Language | WELL SAID

When it comes to you and your group, keep your verbs humble

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Kono ken-ni tsukimashite-wa, watashi-ga go-setsumei-shimasu (Let me explain (to you) about this matter)

Situation 1: At a meeting, division head Ms. Yamani asks section chief Mr. Okubo about a new project.

ヤマニ: このプロジェクトは、今、どのくらい進んでいますか。

大久保: あ、この件につきましては、私がご説明します。

Yamani: Kono purojekuto-wa, ima, dono-kurai susunde-imasu-ka?

Okubo: A, kono ken-ni tsukimashite-wa, watashi-ga go-setsumei-shimasu.

Yamani: How is the project going now?

Okubo: Well, let me explain about this matter.

Continuing from last week, we will introduce another kind of 敬語 (けいご, polite expression) called “humble expression,” whereby the speaker lowers their own action or state and lifts the state of the person to whom the speaker is seeking to show respect. The action or state should be one that is directly concerned with the other person, as in 10時(じゅうじ)に御社(おんしゃ)にうかがいます。(“I’ll come to your office at 9.”). Thus, a sentence such as 私(わたし)は5時(ごじ)の新幹線(しんかんせん)にお乗(の)りします (I get on the 5 o’clock shinkansen.) would be wrong. There are some special humble verbs, such as うかがいます (to go, come, ask), もうしあげます (to say, tell), はいけんします (to look, read), いたします (to do), ぞんじあげています (to know), お目(め)にかかります (to meet) and いただきます (to receive). Example: 企画書(きかくしょ)を興味深 (きょうみぶか)く拝見(はいけん)しました。 (“We read your proposal and found it interesting.”) Other verbs are used in the form of おX (X = verb in masu-form without masu) する/します/いたします, as in お話(はな)しします(to talk). Examples: お荷物(にもつ)をお持(も)ちしましょう。(“I’ll carry your baggage.”). When the verb is of Chinese origin, noun + suru-verb, such as 案内 (あんない) する (to guide) or ごX (X = verb in masu-form without masu) する/します/いたします are mainly used instead (but there are some exceptions).

Situation 2: Mr. Tian is talking with his client Ms. Tanaka.

田中: こちらの商品は、どのくらい在庫がありますか。

ティエン: 今、ちょっとわかりませんので、担当の者から改めてご連絡いたします。

Tanaka: Kochira-no shōhin-wa, donokurai zaiko-ga arimasu-ka?

Tian: Ima, chotto wakarimasen-node, tantō-no mono-kara aratamete go-renraku-itashimasu.

Tanaka: As for this product, how many do you have in stock?

Tian: I don’t know right now, but the person in charge will let you know later.

Humble expression is also used when referring to the action or state of the speaker’s in-group member — such as a family member or members of their company — when talking with an out-group person, such as a member of another firm. Even when the in-group person is superior to the speaker, humble expression is used. Example: それでは社長(しゃちょう)の加藤(かとう)がごあいさつを申(もう)し上(あ)げます。 (“Now our president, Mr./Ms. Kato, will offer a few words of introduction.”).

Bonus Dialogue: Continued from Situation 2.

ティエン: ほかに何(なに)かご質問(しつもん)はありませんか?

田中: いえ、今(いま)のところは特(とく)に。うかがいたいことがあったら、ティエンさんのところにお電話(でんわ)すればよろしいでしょうか。

ティエン: はい、ご遠慮(えんりょ)なくお聞(き)きになってください。また、ほかの商品(しょうひん)については、別(べつ)の日(ひ)にほかの者(もの)がご説明(せつめい)にうかがいます。課長(かちょう)の小野(おの)さんにもごあいさつを申(もう)し上(あ)げたいと言(い)っておりますので。

田中: わかりました。小野に伝(つた)えておきます。あ、そうそう、この商品は一人用(ひとりよう)のタイプは出(で)ないんでしょうか。今は一人(ひとり)ぐらしの人(ひと)も多(おお)いので、そういうのがあると、いいと思うんですけど。

ティエン: あ、そうですね。私も一人ぐらしですが、気(き)づきませんでした。

田中: あ、ティエンさんは独身(どくしん)なんですか。チャンスがあるかも…。あ、別に何でもありません。

Tian: Do you have any other questions?

Tanaka: Not right now. May I call you if I have a question?

Tian: Please feel free to ask me anything. Anyway, a colleague will visit your office to explain about the other products later. He says he would like to say a few words of introduction to Mr. Ono, your section chief.

Tanaka: I see. I’ll tell him. Oh, I almost forgot: Do you have this product, but for just one person? With the number of people living alone rising, that would be good.

Tian: Oh, you’re right. I didn’t consider that, even though I live alone myself.

Tanaka: Oh, you live alone? So I may have a chance . . . Er, never mind — it was nothing.

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