literal translation. The most important matter is the difference of class in four speaking forms.

Sorry, I can't good explanation in English.:p

Originally posted by NANGI

Japan is a class society. An example, a school. There is not equal between teacher and student. Because teacher is older than student and has many knowledge. In Japan, senior and intellectual is an object of respect.

I have always found Japanese honorific system impossible to deal with. Normally, we should show respect to : older people, superiors, "erai hito", women should show respect to men, etc.

What about a 45 year-old female minister who meets an unemployed 60 year-old man. Who is in a higher position of respect ?

In my case, I teach all kind of people, especially business people. As their teacher, they should show me respect even if they are 20 year older than me and manager in a big company. That is rather strange as I could be their son. :eek:
As for Keigo, here is my explanation.

3 kinds of honorifics, to use with one's boss, etc.
For example, the verb "to eat" (taberu) can either become :
- meishiagarimasu 召し上がります
- o-tabe ni narimasu お食べになります
- taberaremasu 食べられます

The last one is confusing as the -rareru form is also used for the "ukemi" (passive) and potential (can do). So "taberareru" means "can eat", "was eaten" or "eat" (honorific form).

The humble form (kenjou-kei) is used to talk about yourself when you want to show respect to someone. There are 2 ways of forming it. Let's keep the verb "taberu" :

- itadakimasu
- "o-tabe shimasu" (or even better " o-tabe itashimasu")

Don't confuse "o tabe ni narimasu" and "o tabe shimasu". Use the former for someone else and the latter for yourself.

"Shachou wa o hanashi ni narimashita" (= The CEO has spoken)
"Boku wa shachou ni o hanashi shimashita" (I spoke to the CEO)

The "teinei-kei" (polite form) is the one everybody knows. Just replace -ru by -masu (taberu => tabemasu). It's called polite form, but it's less polite than "keigo" above.

Note that only a few common verbs have a special sonkei and kenjou form like "meshiagaru" or "itadakimasu". For instance :

Sonkei (honorific)
irasshaimasu (=iru, iku or kuru)
go-zonji desu (=shiru)
go-ran desu (=miru)

Kenjou (humble)
orimasu (iru)
zonji shimasu (=shiru)
haiken shimasu (=miru)
moushiagemasu (=iu)
Hey, Thanks a lot.. i guess it should be easy enough to tell the difference between the passive and active by context, if i am talking to someone, i dont supposse he will be telling me he was eaten by a shark (or i wouldn't be talking to him) rather that he ate a shark..

can you please tell me from your experience how common all the polite forms are? i know that my friends here tell me you can go a long way with just the ~masu kei and that i should not be wasting my brain cells on all the politer templates, but they are all barbarian foreigners, so what do they know :) and come to think of it i never heard any one usues a politer form talking to me, but that might be because i am just a 20 years old gai-jin female..
I've heard that Japanese tend not to use much keigo with foreigners, because they think it's too difficult for them to understand (actually, because they find it difficult, but as everyone knows, some foreigners learn Japanese more easily than the Japanese, especially kanji).

Normally, you should bother to use keigo outside a company or if you don't meet anybody really important. That is at least my opinion. With family, friends and peers, most Japanese don't even use the -masu form.

Shop assistant, etc. usually use keigo with their customers (irasshaimase, go-ran kudasaimase...), but customers can reply in plain Japanese or using the -masu form.
Konnichiwa Maciamo-san! Dswbg-san!

to Maciamo-san
Who is in a higher position of respect? A 45 year-old female minister? or an unemployed 60 year-old man? It's easy to answer.
Both of them must use Keigo with each other in a case like that. Because the female minister is higher position than unemployed man, but 60 year-old man is older than 45 year-old female.:D
There is many class in the world. Generally, a 45 year-old female minister is respected from the public more than an unemployed 60 year-old man. But if the unemployed 60 year-old man is senior statesman who live in retirement now? If she had been supported from the senior statesman who was on active? The female minister respect him. The public respect the minister by social reason, but the minister respect the unemployed man by personal reason. Standard of respect is not only one.:p
And it is not strange in a case like you. You teach English to people who can not speak English. People respect you naturally because you can speak English but people can not speak English. It is no relation to social position, age and nationality.;)

You wrote explanation sentence about Keigo. It's a very great. But I find only one error. It's a "o-tabe shimasu". Kenjou-go is used in the first person's verb. But Teinei preposition "o" is not in the first person's verb. You must not attach "o" to your own verb in Kenjou-go. "itadakimasu" is good but "o-tabe shimasu" is not.:eek:

to Dswbg-san

Polite form is very important in Japan. But I think that you shoud learn normal form perfectly at first. The most important mutter of language is possible to understand each other. Polite form is not so important. In Japan, polite form is very important with the Japanese. But polite form is very difficult even the Japanese. And the Japanese deal leniently with a foreigner's speaking, polite or not. The Japanese never get angry even if you don't know polite form. And you are free from troubled with polite form because many young Japanese can not use polite form correctly.:D

So what will be the different, for example, between -

(suzuki-sensei wa kono hon o kakaremasita.)

and -
(suzuki-sensei wa kono on o okaki ni narimashita.)

as i understand, both are plite ways to tell about someone else's actions...

From what I have learnt, they are the same. But I let natives confirm this (there might be a slight nuance or particular usage)
Very insightful and informative thread :)

Speaking for myself, as a general rule of thumb I tend to use the polite form whenever I meet someone for the first time or with whom I am unfamiliar as I find it tends to be the best approach for me except where in certain cases an appropriate honorific should be used (elevated status, senior, etc.). Both Maciamo-san and Nangi-san mentioned the fact that many Japanese don't employ Teinei or Keigo in everday conversation and I can only reiterate that point as the Japanese are very forgiving when dealing with foreigners and Nihongo. That being said, while it is important to learn the proper and polite forms, it should not be viewed as a necessary criterion to communicating effectively in everyday conversation.
from what you have said i understand that in japanese there are many kinds or say levels of honorific and polite forms
am i right ?
if it is so it will be easier to understand the issue
dswbg, it may have been going over my head all these years but I really don't hear the passive-like honorific form much. At this point I would say the important thing is recognizing that these forms exist and not spend a lot of time worrying about them. Over time one tends to pick up keigo in phrases that come up often. Like "shoushou o machi kudasai" or "gaishitsu shite orimasu" etc. Once you have these common phrases memorized you can usually extrapolate to other verbs & situations if necessary.

the-deer, in general there are the following forms of Japanese -- very rough, rude speech (typically you only encounter this on tv), casual speech (dictionary form), standard/polite speech (-masu form) and polite speech (keigo) which consists of mechanisms to exalt somebody else and deprecate yourself (ie honorific & humble forms). Most of these grammatical mechanisms to change the form of speech involve changing the verb around or, often, using completely different verbs.
thanks a lot mdchachi san
i thought that social and professional rank determins the honorific form in japanese but it seems that the speaker is free to use the honorific form he likes .
what i like is the fact that japanese people use honorifics more than other speakers in the world (to my knowledge) 👍 !
what i would also know is wether japanese has honorific forms for adjectives too 🍜
Well social & professional rank does determine the form that one would use. You are free to select any speech level you want but if you use the "wrong" one you won't sound native or you may give a wrong impression.

The form can also be used as a tool to put feeling into the speech. Japanese is sometimes accused of being a less expressive language but that's partially because the politeness level of language is not considered. For example, in America in order to express our displeasure we might curse at a person and call them names. In Japanese, it is not necessary to call somebody a "scumbag" for example when you are addressing them in a form of speech that indicates that they are below you and, therefore, a scumbag.

Thankfully I can't think of any special adjectival forms except for a very few. Actually I can only think of one at the moment. The word "yoi" (or "ii") means good. The honorific form is "yoroshii". Usually used like "something something yoroshii desu ka?" as in "May I do something-something"? A common beginner mistake is to repy with "hai yoroshii desu" but that is wrong because then you are using the honorific form for yourself. The reply would be "hai ii desu" or perhaps "hai, onegaishimasu" which basically would mean "Yes, please."

As you are probably aware nouns are usually made honorific by prefixing them with an "o" or a "go". There are some rules of thumb to determine which words take an o, which take a go and which take nothing at all but like most grammatical rules they are not reliable enough to be counted on and you mostly have to learn by practice.
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