Greetings and Other Expressions

This is the second of three lessons covering basic expressions. In this section, you'll learn greetings and sendings for different situations and several other important expressions. As with the last section, you should learn know how to use Japanese pronunciation, but no grammar knowledge is needed.

Recommended background:

Hello and Goodbye

Like most languages, Japanese has several greetings for different times of the day.

おはようございます。 Ohayou gozaimasu. exp. "Good morning." (formal)
おはよう。 Ohayou. exp. "Good morning." (informal)
こんにちは。 Konnichiwa. exp. "Hello"/"Good afternoon."
こんばんは。 Konbanwa. exp. "Good evening."

Ohayou gozaimasu literally means "It's early". Ohayou is an obscure inflection of the adjective "hayai" (early) and gozaimasu is the honorific equialent of "desu", meaning "to be".

Read more about the copula "desu"

The shorter version, "ohayou", is informal. Either can be used until about 11:00 in the morning, at which point "konnichiwa" is the appropriate greeting.

Konnichiwa is spelled ko-n-ni-chi-HA in Hiragana. "Konnichi" means "today" based on its parts, but is never used as an independent word. (The normal word for "today" is kyou.)

The 'wa' here is the topic marker "wa", a particle (grammar word) always spelled は 'ha' for historical reasons. This is the same wa as in the sentence "Watashi wa [name] desu". So konnichiwa is idiomatic, having a meaning different from the sum of its parts. Literally, it would mean something like "As for today…", but in practice it is used just like the English "hello".

Konbanwa is built similarly to konnichiwa, with the spelling ko-n-ba-n-HA, but this time "konban" (this evening) is also a normal word.

Neither konnichiwa nor konbanwa has has a more or less polite version, but there are several other greetings that may be more appropriate for a particular situation, some of which you'll learn below.

Now, here are some of the most common sendings.

さようなら。 Sayounara. exp. "Goodbye."
(じゃ、)また(ね)。 (Ja,) mata (ne). exp. "See you later." (informal)
(じゃ、)また あとで。 (Ja,) mata atode. exp. "See you later." (informal)
じゃあ、ね。 Jaa, ne. exp. "See you later." (informal)
おやすみなさい。 O-yasumi nasai. exp. "Good night." (formal)
おやすみ。 O-yasumi. exp. "Good night." (informal)

I have no doubt you've heard sayounara before, but for the love of all things good in this world, please don't pronounce it "sai-uh-nar-uh" like the clueless Americans do. If you learned your Japanese pronunciation like you were supposed to, then you should be keeping the consonants with the vowels that follow: sa-yo-o-na-ra, with a long 'yo' (though the 'yo' is sometimes shortened).

Like konnichiwa and konbanwa, sayounara doesn't have any variants for different levels of politeness–instead, completely different expressions are used. We'll cover a few such expressions below.

Japanese does, however, have a variety of ways to say the equivalent of "See you later". Most of these are built from some combination of a few parts: ja… (well…), mata (again), atode (later), and ne (right?). Any of the versions I've given above would be acceptable in informal speech, and usually better than sayounara if you'll be seeing the person again soon.

O-yasumi nasai is literally a polite command to rest (yasumi comes from the verb "yasumu"/to rest), but is used the same way as the English "good night". Like with ohayou gozaimasu, dropping the "nasai" makes this expression informal.

Note: the "o" in ohayou and o-yasumi nasai is the honorific prefix "o". You'll also see it in several more expressions below.

Specialized Greetings and Sendings

The next couple sets of expressions are not usually introduced until later on in most textbooks, but since there's no particular reason why you shouldn't be able to understand them, I'm including them on this page to keep similar content grouped together. Don't feel obligated to memorize these ones immediately.

The first set of specialized greetings are those used when leaving and returning home.

いってきます。 Ittekimasu. exp. "I'm leaving."
いってらしゃい。 Itterashai. exp. "Goodbye."
ただいま。 Tadaima. exp. "I'm back."
おかえり(なさい)。 O-kaeri (nasai). exp. "Welcome back."

These are generally used as follows:

When someone leaves…
Person leaving: 「いってきます。」 "Ittekimasu."
Anyone else: 「いってらしゃい。」 "Itterasshai.'
When someone returns…
Person returning: 「ただいま。」 "Tadaima."
Anyone else: 「おかえり。」 "O-kaeri."

Ittekimasu literally means "I'll go and come back" while Itterasshai (pay attention to the two doubled consonants) means "Please go and come back". Tadaima is short for Tadaima kaerimashita, meaning "I've just come back", and o-kaeri nasai is a sort of command like "please come in" (from kaeru "to return"). The only one of these four with two frequently used versions is o-kaeri nasai, and as with o-yasumi nasai, dropping the "nasai" makes it less formal.

Interestingly, this exchange is also used in other circumstances where one person leaves a group of people with the intention of returning. If you think about the word roots used (go, come, return) this makes perfect sense.

