第11課: Copular Sentences II: Polite Speech コピュラ文（丁寧体）
Whereas Lesson 10 was about how to make basic copular sentences in plain speech, this lesson will be about making those same sentences in polite speech. Although this is the typical starting point in most people’s language instruction, the reason why we are seeing this second is to follow a learning pattern that matches the language acquisition of native speakers.
Polite speech (teineigo 丁寧語) is actually quite difficult to master. The first struggle is knowing when to use polite speech. Polite speech is used in most everyday interactions with people who are neither family nor close friends. Polite speech, at times, can also be used to distance oneself from one’s listener(s), and it is frequently used to set formality. For instance, the majority of news articles are written in polite speech just as how the news would be given on air.
Before jumping into the main discussion, let’s recap with the grammar terms you need to have down.
- Subject: The person/thing that performs the action or exhibits the description found in the predicate.
- Predicate: The part of a sentence that makes a statement about the subject.
- Copula: A word used to link the subject and predicate of a sentence.
- Noun: In its most basic definition, a word that refers to a person, place, thing, event, substance, or quality.
- Auxiliary: An ending that helps construct verbal conjugations.
- Independent Clause: A phrase that stands alone as a complete sentence.
- Plain Speech: Jōtaigo 常体語 refers to the entire plain speech register in Japanese grammar.
- Plain Style: Jōtai 常体 is the plain speech rendition of any given phrase.
- Plain Form: Kihonkei 基本形 is the basic form of any given phrase: a.k.a, its plain form.
- Polite Speech: Teineigo 丁寧語 refers to the entire polite speech register in Japanese grammar.
- Polite Style: Teineitai 丁寧体 is the rendition of polite speech with any particular phrasing.
- Polite Form: Teineikei 丁寧形 refers to polite speech conjugations.
The rule of thumb is that the longer a phrase is, the politer it is. Meaning, if there are two or more options when conjugating for something in polite speech, the longer phrase will always be the politer version.
The Copula Verb Desu です
Just like its plain form da だ, desu です attaches directly after nouns and can be translated as “is,” “are,” “to be,” “will be,” etc. The basic noun-predicate sentence in polite speech, thus, is “X wa は Y desu です.”
Aside from です being used in different social environments than だ, there aren’t any other differences between the two when the predicates they are a part of consists of them and nouns. In Lesson 14, we’ll learn a crucial difference between them regarding their relation or lack thereof with adjectives, but for the time being, we’ll focus on learning more words with grammar that should already be familiar.
Pronunciation Note: In Standard Japanese, the “u” sound in です is typically devoiced. However, devoicing is less likely to happen in more formal sentences.
The Non-Past Form (Polite) 非過去形（丁寧体）
The non-past form (hikakokei 非過去形) covers the same semantic range as English’s present (genzaikei 現在形 ) and future tenses (miraikei 未来形), but it is imperative that some form of context is included in the sentence or greater context for a future sentence to be interpreted as such. For instance, phrases like “at 10 AM,” “surely,” etc. used in conjunction with any verbal phrase will cause it to be read as the future tense rather than the present tense. Since we have already seen how this works with だ, our goal will mostly be to try to learn more new words while also getting used to using です.
Terminology Note: The non-past polite form です would never be referred to as the kihonkei 基本形 (base form) as that role is held by だ. Rather, to say ”non-past polite form,” you would say hikako-no-teineikei 非過去の丁寧形.
Koko wa jinja desu.
This place here is a Shinto shrine.
Rii-san wa Taiwanjin desu.
[Mr./M(r)s.] Lee is Taiwanese.
Anata deban desu!
Hey you, [you’re up/it’s your turn].
Phrase Note: あなた出番です！ was once even the name of a popular variety show in the 1960s. 出番 means “turn” and the phrase in Ex. 3 essentially tells the person that it’s their time on stage. The use of あなた here is more like “hey you.” If you wanted to more literally say, “it’s your turn,” you would say, anata no deban desu あなたの出番です.
Etto, ano hito wa Nihonjin desu.
Um, that person over there is Japanese.
Phrase Note: えっと, also eeto ええと is one of the ways to say “um/uh” in Japanese. Another common way is ano あの, which has a rising then following intonation. It is often elongated as anō, which has several different spellings are pronounced the same way: あのう・あのー・あのぉ .
Sore wa hebi desu yo.
That’s a snake.
Grammar Note: The use of それ instead of あれ indicates that the snake is closer to the listener than the speaker. Or, it could indicate that the speaker and listener are looking at a photo of a snake that is unknown to the listener.
