Keigo: Sonkeigo : Being fluent has never been so polite! Being respectful and polite is a big telltale sign of a Japanese native speaker, every Japanese students dream. Practicing and being informed are the first few steps to mastering Japanese.

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What is Keigo?

Keigo (敬語; respectful language) is the polite or formal way of Japanese speech. This can be used when talking to people that are of higher social status or someone with power. Keigo is usually used for teachers, employers, elders, clients, customers… you get the jist. Japan is quite known for how polite and respectful the culture is so knowing keigo will be beneficial for people who would want to settle down and gain employment in Japan. This will be quite useful for foreigners who wish to someday work in a Japanese company where Japanese is used as their main tool for communication. Although it sounds quite easy to tell the difference between formal and informal Japanese, keigo is quite understandably more complicated to learn compared to informal Japanese. There are three different types of Keigo and we will be discussing Sonkeigo for this blog.


What is Sonkeigo?

Sonkeigo (尊敬語、そんけいご) or the honorifics keigo is used when you are talking to or talking about a superior or person in a position of power. This can mainly be used to your boss, a senior at work, elders or maybe even customers. Essentially, this can be heard in a business setting or formal introductions/conversations with people who are of a higher status than yourself. Because this is a form of speech used for people of higher status, you should never use this for yourself or for close family members. This would make you sound too formal or a bit 変(hen: strange). 

Sonkeigo basics

Attaching ーお and ーご before nouns

Similar to Teineigo, Sonkeigo uses the prefixes, ーお and ーご for adjectives and nouns to show respect and politeness to the person you are talking to.

EnglishJapanese (Casual)Japanese (Polite)
Fine, healthy, lively元気Genkiお元気Ogenki

All verbsconjugation (お+ますstem+になる/になります)

Verbs in their sonkeigo form uses o as a prefix, omits the masu at the end of the verb and replaces it with “になる”, or the “polite” honorific version, “になります”. Although there are a few exceptions (which we will discuss later), most verbs use this conjugation.

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

Verb exception conjugations

Every rule has its exception and for Sonkeigo conjugation rules, there’s definitely more than one. There are no actual rule that applies to them since it depends on the actual word itself. To make it easier for students, it is easier to memorize the verb exceptions rather than the normal verb conjugation “になる”. In situations where you would like to ask someone (of higher status than you) to do something for you, you can change the formula to (お+ますstem+ください).

Learning the Japanese Keigo: Sonkeigo for intermediate level | Learn Japanese Online
EnglishJapanese (Dictionary form)Japanese (Honorific)Japanese (Honorific-polite)
Come, go行きます・来ますIkimasu/ kimasuいらっしゃるIrassharuいらっしゃいますIrasshaimasu
Eat, drink食べます・飲みますTabemasu/Nomimasu召し上がるMeshi agaru召し上がりますMeshi agarimasu
Sleep寝ますNemasuお休みになるOyasumi ni naruお休みになりますOyasumi ni narimasu
Watch見ますMimasuご覧になるGoran ni naruご覧になりますGoran ni narimasu
Wear着ますKimasuお召しになるOmeshi ni naruお召しになりますOmeshi ni narimasu
To receiveくれますKuremasuくださるKudasaruくださいますKudasaimasu

Here is a sample sentence comparing the normal polite form and the sonkeigo form.


Tabete kudasai.
Please eat.


Meshi agatte kudasai.
Please eat.

Alternative: Passive form (ーれる)

This form of verbs is an alternative to the above verb form. For this version of verbs, there are no exceptions and are exactly the same as the passive forms of verbs. This form is more frequently used compared to the above forms because although it is formal, it is less formal than the conjugations above.

EnglishJapanese (Dictionary form)Japanese (Honorific)/Passive
Throw (away)捨てますSutemasu捨てられるSuterareru

Sample sentences

Here are a few examples of sentences where Sonkeigo is applied. 

Honnin no namae wo gozonji desu ka?
Do you know that person's name?
Honjitsu oyasumi desu ka?
Is it your day off today?
Watashi wa ashita made omachi ni narimasu.
I will wait until tomorrow.
Mai ban nan ji ni oyasumi ni narimasu ka?
What time do you sleep everyday?

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