Another pair of expressions that substitute for konnichiwa and so on are the following:

しつれいします。 Shitsurei shimasu. exp. "Sorry to bother you."
しつれいしました。 Shitsurei shimashita. exp. "Sorry to have bothered you."

Shitsurei shimasu literally means "I'm going to do a rude thing." It has various uses, and one of these is when entering a room to meet someone of a higher rank, for example a student coming to see a teacher. The person of higher rank can greet their visitor in various ways depending on the exact relationship. The past tense of the same expression, shitsurei shimashita, means something like "I've done a rude thing", and is used when leaving. Again, the higher rank person might say something considerably less formal in return.

Confusingly, shitsurei shimasu is also used to excuse oneself. One example of this use is when leaving work earlier than one's coworkers.

おさきに しつれいします。 O-saki ni shitsurei shimasu. exp. "Sorry for leaving before you." (formal)
おさきに。 O-saki ni. exp. "Sorry for leaving before you." (informal)

O-saki ni means "before". The short form of the expression is used in less formal situations. There is also a corresponding response for each.

おつかれさまでした。 O-tsukare-sama deshita. exp. "Thank you for your hard work." (formal)
おつかれさま。 O-tsukare-sama. exp. "Thank you for your hard work." (informal)

The "tsukare" in these expressions means "become tired", and the literal meaning of the whole thing is something like "You must be tired". These expressions can also be used without having been prompted by o-saki ni, whether the leaving person literally looks tired or just assuming they've been working hard at anything.

Note: the "sama" in "o-tsukare-sama" is not related the name suffix "sama".

Follow-ups for Greetings

As we finish with greetings, let's looks at a couple more expressions that typically follow initial greetings.

おげんきですか。 O-genki desu ka? exp. "Are you well?
はい、(おかげさまで)げんきです。 Hai, (o-kage-sama de) genki desu. exp. "Yes, I'm fine, thanks."
いいおてんきですね。 Ii o-tenki desu ne? exp. "Nice weather, isn't it?"
そうですね。 Sou desu ne. exp. "It is, isn't it?"

Note: "ka" is the question particle and "ne" expects the listener's agreement. You can read more about these in Questions and Negation and The Sentence Ending Particle "Yo" and "Ne".

The first question is the equivalent of  "How are you?" in English ("Genki" means "good health"). The optional o-kage-sama de in the response means something like "thanks to you (for asking)", and makes it more polite.

In practice, Japanese people don't generally ask if someone is well unless they haven't seen eachother for a while or they're genuinely concerned. Instead, you're more likely to encounter some kind of filler. In the case of the second question, a common one, "ii" means good and "tenki" means weather. Whether or you not you actually think the weather is nice or not isn't the point. Just agree with them and move on.

Other Common Expressions

The rest of the expressions in this section have no particular theme, but are easy to use and useful for beginners.

(どうも)ありがとう(ございます)。 (Doumo) arigatou (gozaimasu). exp. "Thank you (very much)."
(どうも)すみません。 (Doumo) sumimasen. exp. "Excuse me."/"I'm sorry."
しつれいします。 Shitsurei shimasu. exp. "Excuse me."/"I'm sorry."
ごめん(なさい)。 Gomen nasai. exp. "I'm sorry."
ようこそ。 Youkoso. exp. "Welcome."
いらっしゃいませ。 Irrasshaimase. exp. "Welcome. Come in."
いただきます。 Itadakimasu. exp. "I receive."
ごちそうさま(でした)。 Gochisou-sama (deshita). exp. "It was quite a feast."

You probably already know arigatou, but note the long "o" at the end. Similar to ohayou, it's an obscure inflection of "arigatai", meaning "grateful". The "doumo" part of doumo arigatou gozaimasu carries the literal meaning of "very" while the "gozaimasu" is needed for the expression to be polite.

Sumimasen is a true multitasker, but the use you should learn first is that of a general purpose "excuse me", often used where in English we would say "I'm sorry". Shitsurei shimasu, which you saw earlier, is also used for this purpose, and is somewhat more polite. Gomen nasai is a more literal "I'm sorry", somewhat less polite than the other two (dropping "nasai" makes it fully informal).

Youkoso and irasshaimase both mean "welcome", but youkoso is used in the sense of "welcome to our country" (ex. Nihon e youkoso/Welcome to Japan) while irasshaimase has more of a sense of "come in", so you'll hear it used for customers and guests in stores, restaurants, hotels, and even homes.

Itadakimasu, literally "I receive", is said before a meal, and gochisou-sama deshita is used to thank the host or cook after finishing. As you might expect by now, dropping the "deshita" makes it informal.

Of the expressions covered so far, feel free to memorize those that you need at the moment and come back to learn the others as you encounter them in whatever textbook or course you are using.

What Next?

Names and Introduction

Classroom Expressions

The Structure of a Japanese Sentence

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