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‘Beki,’ the little Japanese word that’s ‘should’

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Zettai sōdan subeki yo. (You definitely should consult him.)

Situation 1: Ms. Mizuta, Ms. Tamachi’s friend from her school days, consults her about sexual harassment at her office.

水田: 部長に相談したほうがいいのかなあ? だけど、大ごとになったらいやだし…。

田町: それは、絶対、相談すべきよ。すべての女性社員たちのためにも。

Mizuta: Buchō ni sōdan shita hō ga ii no kanā? Dakedo, ōgoto ni nattara iya-da shi…

Tamachi: Sore wa zettai sōdan subeki yo. Subete no josei shain-tachi no tame ni mo.

Mizuta: Should I consult the department manager? I don’t want it to become too serious…

Tamachi: You definitely should consult him — for the sake of all female employees.

Today we will introduce some uses of the word べき (should). It is originally the noun-modifying form of the old auxiliary verb べし, and the pattern Xべきだ/です is used to show that doing X is a matter of course or any person’s natural duty. This pattern is usually used to express the speaker’s opinion or advice. X is the dictionary form of a verb, but the old form, す, is commonly used instead of する (to do), as in: 新入社員(しんにゅうしゃいん)は、 だれよりも早(はや)く出社(しゅっしゃ)すべきだ。(A new hire should arrive earlier than the other workers.) The negative form of this expression is Xべきじゃない/ではありません, but the pattern Xないべき is not usually used. Example: 人前(ひとまえ)で、そんなことを 言(い)うべきじゃないよ。(You shouldn’t say such a thing in public.)

Situation 2: At the office, the president and vice president are talking about management of the company.

社長: 経営者の果たすべき義務を果たせと、きみは言いたいんだな?

副社長: はい。時には厳しい決断も必要かと思われます。

Shachō: Keieisha no hatasu-beki gimu o hatase to, kimi wa iitai-n da na?

Fuku-shachō: Hai. Toki ni wa kibishii ketsudan mo hitsuyō ka to omowaremasu.

President: So you’re saying we have to fulfill the obligations that come with being managers, aren’t you?

Vice president: Yes. Sometimes tough decisions are also necessary.

The noun-modifying form of the key pattern is XべきY (noun), as in the president’s 果(は)たすべき義務(ぎむ) (the duty that should be fulfilled). Other examples: 今日(きょう)やるべきことを明日(あす)に延(の)ばしてはいけない。 (You should not postpone until tomorrow what you should do today).

Bonus Dialogue: At the executive meeting in the office.

副社長: 昨年度(さくねんど)の売(う)り上(あ)げがよくなかったこと、そして今年度(こんねんど)も前期(ぜんき)の 売り上げが期待(きたい)ほど伸(の)びなかったこと。 この2点(にてん)を考(かんが)えると、やはり社員の給与(きゅうよ)を少(すこ)し引(ひ)き下(さ)げる必要(ひつよう)があると思(おも)うのだが…。

ヤマニ: 反対(はんたい)です。そういうことは、安易(あんい)に実行(じっこう)すべきことではないと思います。その前(まえ)にすべきことは、山(やま)ほどあるはずです。

社長: たとえば?

ヤマニ: まず第一(だいいち)に、役員(やくいん)報酬(ほうしゅう) をカットすることです。売り上げが伸びなかったのは社員のせいではなく、経営陣(けいえいじん)の戦略(せんりゃく)が間違(まちが)ったせいでしょうから。

副社長: あ、うん…まあ、そうかもしれないが…。

ヤマニ: 社員の給与を引き下げるというのは、最後(さいご)の最後の手段(しゅだん)であるべきです。優秀(ゆうしゅう)な社員がいてこそのわが社(しゃ)ですから。

社長: うん、ヤマニ部長(ぶちょう)の言う通(とお)りだ。今回 (こんかい)は、この件(けん)は見送(みおく)ることにしよう。

Vice president: Last year’s sales weren’t good, and sales in the previous period of this year did not grow as much as expected. Considering these two points, I think it’s still necessary to lower worker salaries a little.

Yamani: I’m not in favor. I think that such a move should not be taken lightly. Before that, there are plenty of things that should be done.

President: For example?

Yamani: First, executive pay should be cut. It’s not due to the workers that the sales didn’t grow, but because the management team’s strategy was wrong.

Vice president: Well, yeah… that may be so….

Yamani: Cutting salaries should be the last resort. Keeping excellent workers should be our first consideration.

President: Yeah, as Department Head Yamani said, for this time, let’s shelve this idea.