Buying Time With Politeness

When you need time to think, you may be adding in many あの、その、えっと、なんか、なに (the equivalent of like, um, and you know).  While this is all proper Japanese, wouldn’t you rather not have these phrases cluttering up your speech, similar to the way you wish you could probably get rid of these bad habits in English?  I’m sure at least once you’ve sat there and counted how many times someone used the phrase “you know”.

You use these phrases to buy you time to think.  But there is a better solution.  Buy that time with the very respectable formal-polite Japanese.  What you thought to be your enemy in your studies may actually become your new ally.  The longer the sentence, the more time you have to think.

丁寧語(ていねいご, polite Japanese )gives a tiny boost, but 謙譲語(けんじょうご, formal-polite Japanese)is where you really can shine.

For example:

“I want to ask you about . . .”

聞(き)きたいけど   (casual)
聞(き)きたいですが (polite)
お伺(うかが)いしたいですけれども (formal-polite)

With formal-polite, you have just given yourself an extra second to formulate the actual question.  While one second probably doesn’t seem like a lot of time, it makes a big difference in processing a thought.  This is  similar to the way that “umm” is merely a second, yet it gives you that extra moment to move on.

Let’s look at it in reality:

Phrase: I just want to ask you, are you cheating on me?

talking . . . . . thinking . talking . . . . .
talking . . . . .thinking . . . . talking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

One more example:

“Is Mr. Yamamoto here?”


Let’s combine this phrase with the previous phrase to get double thinking time!

Phrase:  Is Mr. Yamamoto here?  I heard he’s cheating on his wife.

talking . . . . . thinking . talking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . thinking
talking . . . . thinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . talking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . thinking . . . . . .

As you can tell from the above example, in a situation where you especially need time, you want your Japanese to sound the best it can.

Remember that since this is formal-polite Japanese, you probably don’t want to use it with your friends and family.  However, even in casual situations, you can use formal Japanese to show passive aggressiveness, and that you want to distance yourself from them.

Formal-polite Japanese can be difficult at first.  But once you get used to it, it is no different then any other type of Japanese.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


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