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Not being rude in Japan
The Japanese we have learned so far is all well and good if you're 5-years old. Unfortunately, adults are expected to use a politer version of the
language (called 丁寧語) when addressing certain people. People you will probably use 丁寧語 with are: 1) people of higher social rank, and 2) people
you are not familiar with. Deciding when to use which language is pretty much a matter of 'feel'. However, it is a good idea to stick with one form
for each person.
Later (probably much later), we will learn an even politer version of the language called honorific （尊敬語） and humble （謙譲語） form. It
will be more useful than you may think because store clerks, receptionists, and such will speak to you in those forms. But for now, let's concentrate on just
丁寧語, which is the base for 尊敬語 and 謙譲語.
Fortunately, it is not difficult to change casual speech to polite speech. There may be some slight changes to the vocabulary (for example, 'yes'
and 'no' become 「はい」 and 「いいえ」 respectively in polite speech), and very colloquial types of gobi obviously does not go with polite speech.
(Don't worry; we haven't even gone over those yet.) Essentially, the only main difference between polite and casual speech comes at the
very end of the sentence. You cannot even tell whether a person is speaking in polite or casual speech until the sentence is finished.
The stem of verbs
In order to conjugate all u-verbs and ru-verbs into their respective polite forms, we will first learn about the stem of verbs. This is often called
the masu-stem in Japanese textbooks but we will call it just the stem because it is used in many more conjugations than just its masu-form. The stem is
really great because it's very easy to produce and is useful in many different types of grammar.
Rules for extracting the stem of verbs
ru-verbs - Remove the 「る」
例) 食べる → 食べ
u-verbs - The last vowel sound changes from an / u / vowel sound to an / i / vowel sound.
例) 泳ぐ → 泳ぎ
Exceptions - 「する」 becomes 「し」 and 「くる」 becomes 「き」.
The stem when used by itself can be a very
specialized and limited way of creating nouns from verbs. While the 「の」 particle allows you to talk about verbs as if they were nouns, the stem
actually turns verbs into nouns. In fact, in very rare cases, the stem is used more often than the verb itself. For example, the stem of 「怒る」（いかる）
is used more often than the verb itself. The movie, "Fists of Fury" is translated as 「怒りの鉄拳」 and not 「怒る鉄拳」. In fact, 「怒る」 will most likely be read
as 「おこる」, a completely different verb with the same meaning and kanji! There are a number of specific nouns (such as 「休み」)
that are really verb stems that are used like regular nouns. However, in general we cannot take any verb and make it into a noun.
For example, the following sentence is wrong.
（誤） 飲みをする。- (This sentence makes sense but no one talks like this)
However, a useful grammar that works in general for stems of all verbs is using the stem as a target with a motion verb (almost always 「行く」 and
「来る」 in this case). This grammar means, "to go or to come to do [some verb]". Here's an example.
（１） 明日、映画を見に行く。- Tomorrow, go to see movie.
「見に」 is the stem of 「見る」 combined with the target particle 「に」.
The motion target particle 「へ」 sounds like you're literally going or coming to something while the 「に」 particle implies that you are going or coming
for the purpose of doing something.
- Yesterday, friend came to a playing activity. (Sounds a bit strange)
- Yesterday, friend came to play.
The expression 「楽しみにする」 meaning "to look forward to" is formed from grammar similar to this but is a special case and should be
considered a set expression.
Other verbs are also sometimes attached to the stem to create new verbs. For example, when 「出す」 is attached to
the stem of 「走る」, which is 「走り」, you get 「走り出す」 meaning "to break out into a run".
Other examples include 「切り替える」, which
means "to switch over to something else", and 「付け加える」, which means "to add something by attaching it". You can see how the separate
meanings of the two verbs are combined to create the new combined verb. For example, 「言い出す」 means "to start talking";
combining the meaning, "to speak" and "to bring out". There are no general rules here, you need to just memorize these combined
verbs as separate verbs in their own right.
Things that are written in a formal context such as newspaper articles also use the stem as a conjunctive verb.
Using 「~ます」 to make verbs polite
Of course, the reason I introduced the verb stem is to learn how to conjugated verbs into their polite form... the masu-form! The masu-form
must always come at the end of a complete sentence and never inside a modifying subordinate clause. When we learn compound sentences, we will see that
each sub-sentence of the compound sentence can end in masu-form as well.
To conjugate verbs into the masu-form, you attach different conjugations of 「ます」 to the stem depending on the tense. Here is a chart.
A conjugation chart with sample stem 「遊び」
As usual, let's see some examples.
