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We Japanese use many honorifics in conversation.
It is said that the idea of using honorifics came from the Japanese culture of honoring/showing respect to superior ones.
If you are planning to visit or stay in Japan, knowing how to use basic honorifics will help you make good relationships with locals. Here are some of the commonly used honorifics that you should know!
4 most commonly used honorifics (suffixes)
These 4 major honorific suffixes are attached to the end of names. They can be added either the first or last name, and are used to refer to the person one is talking to or a third person in speech.
They are hardly ever used to refer to oneself (except when trying to be arrogant or cute using -Sama or -Chan).
Calling someone without the honorific suffix is called Yobisute.
People usually use Yobisute if they are talking about someone who is close like a friend, one’s spouse, younger family, and younger person/social inferior (such as new co-workers, younger students, etc).
As a sign of the close relationship, some people prefer to be called without honorifics. However, dropping them is a sign of informalities and not preferred at workplaces. Below are the 4 major honorific suffixes.
It is the most common of the 4 as it is a gender neutral (and often used for adults). If you are not sure what to call someone politely, you can simply add this at the end of the person’s name. It can be used to talk about a business/workplace/animal/ politely (such as Sushiya-san/Sushi restaurant) as well.
It is used to talk about someone who is respectful or of a higher rank, and is a very polite word. Also, it is used toward one’s guests or customers (they are called お客様/Okyaku-sama. It is the most commonly used -sama in regular conversation). Christian God and Shinto “Kami” are referred to as Kami-sama.
It is used to express that the speaker finds a person/animal charming or cute. It is commonly used for babies, young children (especially for girls), friends, lovers, and adorable female. It is not usually used for adults so it can be seen as offensive if you use.
It is generally used for males, often to refer to younger ones like male children or teenagers (or among them when they call each other).If it is used for an adult male, it can mean that the speaker finds the male charming/cute.
Although it is not common, it can be used for females. Calling a female with Kun is not insulting, and it is often more respectful than -Chan.
Common honorifics used in a company are 係長/Kakari chou :Subsection Chief, 課長/Ka chou :Section Chief, 部長/Bu chou :General manager, 社長/Sha chou :President, 会長/Kai chou :Chairman. As you can see, they are used to refer to a specifically ranked person.
先輩(Senpai), 後輩(Kouhai), 先生(Sensei) are used in school (Senpai and Kouhai can also be used in a workplace as well).
Senpai is used to refer to one’s senior in a social circle, and Kouhai is for younger(when calling a senior, people use -Senpai at the end of the person’s name, but don’t use -Kouhai when calling someone younger. Instead, -Kun/Chan or Yobisute are normally used). Sensei means teacher or one with a lot of knowledge. More about Senpai, Kouhai, please refer to https://hidanotaka.com/japanes-student/
お/O- and ご/Go- prefixes are used for nouns/verbs to call them politely or make the sentence polite. (お茶/O-cha : Tea, お水/O-mizu : Water, ご家族/Go-kazoku : Family, ご覧になる/Go-ranninaru : (He/She) takes a look at something, etc).
You may find it a little confusing at first, but just knowing them will help you understand how people are treating each other.
Even for a foreigner, -San can be normally used to make it polite so don’t be surprised to be called with -San.
Peple are very friendly here, so you don’t have to be too scared about making mistakes. Just have fun learning Japanese and enjoy communicating with locals!
See you next time!