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謙譲語/けんじょうご/Kenjo-go/Type of Honorifics

Continuing from last week, today’s article is again about the Japanese honorific language. This article will focus on 謙譲語/けんじょうご/Kenjo-go.

謙譲語/けんじょうご/Kenjo-go: An expression that shows respect indirectly to the other person you are talking to by lowering the speaker’s own behaviour or condition.

In Japanese, different words are used depending on the speaker’s position. By using different types of honorifics, you can express your respect and politeness. 尊敬語(Sonkei-go) and 謙譲語(Kenjo-go) are used differently according to who is the speaker and who they are talking about (the subject of the sentence).

謙譲語(Kenjo-go): Speaker is in a lower position than the person they are talking to. Used when talking about the speaker’s self.

Types of 謙譲語(Kenjo-go)


A unique form of verbs

The form of Verbs changes completely, sometimes with different kanji. There are no particular rules in this transformation of verbs.

お(o)+Verb+する(suru) or ご(go)+Verb+する(suru)

By adding お(o) or ご(go) to the beginning of the verb, it changes to the form of 謙譲語(Kenjo-go). Examples include お持ちする/おもちする/Omochi suru/To bring and ご提供する/ごていきょうする/Goteikyo suru/To provide.


Nouns that lowers the person or thing represented.

Examples include わたくし/Watakushi, 家内/かない/Kanai, 手前/てまえ/Temae and せがれ/Segare. わたくし(Watakushi) and 手前(Temae) both refer to the speaker’s self and is more polite than using other types of first-person pronouns. 家内(Kanai) is a polite way of addressing the speaker’s wife when talking to people in a higher position. Similarly, せがれ(segare) is a polite way of addressing the speaker’s son.

Adding お(o) or ご(go) at the beginning of the nous that is related to action being done

Examples include ご連絡/ごれんらく/Gorenraku/Contact, お電話/おでんわ/Odenwa/Phone call and ご予約/ごよやく/Goyoyaku/Reservation. Similar to the verbs, adding お(o) or ご(go) to the nouns is also a way of lowering the speaker’s position.

The difference between 尊敬語(Sonkei-go) and 謙譲語(Kenjo-go)

The biggest difference between 尊敬語(Sonkei-go) and 謙譲語(Kenjo-go) is to which person the respect is directed to. If the respect is directed to the person doing the action, then it is 尊敬語(Sonkei-go). If the respect is directed to the person receiving the action, then it is 謙譲語(Kenjo-go).

Example: 言う/いう/iu/To say

先生がおっしゃる/せんせいがおっしゃる/Sensei ga ossharu/Sensei says

→ This one is 尊敬語(Sonkei-go) because 先生(sensei) is taking the action.

先生に申し上げる/せんせいにもうしあげる/せんせいにもうしあげる/I speak to the teacher

→ This is 謙譲語(Kenjo-go) because the speaker is doing the action and 先生(sensei) is the one who receives the action.

Two of them can be very confusing even for native Japanese people. Be sure to learn the characteristics, usage, and examples of each type of honorifics to become proficient in using honorifics.

Momoka Yamaguchi

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