Notes on Formality

There are many different way to say things in Japanese, and one of the ways you decide which one to use is how formal or polite you want to be. Here's some basic information on formality in requests and apologies...


The basic form of a request starts with the positive or the ~ないで (-nai de) negative -te form of a verb, then adds some form of a verb that makes the question mean something like "will you ... for me?" or "may I recieve ... ?". The most basic attachment is ください (kudasai), making a basic request look like ~てください (-te kudasai). There are, however, many more verbs and verb forms that can be used, which affect the formality and tone of the request. Here's a list of some common ones, in kana, in the approximate order of politeness from most polite to least, with the positive, negative, and root forms listed. Requests most often use the negative forms (perhaps to avoid appearing too eager?), but the positive forms also get some use.

Negative formPositive formRoot verb
いただけません (itadakemasen) いただけます (itadakemasu) いただく (itadaku)
くださいません (kudasaimasen) くださいます (kudasaimasu) くださる (kudasaru)
もらえません (moraemasen) もらえます (moraemasu) もらう (morau)
ください (kudasai) * くださる (kudasaru)
くれません (kuremasen) くれます (kuremasu) くれる (kureru)
もらえない (moraenai) もらえる (moraeru) もらう (morau)
くれない (kurenai) くれる (kureru) くれる (kureru)
くれ (kure) ** くれる (kureru)

* ください, the command form of くださる (which remains polite because くださる is honorific), has only one form. Actually, that's not quite true. The alternate command form くだされ (kudasare) and the longer form くださいませ (kudasaimase) are also used, but not as often.

** くれ, the stem of くれる, has only one form. At this point, it's also closer to a demand than a request.

Note that いただく and もらう ("I recieve from someone") are used in the potential form, while くださる and くれる ("someone gives me") are not. This makes the literal translations of the requests roughly "Can I recieve this favor?" and "Will you do this for me?"

もらうmay also be used in the base form, though this makes it less of a request and more of an instruction with the expectation that you're going to do it. 「説明してもらうか」 (setsumei shite morau ka) → "Care to explain?" (you'd better if you know what's good for you).

ちょうだい (choudai) may also be used like this, in place of one of the above verbs, but I'm not sure where it fits on the formality scale. It's also more often used by women and children than by men.

Also refer to the polite requests section of the verb auxiliaries page.


The basic form of an apology starts with the positive or the ~なくて (-nakute) -te form of a verb followed by some kind of apologetic word. The most basic attachment is すみません (sumimasen), making a basic apology look like ~てすみません (-te sumimasen). There are, however, many more words that can be used, which affect the humbleness of the apology. Here's a list of some common ones, in the approximate order of politeness from most polite to least.

These may also be used on their own, and also appear in the past tense fairly often.

The first two literally mean "there is no excuse", suggesting that no apology is good enough. The last one means "bad" or "wrong", and is a lot like saying "my bad".

Another possible way to apologize is to use a form of the verb 謝る (ayamaru), which translates to "[I] apologize."

The various forms of すみません also come up in situations where an English speaker would tend to expect a "thank you" instead, with a meaning similar to "I'm sorry to trouble you."

As in English, apologies can be said sarcastically. A good example is when Akane yells at Ranma (with a biting emphasis on the 'ka'), 「わるかったわね、不器用で!」 (Warukatta wa ne, bukiyou de!) → "Well excuuuse me for being clumsy!"