How do I use Keigo?

I understand that keigo is polite Japanese, however I’m not sure when to use it. I know the basic ‘use keigo when you need to be polite’, but I’m not sure how you would speak about yourself or others. For example, if you were speaking to a superior, but said something like ‘I am going to eat’, would you still use keigo even if you were talking about yourself? What about if you said ‘He is going to eat’?

There are 3 basic categories of keigo.

丁寧語 (ていねいご) - Polite language

This is mostly characterized by using ます and です. It doesn’t confer humility or respect, only politeness.

尊敬語 (そんけいご) Respectful language

This is used to elevate the position of the listener, or another third party who the speaker wishes to confer respect upon.

謙譲語 (けんじょうご) Humble language

This lowers the position of the speaker, or things close to the speaker (one’s own family, company, etc).

Here’s a good playlist on keigo.


Think what broke my mind was discovering that you don’t have to use both 丁寧語 and 尊敬語 at the same time - if you’re speaking to a friend about a superior, you’d use 尊敬語 verbs, but in plain form…


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