Informal vs Polite Japanese

When speaking Japanese, it is always important to use the appropriate degree of politeness.

There are, broadly speaking, three levels of politeness. We can call these:

  • Informal
  • Polite
  • “Super-polite”

The main difference between each of these comes down to verb forms. There are other differences too, but for the most part, you can vary the politeness of a sentence by simply changing the verb forms.

In this article, we’ll look at how to do that for both simple and complex sentences, as well as a few other things that differ at each level.

We’ll particularly focus on the informal and polite forms because:

  1. the super-polite form is trickier, with a lot more nuance and specific expressions, and
  2. in most situations where a higher degree of politeness is ideal, the regular polite form is usually good enough.

That said, we’ll still touch on the super-polite form to give you a more complete picture of Japanese politeness, but we’ll save the details of the super-polite form for another time.

Another challenge with politeness in Japanese is knowing when to use each form of language. You can find my dedicated article on that topic here.


The term “keigo” is often used to refer to the super-polite form. However, the regular polite form (teineigo) is technically a form of “keigo”, so I’ve chosen not to use it here in order to avoid any possible confusion.

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Politeness is an absolutely essential part of Japanese language and culture. It is always important to communicate with others using an appropriate level of politeness.

This presents two main challenges when trying to learn Japanese:

  1. Knowing when to use each politeness level
  2. Learning how to actually use them

Both of these can be quite difficult, even sometimes for native Japanese speakers.

In this article, we’re going to focus on challenge number one – knowing when to use each politeness level.

A separate article that goes into more detail about how to form sentences that fall into each politeness level is coming soon.

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When to learn Japanese characters

I’ve often said that, as a language, Japanese is simple if approached the right way. It doesn’t need to be as difficult as it is often made out to be.

However, there is no getting around the fact that if you want to read and write Japanese, there are a LOT of characters to learn.

Even if you can save yourself from months or years of confusion by grasping the fundamental grammatical structure of Japanese with a single blog post, you can’t do this with characters or vocabulary.

You need to learn them, practice reading them individually, practice reading them in different combinations, and continue to use them repeatedly until they’re firmly embedded in your long-term memory.

Tools like Anki can help tremendously, but you still need to actually do it.

This raises a few questions…

  • Do I really need to learn hiragana?
  • What about katakana?
  • Do I need to learn kanji too, and if so, how many is enough?

Then there’s the question of when…

  • When should I start learning them?
  • Is it better to dive straight in, or is it better to focus on learning other things first?

All valid questions, and particularly difficult to answer when you’re first starting out.

So, I’m going to try and answer these questions for you so you can make the best decision for yourself based on your personal goals.

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The particle NI in Japanese sentences

The particle “ni”「に」 is extremely common, and a big reason for that is because it has so many applications.

In this article we’re going to look at the three most important uses of the particle “ni”「に」:

For each of these we will look at how and when to use the particle “ni”「に」 in a sentence, common situations when “ni”「に」 is used, as well as some situations where “ni”「に」 isn’t the right particle to choose.

There are other relatively less-common uses of the particle “ni”「に」 that we won’t cover here. However, those can mostly be thought of as adaptations of the above anyway.

You may notice, too, that the above three all relate to defining things in the dimensions of time and space, so there is a connection between them.

In practice, however, it pays to look at each major use individually, so let’s do that!

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Particle "de" in Japanese sentences

The particle “de”「で」 is one of the most useful particles in Japanese as it has two very common uses:

  • To mark the means by which an action is completed
  • To mark the location where an action takes place

In this article, we will take a detailed look at these two main uses of “de”「で」, including when they apply, how to use “de”「で」 in a sentence, as well as a few things to be mindful of when using or encountering “de”「で」.

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