Grammar Note: The particle yo よ is a final particle. Final particles indicate various emotions at the end of the sentence, and they don’t alter conjugations that precede them. よ is used to indicate information that the speaker thinks is new to the listener. Try not to overuse it, though, as it may give the impression that you’re downplaying the listener’s intelligence.
Pronunciation Note: The “u” in desu yo ですよ is actually fully pronounced because the vowel is being followed by a voiced sound, the consonant y.
Hai, sō desu.
Yes, that’s right.
Grammar Note: Sō そう is an adverb meaning “so,” although the coincidence really just ends there. It often stands for “that is so” and may also indicate degree as in “like that.” In Ex. 6, though, it’s just a typical adverb literally meaning “so” modifying the very verb-like です.
Phrase Note: Hai はい is the Japanese equivalent to “yes” in “yes/no” contexts, but a lot of the time it is simply used to indicate that one is listening to the speaker. This is a cultural practice expected of listeners, so you may have noticed this before in anime or watching Japanese speakers interact. We’ll take a closer look at this word and other similar phrases later on.
As can be deduced from the examples, English also shows fluctuation between “is” and “will be” in certain contexts, especially when referencing established dates.
Sotsugyōshiki wa konshū desu.
Graduation [is/will be] this week.
Kaigō wa ashita desu.
The assembly [is/will be] tomorrow.
Shūryōbi wa mokuyōbi desu.
The end date [is/will] be Thursday.
Mō sugu desu.
It’ll be soon.
Grammar Note: Mō sugu もうすぐ is also an adverb, but the grammar is the same as in Ex. 6.
Omitting Desu です
Because です marks politeness, it is rarely ever removed from the sentence, but it is not unconceivable to think of contexts in which its absence is warranted. If the speaker and listener are on respectful but familiar terms, it is at times possible to hear です get dropped. Great care must be taken, however, to insure that the resultant phrase is not too direct as it is です that provides that cushion.
Sore wa issho (desu).
That’s the same.
Grammar Note: Issho is an adjectival-noun which usually means “together,” but here it is used in its second most used meaning “same/identical.” We’ll learn more about adjectival-nouns in Lesson 15, but grammatically the function just like nouns.
The Past Tense (Plain/Polite) 過去形（常体・丁寧体
The past tense form of desu です is deshita でした. As you can see, the ending -TA makes its appearance once more. Let’s recap our tense conjugations of the copulas だ and です.
|だ (plain)||だった (plain)|
|です (polite)||だったです △ (polite, dialectal)|
△: This symbol indicates unnatural but not necessary ungrammatical speech.
Variation Note: Some speakers use datta desu だったです instead of deshita でした, but this is deemed incorrect by most native speakers, and it is dialectal at best. As such, it is always best to use deshita でした.
Nihonjin wa futari deshita.
There were two Japanese people.
Grammar Note: The “there” in the English sentence is a filler subject for which there is no Japanese equivalent.
Chūgokujin wa hitori deshita.
There was one Chinese person.
Ano otoko wa keisatsukan deshita.
That man was a policeman.
Grammar Note: It isn’t always the case that the past tense should be taken literally. In this example, the likely context has it that the speaker is simply telling the listener the occupation of a man they saw. The same goes for Ex. 17 below.
This has been the news.
Grammar Note: In Japanese, the past tense form also extends to perfect tenses (completion).
Are wa tero deshita.
That was terrorism.
Ano ko wa otoko-no-ko deshita.
That child was a boy.
The Negative Forms (Plain/Polite) 否定形（常体・丁寧体）
When creating the negative form–“isn’t/aren’t”–in polite speech, you have two routes at your disposal with the longest of the two being the politer form.
The first method, which takes the least amount of effort, involves simply attaching です to [de wa/ja] nai 【では・じゃ】ない. Essentially, you are following a form of the copula with another form of the copula. Remember that じゃ is the contracted form of では. Most grammarians agree that this です functions solely as a politeness-marking marker and that the overall construction is, thus, no longer two copulas put together.
The second method involves replacing ない with its proper polite form, which is arimasen ありません. The resultant de wa arimasen ではありません is considerably politer, and its contracted form ja arimasen じゃありません is still on par with a similar level of politeness. Do note, though, that if you are speaking to someone important, avoiding contractions altogether when possible is usually a good call.
|だ (plain)||だった (plain)||じゃない (plain, casual)|
|です (polite)||だったです △ (polite, dialectal)||ではない (plain)|
|でした (polite)||じゃないです (polite, casual)|
|ではないです (polite, casual)|
|じゃありません (polite, spoken)|
△: This symbol indicates unnatural but not necessary ungrammatical speech.
