Why is it rude to talk in a formal way to Japanese friends

I’m a big fan of Misa せんせい from YouTube. She is amazing at explaining grammar. However, occasionally she would mention that certain words are too formal and should not be used if you want to sound native (this is not my goal. I just want to learn Japanese and be understood). In one video she even mentions that if you use いえ (no) or はい (yes) with your friends it would be kind of rude because it is too formal. Instead, she says we should use うん (yep) or うんん (no).

She gave an alternative if we don’t want to make the ん sound which is いや (no) but she says this usually is followed by something else: no but…so and so.

I know there is informal, formal, and then saijan level formal (as she puts it in one of those videos Lol) depending on the person with whom we’re speaking. My question is:

Why do many Japanese せんせい say that we shouldn’t use formal speech with people our age or with friends? Is it really that bad? Is it rude? If I talk in a formal way in Spanish or English with my friends, there’s nothing wrong about it. They would look at me funny and laugh but it’s certainly not rude. Similarly, let’s say I’m hanging out with my friends and they introduce me to some friends of them. If I talk formal to them then that’s perfectly acceptable and it is not seemed as weird or off putting.

I’m just trying to understand why this is a big issue for Japanese people. I can understand it is rude if we talk informally to a Japanese person who is older than us, a stranger, or someone of a higher social status. But if it is a friend, someone we already know, or someone our age or younger, would we come off as rude? Are Japanese people forgiven because they know that we are foreign or would they get annoy?


I think it’s due to the fact that you only use informal speech with family and friends. If you’re using formal speech with a friend, it probably implies that you don’t think of them as a friend. Even if you don’t intend it that way, the implication of “we’re not close enough to speak casually” will still be there. As a foreigner that isn’t fluent in the language, you’ll be given a lot more slack on this. As you’ll be expected to make a lot more mistakes with things like politeness and formality.


Tbh I feel like it would be rude if a close friend talked to me formally, like actually seriously and not just a short thing playing around. To me formal language feels very strict and cold and doesn’t allow me to relax around someone. You’d probably get a pass doing it due to Japanese not being your native langauge, but if you really want to get to a higher level and speak like a native Japanese person you really should avoid it in casual situations.


Oh ok. So it’s not like it is rude in the sense of being a rude person. I thought it meant that we are actively being rude to them. I have heard so many people put so much emphasis on when not to be formal that I am paranoid about offending Japanese people when I visit there. But I get it now. Thanks!

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I usually use formal Japanese, and sometimes people on tandem (people that I had just started talking to, so they weren’t even ~online buds~ of any kind…) would get annoyed and tell me to stop using formal forms because it makes me sound weird.
It’s hard to know how seriously you should take random people on the internet, though.

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Yes, I think the same way. I had the wrong idea that being formal around Japanese friends would be akin to actually being disrespectful or coming off as a pedantic or extremely rude person. It’s because being formal (respectful) in Japan is so ingrained in their culture that I was having a hard time making the distinction. I get it now.

Edit: I meant to say respectful; not necessarily formal

Ya this is true in every language that I know of.


I think there’s a much lower expectation of formality online. Though it probably also varies depending on the site. In the same way some people will get mad at you for typing out your sentences fully, instead of using chat shorthand (“your” instead of “ur”).

Not necessarily. In many regions of Colombia, they talk formally around friends. Most South American people will be fine with colombians talking in a formal way to them because they know it’s their culture.

I do understand that talking in a formal way to friends is weird. I think I worded it wrong. I just meant to ask if it’s rude in the sense of being disrespectful instead of just coming off as “distant because we are not really friends”.


I see… I can’t wait to see how much my Japanese will have improved 2 years from now :slight_smile:

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Thank you for everyone for the replies! I get it now that it is just weird and for them you would not be considered a friend but it is not actually rude.

What about just using certain words? For example, why would answering with いえ (no) or はい (yes) be rude if it’s just a simple yes or no answer. I think this is what baffles me.

I see it if we’re constantly being formal around Japanese friends but to the point of using different words for yes or no? If you’re Japanese native— or someone who is— would it really be bad to use いえ (no) or はい (yes)?

To speak very formally to a close friend might seem a bit cold and impersonal. It implies that you don’t know them well enough to speak normally. But if you’re foreign you get a free pass on some social nuance.

Very common words like yes and no get a special sort of slang. To use the full formal version is again a little impersonal.

Oh ok. Does that mean that if I just say いえ (no) or はい (yes) to answer something it could be considered as slang and therefore it wouldn’t be weird?

Saying はい is hardly a big deal, I hear my roommate say it all the time. Hell, my roommate still talks in です・ます occasionally. And there are some people I’ve known for years who just talk that way because that’s just how they normally talk.

In reality the whole thing isn’t a big deal. If you’re talking to someone in Keigo then yes, it’s going to be as if you’re sitting there talking to someone going, “Sir, would you please do me the politeness of…”

The real answer is that most people, especially those not trying to make money off of you on the internet, are unlikely to even think twice about it unless you yourself make a big deal of it.


No sorry i mean that うん is slang. It’s just a sort of easy sound to make signaling your agreement. It’s what sounds most comfortable in casual speech between friends. はい might seem a bit formal in this situation.

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I’ve not lived in Japan, so my advice may be lacking, but I doubt most people are going to be offended if you’re overly polite. They’ll probably just think you’re weird. If you’ve made a friend, they’ll probably tell you if they want you to speak casually with them. If they don’t after a while, try asking. Overall, don’t worry about it too much. It’s something you can only really get used to through experience.

I guess I do see how they would think I’m weird. If someone says to me in English:

Would you do me the immense honor of accompanying me to the nearest beer-selling establishment so that we could share interests, discuss various things about sports, science, or what have you, and perhaps— if the moment is right—share a laugh or two?

Are you up to the task sir?

If said jokingly then this is fine but if someone talks like this all the time then I can see how that would sound very weird Lol


It’s kind of like that but more like when someone’s mad at you and they talk to you in a cold, impersonal way.

Wife: Would you please pass the salt, David.
Husband: Ok, what did I do now?


I know this isn’t exclusively about Youtubers, per se, but one reason you see a lot of videos that make it sound like あなた and はい and です・ます are the worst things you can say to a person in Japanese is because their whole shtick is that you should be learning from them and not from textbooks. They need to give you a reason to click on their videos.

If they explained things reasonably and with nuance, they wouldn’t get those clicks (or so they think).