- Tomorrow, go to college.
- You know, met Bob last week.
- Didn't eat dinner, huh?
- About not interesting movies, do not see (them).
Using 「です」 for everything else
For any sentence that does not end in a ru-verb or u-verb, the only thing that needs to be done is to add 「です」 or 「でした」. You can also do this for
Another important thing to remember is
that if there is a declarative 「だ」, it must be removed. In being polite, I guess you can't be so bold as to forwardly declare things the way 「だ」 does.
Just like the masu-form, this must also go at the end of a complete sentence. Here is a chart illustrating the conjugations.
i-adjective (だ cannot be used)
na-adjective/noun (might have to remove だ)
※ Notice in the case of noun/na-adjective only, the past tense becomes 「でした」. A very common mistake
is to do the same for i-adjectives. Remember 「かわいいでした」 is wrong!
As usual, let's see some examples.
- About puppies, like very much. (The most natural translation is that someone likes puppies very much but
there is not enough context to rule out that the puppies like something very much.)
- It was that there was no time yesterday.
- You know, that room is not very quiet.
- Movie saw last week was very interesting.
※ Reality Check
I have heard on a number of occasions that the negative non-past conjugation as given here is not an "officially" correct conjugation. Instead,
what's considered to be a more "correct" conjugation is to
actually replace the 「ないです」 part with 「ありません」. The reasoning is that the polite negative form of the verb
「ある」 is not 「ないです」 but 「ありません」.
「かわいくない」 actually becomes 「かわいくありません」
and 「静かじゃない」 becomes 「静かじゃありません」.
The reality of today's Japanese is that what's supposed to be the "official" conjugation sounds rather stiff and formal. In normal everyday conversations, the conjugation presented here
will be used almost every time. While you should use the more formal conjugations for written works using the polite form, you'll rarely hear it in actual speech.
In conclusion, I recommend studying and becoming familiar with both types of conjugations.
A more formal negative conjugation
（１） その部屋はあまり静かじゃないですよ。- You know, that room is not very quiet.
（２） その部屋はあまり静かじゃありませんよ。- You know, that room is not very quiet.
「です」 is NOT the same as 「だ」
Many of you who have taken Japanese classes have probably been taught that 「です」 is the polite version of 「だ」. However, I want to point some
several key differences here and the reasons why they are in fact completely different things.
It is impossible to fully explain the reasons why they are fundamentally different without discussing grammar that have yet to be covered so I would like to target this
toward those who have already started learning Japanese and have been incorrectly misinformed that 「だ」 is the casual version of 「です」. For the rest of you
new to this, you can easily skip this part.
I'm sure most of you have learned the expression 「そう」 by now. Now, there are four ways to make a
complete sentence using the state-of-being with 「そう」 to produce a sentence that says, "That is so."
Different ways to say, "That is so."
The first 「そう」 is the implied state of being and
「そうだ」 is the declarative. As I've stated before, the non-assuming soft spoken
「そう」 is often used by females while the more confident
「そうだ」 is often used by males.
「そうです」 is the polite version of
「そう」, created by attaching 「です」 to the noun.
「そうです」 is not the polite version of
「そうだ」 where the 「だ」 is replaced by 「です」 and I'll explain why.
Perhaps we wanted to make that sentence into a question instead to ask, "Is that so?" There are several ways to do this but some possibilities are given in the following.
Different ways to ask, "Is that so?"
As I've explained before, the 「だ」 is used to declare what one believes to be a fact. Therefore,
「そうだか？」 is not a valid way to ask a question because it is declaring a fact and asking a question
at the same time. But the fact that 「そうですか」 is a valid question shows that 「です」 and 「だ」 are
essentially different. 「そうです」, in showing respect and humbleness, is not as assertive and is
merely the polite version of 「そう」.
Besides the difference in nuance between 「だ」 and 「です」, another key difference is that 「だ」 is used in many different types of grammar to delineate a
subordinate clause. 「です」, on the other hand, is only used at the end of a sentence to designate a polite state-of-being. For instance, consider the two following
（正） そうだと思います - I think that is so.
（誤） そうですと思います - (Incorrect sentence)
「そうだと思います」 is valid
while 「そうですと思います」 is not
because 「です」 can only go at the end of the sentence. 「です」 can only be in a subordinate clause when it is a direct quote of what someone said such as the following.
In conclusion, replacing 「です」 with 「だ」, thinking one is the polite equivalent of the other or vice-versa will potentially result in grammatically incorrect sentences.
It is best to think of them as totally separate things (because they are).
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