Etymology Note: You may be wondering how one gets ありません out of ない. The answer to this is that you don’t. ある is the basic existential verb in Japanese, embedded in the etymologies of all copular phrases. ない, on the other hand, had always existed as the antonym of ある. As for, ありません, this form comes about from ある’s polite form, あります, being conjugated into its negative form.
In polite written language, contractions are avoided, meaning that じゃないです and じゃありません are both more likely to appear in conversation than in documents.
Watashi wa chūgakusei de wa nai desu.
I am not a junior high student.
Kanojo wa o-isha-san de wa nai desu.
She is not a doctor.
Kare wa kōkōsei de wa nai desu.
He is not a high school student.
Kenta-kun wa shōgakusei ja nai desu.
Kenta-kun isn’t an elementary student.
Grammar Note: –kun 君 is often added affectionately to male names. Ironically, it is also used in the sense of “Sir/Madam” in parliamentary speech.
Are wa ōkami ja nai desu.
That isn’t a wolf.
Kare wa giin de wa arimasen.
He is not a legislator.
Hanada-san wa daigakusei de wa arimasen.
Mr. Hanada is not a college student.
Are wa nisemono de wa arimasen.
That is not a fake.
Kare wa eiyū ja arimasen.
He isn’t a hero.
Sore wa machigai ja arimasen.
That isn’t a mistake.
Iie, sō ja arimasen.
No, that isn’t so.
The Negative-Past Forms (Plain/Polite) 過去の否定形（常体・丁寧体）
The same two routes to make the negative each have their own past tense form. Just as before, the shorter forms are viewed as being less polite than the longer forms.
To make the casual polite 【じゃ・では】ないです into the past tense, you conjugate nai ない to nakatta なかった, resulting in [dewa/ja] nakatta desu【じゃ・では】なかったです.
To make the politer negative forms【じゃ・では】ありません into the past tense, you attach でした to ありません, resulting in ありませんでした. This conjugation is very exceptional and doesn’t follow typical verb conjugation norms. This is because the ん is a relic of older grammar, and so simply attaching でした which already has the past tense accounted for it was thought of as the best way to modernize the expression.
Now that we’ve added the negative past forms to our arsenal, let’s include them into our conjugation chart.
|だ (plain)||だった (plain)||じゃない (plain, casual)||じゃなかった(plain, casual)|
|です (polite)||だったです △ (polite, dialectal)||ではない (plain)||ではなかった (plain)|
|でした (polite)||じゃないです (polite, casual)||じゃなかったです(polite, casual)|
|ではないです(polite, spoken)||ではなかったです(polite, spoken)|
|じゃありませんでした (politer, spoken)|
|ではありません (formal)||ではありませんでした (formal)|
Kinō wa yasumi de wa nakatta desu.
Yesterday was not a holiday.
Kinō wa Nichiyōbi de wa nakatta desu.
Yesterday was not Sunday.
Sore wa goendama de wa nakatta desu.
That wasn’t a five-yen coin.
Kore wa mogi shiken ja nakatta desu.
This wasn’t a mock exam.
Jōdan ja nakatta desu yo.
It wasn’t a joke.
Kiseki ja nakatta desu yo.
It wasn’t a miracle.
(Soko wa) shokudō de wa arimasendeshita.
(That/it) was not a diner.
Tanaka-san wa sensei de wa arimasendeshita.
Mr. Tanaka was not a teacher.
Oda-san wa jūmin de wa arimasendeshita.
Mr. Oda was not a resident.
Hirugohan wa onigiri ja arimasendeshita.
Lunch wasn’t onigiri.
Sore wa kōhii ja arimasendeshita.
That wasn’t coffee.
Are wa saru ja arimasendeshita.
That wasn’t a monkey.
In Conclusion 最後に…
This lesson demonstrates how polite speech is rather complicated in that the nature of polite speech has resulted in variation that reflects how far one is trying to be polite. This is similar to how English speakers watch how they word things in polite situations with the primary difference being that politeness level has a direct impact in conjugation in Japanese.
Perhaps the most important grammar note to be had about polite speech is how one never marks a word with です in the middle of a sentence. Better yet, no polite verbal ending is meant to be used anywhere but the end of the sentence. This principle will prevent a lot of mistakes for you as a beginner.
Our next lessons will focus on two of the most important particles that have already made their way into the basic examples used thus far, and then after that, we’ll return to learning more about conjugation!