Japanese language: give and take

Unlike English, expressing giving and receiving in Japanese can be much more complicated. This is because of a few factors:

  • Whether you’re speaking of yourself or someone else.
  • Social rank of the giver and receiver (is one higher than the other).
  • Active or passive (are you receiving, or is someone giving to you?).

I found that this page by Tae Kim provide a really good overview of the issue, but I wanted to expand on a few things.

First social rank matters in Japanese. So, as Tae Kim states, if you receive something from someone, you normally say kureru (くれる), but if you receive something from a person of higher-rank, like your in-laws or your boss or teacher, then kureru is not respectful enough. In such cases, you would have to change verbs and use kudasaru (くださる). Examples:

(Mr/Mrs. Koizumi gave me a nice book)

(My dept. manager gave me a nice book)

Or, if you express this in the passive since (I received rather than someone gave me), then replace morau with the more humble itadaku:

(I received a nice book from Mr/Mrs. Koizumi)

(I received a nice book from my dept. manager)

This same rules above apply not just to receiving or giving things, but also when someone does a favor for you. Just combine the verb in “-te” form with the appropriate give/receive verb above. So, if your boss helps you out on something, this becomes tetsudatte itadakimashita 手伝っていただきました, not 手伝ってもらった。

But to complicate things a bit further, and speaking from recent experience, you also have to be sensitive to the listener too. For example, if you’re telling a friend that your father-in-law did something for you, even though your father-in-law is usually higher-rank, he is part of your in-group from the perspective of the listener, and in that case you still have to use humble, not respectful language. Humble language doesn’t just apply to yourself, it can also apply to your in-group, if the listener is not part of your immediate circle.

These are just a few things I wanted to pass along, based on recent mistakes, experiences, etc. We JLPT students need all the help we can get. :)

P.S. I can tell the JLPT test is coming because the number web-searches reaching my blog for “JLPT” has really gone up in the last few months. 😉

2 thoughts on “Japanese language: give and take

  1. Hello and welcome back from Paris. I’m glad you had a good trip.. Now get back to work…. Just kidding.

    I’ve been stumbling over this lesson for lets see, oh about a year… I’m just now starting to get to a point where I can use it in conversation. I think your post really brings it down to its basic points. Its nice to read your posts as you cover the same ground I am.

    Also, your basic lessons on Kanji are very good.

    I’m still jealous you have a full time speech partner to work with!  I bought the Basic Japanese Sentence Pattern:s book you recommended. It is very good. I;m cruising through it and picking up on a lot of things I:ve missed.

    Any recommendations on Pod casts (or similar) that have audio in about JLPT 3 difficulty? I:ve listened to the previous years test:s audio so often I can almost say them from memory…. 問題いち。。。



  2. Hi Matthew,

    Hope you had a good trip (saw your blog posts:) ). I hope these lessons help. Japanese really is a tough language, but I believe it’s still systematic in that if you understand the patterns well enough, the rest is just rote memorization.

    As for a full-time speech partner, it helps, but it also means I adjust to her Japanese only. That leaves a problem for when I speak to others. Also, it means my Japanese tends to be rather feminine, which I am trying to overcome.

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