Kenjogo : Sounding fluent has 2 opposite ends where you either very casual like a young man in their early 20’s, glugging beer with his friends in a bar somewhere  in Shibuya or you can be formal enough to sound like a well seasoned salary man for a huge firm in Ginza. It’s all the same when it comes to sounding native and in this blog, we will discuss the latter.


Quick summary

As you probably already know, formal language or Keigo (敬語; respectful language) is the type of speech used in Japan to show respect and politeness when talking to other people. This form of speech may have the purpose of showing respect and humbling yourself down when talking to someone of a higher status than yourself. It is commonly used in a business setting or a social setting with higher statuses or older people in general. Since Japan is quite known for its culture of respect and politeness, knowing when and who to speak in Keigo to in Japan is quite vital both socially and professionally. There are three main branches of keigo, mainly, Sonkeigo (尊敬語) or the “Honorifics keigo”, Teineigo (丁寧語) the “Polite keigo”, and there is this blogs main topic, Kenjogo (謙譲語) or what we call the “Humble Keigo”. Teneigo shows respect to the listeners, Sonkeigo shows respect to particular people and lastly, Kenjogo form which shows respect to the recipient of your actions. Keigo seems quite difficult to learn but mastering the basics has unknowingly already set you up quite nicely to learn proper Keigo. Remember that Keigo is usually only spoken to specific types of people and shouldnt be spoken unless needed. Speaking straight keigo to random Japanese people might give off the wrong impression!


What is Kenjogo?

True to Keigo fashion, Kenjogo (謙譲語; humble keigo) is a style used when you are speaking to a person of a higher position to yourself about yourself. In a way, it is a way of speech that humbles yourself or people who are close to you down in the eyes of the person you’re talking to, showing them that you acknowledge their higher position compared to yours and that you respect and look up to them. This in turn elevates the position of the person you’re talking to. This is probably the best type of Japanese to use when you are speaking to your boss or maybe even Japanese royalty if it comes to that point. Similarly enough to Sonkeigo and Teineigo, the main point is to show respect so do expect the vocabulary to change form and be in the honorific and polite form! Be careful of who you use it to To be honest, Japanese people do give a little bit of leeway for non Japanese people who try to speak in Keigo so although you would need to be strict with yourself in terms of speaking correctly, do not be scared to make mistakes. Making mistakes usually hinders progress because it prevents the student from speaking. Thus, trial and error will be good for you! Don’t be scared to speak in Kenjogo when the opportunity arises.


Kenjogo basics

Verb conjugations having お or ご + the Polite/dictionary Form + する/します

Similarly to what we’ve learned from Teneigo and Sonkeigo’s conjugations, make sure you know which words are of Japanese origins and Chinese origins. お should be attached to a word of Japanese origin and ご should be used for words with Chinese origin. If you are unsure, take a look at the kanji or look it up! It’s always better to be sure than sorry.

EnglishJapanese (Dictionary form)Japanese (Humble)Japanese (Humble-polite)

Exceptions of the Humble Form verb conjugation

Also similar to the other types of keigo, there are always exceptions to the conjugation rules stated above and we shall discuss them in the table below.  It’s always better to memorize the exceptions because the normal conjugation applies to everything else! We have also added the Sonkeigo/honorific form for reference. 

EnglishJapanese (Dictionary form)Japanese (Honorific)Japanese (Humble )
Come, go行きます・来ますIkimasu/ kimasuいらっしゃいますIrasshaimasu伺います・参りますUkagaimasu/ Mairimasu
Eat, drink食べます・飲みますTabemasu/Nomimasu召し上がりますMeshi agarimasuいただきますItadakimasu
Sleep寝ますNemasuお休みになりますOyasumi ni narimasu
Say言ますImasu仰いますOsshaimasuを申しあげます・と申しますWo moushi agemasu/ to moushimasu
Watch見ますMimasuご覧になりますGoran ni narimasu拝見しますHaikenshimasu
Wear着ますKimasuお召しになりますOmeshi ni narimasu
To receiveくれますKuremasuくださいますKudasaimasu
To giveあげますAgemasu差し上げますSashiagemasu
To receiveもらいますKuremasuいただきますItadakimasu
To meet会いますAimasuお会いになりますOaininarimasuお目にかかりますOmenikakarimasu
<To be>ーですKuremasuーでいらっしゃいますKuremasuーでございますKuremasu

お or ご + Nouns that indicate actions

These versions of the nouns end up becoming action words or verbs. Again, be careful of the word origin! お should be attached to a word of Japanese origin and ご should be used for words with Chinese origin.

EnglishRomajiJapanese (Humble)
Speech/ StoryOhanashiお話
Phone callOdenwaお電話

Kenjogo: Sentence examples

Here are a few examples of sentences that are in Kenjogo form. Remember, Kenjougo humbles yourself and elevates the people you are referring to. For the first example, we are giving respect directly to Mr. Miller.

Mira san no ie ni ukagaimashita.
I went to Mr.Millers house.
Kouen wo arukimashita.
I walked in the park.
Nagai ohanashii ga arimasu
I have a long story to talk to you about.


Learn Japanese Kenjogo with BondLingo?

Study in Japan?


The Japanese Polite Three: Teineigo (Keigo)
Learning the Japanese Keigo: Sonkeigo