The other day I went over many ways to say thank you, so it only makes sense to cover please as well. Today’s lesson is going into depth on how to say please in Japanese.
If you’re planning on visiting Japan this year, or next, then this should in the top ten words you MUST know!
You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish by using body language (pointing, gestures, etc.) along with please and thank you in Japanese.
Let’s see the many different ways to say it, and the situations that are appropriate for each one.
1. 下さい (kudasai)
The first way to say please in Japanese that I wanted to cover today is 下さい (kudasai) which is usually just written in hiragana as ください instead of with its 下 kanji. However, you’ll see it both ways, so now you know what it looks like.
This word can easily be understood to mean please give me or please do for me and is something that you will probably hear and use every single day in Japanese.
I wanted to provide some example sentences that help to show both of these potential meanings so that they are easier to understand, so let’s get into some of them right now.
Please give me that.
sore o kudasai.
Please give me a copy of the document.
shorui no kopī o kudasai.
I’ll have green tea, please.
ocha o kudasai.
In this first usage of ください, all you really have to do is first state the noun that you want, followed by the (w)o-particle and then ください.
With this pattern of “NOUNをください” you can ask for virtually anything you can think of.
If you then combine it with words like これ (kore) for “this” and それ (sore) for “that” then you don’t even have to know the names of the things you want. You can simply point to or show them to the person listening.
Let’s move on to the second way we can use kudasai.
Please sit down.
Please lend (it) to me.
Please listen to what I’m saying!
hanashi o kiite kudasai yo!
Any time you want to ask a person to perform some sort of action, you can use the verb in combination with ください in order to politely say “please do this thing.”
Now here’s the trick, you have to put the verb (the action you want the other person to do) into its te-form before combining it with ください.
If you’re not sure how to correctly conjugate a particular verb, then I recommend you enter it into Jisho.org and then press the Show inflections button on the left-hand side. This ought to bring up a list that will show many different forms of the verb.
Here is an example for the verb “to drink” which is 飲む (nomu):
Using this online dictionary, it’s pretty easy to find the right form which you can then use for the phrase.
2. 頂戴 (chōdai)
In Japanese, there are a lot of different words that all get translated into the same English word when you plop them into a dictionary or translator.
It used to frustrate me to no end, because I could never figure out why Japanese had three words, when we only had the one in English. Furthermore, I never knew when I should use one form or the other in any given situation.
This is a common problem that a lot of beginners run into, and the confusion can actually be cleared up pretty quickly with a good explanation.
In fact, that’s what today’s lesson is all about!
This next phrase we are going to learn is essentially the same as ください, expect that it is the informal version of it.
The word I’m talking about is 頂戴 (chōdai) which can be spelled a couple ways such as the one that you just saw, or in all hiragana as ちょうだい, or even an alternate kanji spelling as in 頂だい.
Generally speaking through, it is almost always written completely in hiragana.
So, if you read all about ください in Section-1 of this article, then you should already know how to use and understand ちょうだい.
Please give me a bite (of that)!
hito kuchi chōdai!
The difference between these two forms of the words is that ください is the standard, polite way, while ちょうだい is the informal way which you would be more likely to use with close friends and family.
One final difference is that ちょうだい is used by Japanese women much more often than Japanese men, so if you are a guy then it might be safer to stick with ください to avoid sounding too feminine when you speak Japanese.
3. お願いします (onegai shimasu)
Now we get to the other major way to say please in Japanese (the first one was ください).
The word for this part is お願いします (o negai shimasu) and it if you were to translate it into English literally, it would sound something like “I request you to do me an honorable favor.”
However, お願いします is pretty much a set phrase at this point because it gets used frequently in Japanese for all sorts of different situations.
The most common situation is where you are entrusting a matter to someone else, or you are counting on them to do something (a good job, be there on time, etc.) and you end the encounter with お願いします.
One more please, please (while they take your photo).
mō ichi mai onegai shimasu
Some wine, please.
wain o o-negai shimasu
Now this last example could have switched out ください for お願いします and it essentially would have meant the same thing, but there are subtle differences between these two words.
The word ください is considered sonkeigo which means “honorific language” and its purpose is to elevate the position of the listener. That is, the person whom you are speaking with.
The word お願いします is considered kenjougo which means “humble language” and its purpose is to lower the position of the speaker. In other words, you are bringing your own position down when using it (and thus indirectly elevating the other person).
So here’s the big takeaway when it comes to these two words:
There are many times when you can use them interchangeable. The most common example is any time when you are asking for a thing, like a drink.
Besides that commonality between the two, there are notable differences that you should be aware of. For example, you should only use the te-form of verbs with ください (or ちょうだい).
On the flip side of things, there are many phrases where お願いします is an indispensable part and nothing else will do. A good example is when you meet someone for the first time.
It’s nice to meet you (literally: please treat me favorably)
yoroshiku o negai shimasu
Another common situation is where someone says that they are going to do something, and you just want to say something along the lines of “yeah, please do that. It would be really great of you.”
In these cases, you can simple say お願いします with enthusiasm as your reply.
Really? Well then, yes please!
hontō desu ka? jā, o negai shimasu!
Keep this understanding of the word in your mind, and then pay attention to how it is used in native materials such as books or shows to really get a feel for when you should be using it too.
4. どうぞ (dōzo)
You know how in movies when someone enters the house of a rich person and the butler shows them around and then says something like “Please make yourself comfortable while the master returns.”
Well that type of “please” where you are essentially giving people permission to do something uses a specific word in Japanese.
The word is どうぞ (dōzo) and it is also a pretty handy one to know.
It can have some other usages, like when a person brings you something that is yours (like a meal, or your belongings) to you, they will typically use it.
Here’s your coat.
anata no kōto o dōzo.
But for the context of this article, we can just focus on those situations where it equals the English please.
This way please (when showing the way to someone).
kochira e dōzo.
Please, come in.
dōzo, o hairi kudasai.
Hey, check it out! We used two words for please in that last one!
You can never be too polite in Japanese (^_^)b
One interesting phrase that どうぞ is a regular part of is when giving a present to someone. The standard phrase to use literally says “This is a boring thing, but please (accept it anyway).”
Please accept this gift.
tsumaranai mono desu kedo, dōzo.
5. プリーズ (puriizu)
And of course I just had to end the list with the English loan word プリーズ (puriizu) which is basically the exact same word, expect that you replace the English “L” with the Japanese “R” and then pronounce each katakana like the Japanese do.
This final word I hardly hear used at all. If I were you, I’d save this one as a last resort. Or if you’re joking around when using it, that’s probably fine.
But the first four are really where the money’s at when it comes to saying please in Japanese.
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: