A group of co-workers are going out tonight.
Honda: Ikimasen ka. Do you want to go? (lit. ‘Won’t you go?)
Smith: Kyou wa chotto… Today is a little…
Honda: Aa, sou desu ka. Ja, mata.Oh, I see. Well then, next time.
Yamada-san wa? How about you, Mr. Yamada?
Yamada: Watashi wa ikimasu yo. I’m going.
ikimasu いきます 行きます go
ikimasen ka いきませんか行きませんか won’t you go?
kyou きょう 今日 today
chotto ちょっと a little
sou そう so
sou desu ka そうですか Is that so
Yamada やまだ山田 Yamada
watashi わたし 私 I
yo よ Sentence Particle (GN 1-2-4)
＋boku ぼく 僕 I (male speaker)
＋ashita あした tomorrow
＋asatte あさって the day after tomorrow
＋mainichi まいにち毎日 everyday
＋kimasu きます 来ます come
＋kaerimasu かえります 帰ります return, go home, come home
＋dekakemasu でかけます go out
＋yasumimasu やすみます休みます rest, take time off
Negative questions are sometimes used to suggest or invite to do certain actions.
Tabemasen ka Won’t you have some? or Why don’t we eat?
Ikimasen ka. Won’t you go? or Shall we go?
When accepting the invitation, it’s polite to say Doumo or Arigatou gozaimasu.
When turning down the invitation, avoid saying no directly. It’s best to instead leave things ambiguous by saying chotto and sound hesitant by speaking slowly and elongating vowels.
Kore tabemasen ka. Would you like to have some?
Accepting: Arigatou gozaimasu. Ja, chotto itadakimasu.
Thank you. I’ll have a little, then.
Turning down: Iyaa, chottooo… Well…just …
Chotto literally means ‘a little’. However, it is often used as an impact softener during a conversation when less-than favorable information is presented. For example, as explained in GN 1-3-1, it’s polite to just say chotto when rejecting an invitation or request, rather than saying no. The efforts to avoid an unpleasant or awkward situation is evidenced in the frequent use of chotto in Japanese communication. Here are some examples.
- To get attention from others
- To be humble:
When accepting something offered:
Ja, chotto itadakimasu. Then, I’ll take just a little.
When asked if you know something well:
Chotto wakarimasu kedo… I understand a little, but…
- To soften impact:
When making a request
Suimasen. Chotto onegai-shimasu. Excuse me. Can I just ask a favor?
When you do not know the answer to a question:
Chotto wakarimasen nee. I just do not know.
When you suggest taking a break, regardless of the actual length of the break:
Chotto, yasumimasen ka? Shall we take a short break?
When you participate in a Japanese conversation you are expected to give frequent feedback and show that you are engaged. Feedback includes nodding, making facial expressions, and using short expressions such as hai, soo desu ka, aa and others.
All these are called Aizuchi.
You probably hear Japanese speakers use the sentence particle nee frequently and see them nodding equally frequently. Nodding means ‘I’m listening’, but not necessarily means ‘I agree.’ So, don’t just stair and listen with a poker face. Nod, smile, and say:
Aa, soo desu ka.
Watashi ‘I’ is the most common reference to oneself in Japanese, which is probably the safest form to use for beginning learners. Boku is only used by male speakers, and less formal than watashi. Other forms will be introduced later, which have different shades of formality and other elements, and thus require more care in using them.
Unlike English, where the pronoun you is used for the addressee in most cases, there are many ways to address and refer to others in Japanese. To decide how to call a person in Japanese, you need to consider your relationship with the person and the circumstances. Last name + san is most common, but sensei ‘teacher’ and other titles are required to address and refer to people in such positions. Using –san instead of the titles can be rude. First name with or without –san is more informal and used among friends or to those in the subordinate positions. Be extra careful with the word anata ‘you’. Unlike its English equivalent, anata has very limited use, usually for anonymous addressees, and is inappropriate if you know the person’s name or title.
When deciding how to call a person, be conservative. Start with last name + san or a title such as sensei. Switch to more casual alternatives when requested. Be careful about timing. A switch is usually initiated by the superior.
Another caution is to not overuse watashi or any personal reference for that matter. Recall that the subject is not mentioned in Japanese when clearly understood from the context. Overuse of personal reference is one of the most common errors made by foreigners whose native language requires them in a sentence.
Unlike the particle ne(e), which indicates the shared information, the particle yo indicates that the speaker thinks this is new information to the listener. So, it is often used to correct or assure someone. In the dialogue above, Mr. Yamada tries to assure Ms. Honda that he is going by using this particle at the end.
Needless to say, when correcting someone, you need to first make sure that you are in a position to do so, and then do it appropriately.
Cue: Ikimasu ka. Are you going?
Response: Hai, ikimasu. Honda-san mo ikimasen ka.
Yes, I am. Won’t you go, too, Ms. Honda?
Cue: Shimasu ka. Do you do it?
Response: Hai, shimasu. Honda-san mo shimasen-ka.
Yes, I do. Won’t you do it, too, Ms. Honda?
Cue: Ikimasu yo. I’m going.
Response: Aa, sou desu ka. Jaa watashi mo ikimasu. Oh, yea? Well then I’ll go, too.
Cue: Shimasu yo.I’ll do it.
Response: Aa, sou desu ka. Jaa, watashi mo shimasu. Oh, yea? Well, then I’ll do it, too.
Say it in Japanese.
You are talking about events for new employees. You’ve been asked if you are going.
- Yes, I am. How about you (Ms. Honda)?
- Today, I’m not going, but tomorrow, I will.
- No, I’m going home. Won’t you (Ms. Honda) go home, too?
- Today is a bit… I’m sorry.
Invite Ms. Honda to:
- go out today
- write this (a form to fill out)
- read that (a book over there)
- drink this (coffee)
- talk the day after tomorrow
- come (to your house)
Act in Japanese.
- You brought cookies for everyone in your office. Offer them.
- Everyone is enjoying cookies, but Ms. Honda is holding back to be polite. Invite her to eat as well.
- You’ve been asked if you go out often. Down play how much you actually go out.
- Your group has been working hard. Suggest that you take a short break.
- You’ve been offered a food you do not care for. Politely indicate that you do not want it.
- Mr. Yamada has asked you if you read an online newspaper. Tell him that you do everyday, and find out if he does.