Future Help

A short follow up to last week’s post on 助かりました. The present tense of this verb is also incredibly useful. The key is to remember that the present tense (助かる or 助かります) is the same thing as the future tense. That let’s you form patterns like this: 〜していただければ、助かります.

~ is any verb (not necessarily a する verb; the して just stands in for all verbs in the example) that you are having done for you. The subject of the ~ is another person. You, the speaker, are the subject of いただければ, which is the conditional tense (?) of いただく.

Looking at it literally we have, “If I could receive you doing ~, I will be helped (in the future).” In normal English, “I would really appreciate it if you could ~.”

A couple examples:

I would really appreciate it if you could wake me up at 8.

It would be great if you could turn it in at some point today.

It would help everyone if you could read in a loud voice. (Threw a 皆 up there to vary the subject a bit.)

You can even use an energetic 助かります! right after you’ve made a request to soften said request. (Effective when combined with a frowny face.) Kind of a reverse airbag expression.

In the future once you’ve been assisted, you can then say 助かりました!

すごい <--> 非常に

Speaking politely in Japanese isn’t just about being deft with keigo. Keigo, which you use constantly and just don’t realize it, is just a small part; basic word choice is also important, as it is in English. There are several different ways to say the same word, and generally the longer the phrase is, the more polite it is. One of the best examples of this is the many different versions of いい. You can power up your いい, but you can also power it down to ええ depending on who you’re with.

Sometimes you need to use an entirely different word rather than a variation of the same word. This is especially true of English. I vividly remember the moment when I learned the definition of the word “asinine.” I was a freshman on the debate team and heard a senior member use it in a speech. When I asked him the definition he said, “It’s a nice way to called someone or something stupid.”

Unfortunately I don’t know how to say asinine in Japanese. I do know, however, that すごい is not going to cut it in important business meetings (just like “stupid”), which is why you should swap it out for it’s more polite cousin 非常(ひじょう)に. すごい, however, can be both adjective and adverb, while 非常に is only an adverb.

When you’re swapping for the adverbial すごい or すごく, you can do a straight-up replacement.    So you can do this swap:

すごく危ない –> 非常に危ない –> 非常に危険

(You might want also consider powering up that 危ない to the compound noun form 危険(きけん), which is the third option up there. I guess this really belongs in another post, but 非常に危険 felt more natural to me, so I went ahead and added it.)

The adjective version of すごい requires you to be more specific with your description; this is a good thing to practice, even in English. So rather than something being “awesome” or “great,” you can say something like 非常に質がいい (it’s of incredibly high quality), 非常にきれいな (it’s incredibly beautiful), or just 非常にいい (it’s incredibly good).

I have to credit my senior year Japanese professor here. Until she noted this easy switch in class, I don’t think I had a grasp of the meaning of 非常に.

On Flogging (Updated)

Also took the parents to the Yokohama Archives of History. Great exhibits, and I’m hopeless at history, so a refresher is always appreciated. In addition to the regular exhibits, they also had a special exhibit on missionaries. Samuel Robbins Brown, one of the missionaries, also wrote his own Japanese textbook titled:


The title went on for two whole pages, and I didn’t bother copying the rest, but it

equally disjointed

Several example pages were also displayed, one of which included this gem:

247. He deserves a flogging.
Ano okata wa tatakare nasarete mo yoroshiu gozarimasu.
アノ オカタ ハ タタカレ ナ井レテ モ ヨロシウ ゴザリマス。

You’ll have to ask Matt about the accuracy of the Japanese phrase (that seems to be the standard thing to do these days – in the comments), but to me it sounds more like the standard phrase ~てもいいです, where the ~ happens to be a passive keigo verb. For example, 電気を消されてもいいです。Or “I don’t mind if you turn off the lights." In the case of flogging, the sentence would be “I don’t mind if you flog that fellow.” I could see either of these phrases making the translational jump to "Go ahead and flog that fellow/turn off that light," but can it take that last step to “deserve”? This could be some Meiji Era madness I’m totally unprepared to understand. I mean, is 井 really supposed to be floating around in there? If so, cool. If not, Nelson laugh. (My initial theory was that this was some aggressive passive tense action. Like, 電気消されてもいいです. Literally "I don’t mind if the lights are turned off." But that would be just wrong…right?)

247 was followed in short order by these:

252. He is drunk every day.
253. His opinion and yours are the same.

What was going on in Yokohama in the Meiji Era?

Update: Adam found a link to the actual book on archive.orghere. You can get a PDF or text version or just flip through pages. Awesome. Check out Adam’s comment to see the ridiculous full title.

Man, I’ve looked through it just a little bit and found this great explanation: "Hashi, a bridge, is distinguished from hashi, chopsticks, by the suppression of the final i in the last, thus hash’, signifies chopsticks." That’s a really nice explanation. This book is going to be awesome.

More awesomeness as I discover it (page numbers refer to PDF):

Pg 18: "The oral language delights in courteous expressions, and one of the most remarkable features of the polished style of speech is the use of long words, and circumlocutions."

Pg 49-50: "The difference between wa and nga is scarcely translateable, but is to be expressed by the tone of the speaker’s voice, rather than by any corresponding words in English. The native ear at once perceives the difference, and a foreigner can acquire the use of these particles, only by practice and much familiarity with the Japanese usage."

Pg 81: After an extensive introduction, the first sentence in the book? "A bow-knot is easy to untie. Hi-za o-ri ni mu-sz-bu to to-ke ya-sz-u go za-ri-ma-s’." The only reason it’s here is because all the phrases are in alphabetical order, which explains 252 and 253 above. 

遠慮:Prometheus:: 怠る:Epimetheus

遠慮, as mentioned previously, means to actively refrain from doing something. This is a nifty way around negative imperatives or having to reply with a very blunt negative refusal.

怠る (おこたる) is another wicked cool Japanese verb that means, fundamentally, not doing something. Unlike 遠慮, which has a relatively positive meaning, 怠る has a negative connotation – it means to inadvertently fail to do something.

The usage pattern is Nを怠る, N being any noun or nouned verb such as 〜するの or 〜すること. (“Nouned,” by the way, is a verbed noun.) I’ve run into it recently while looking at manuals for arcade games. One sentence that comes to mind is 定期的な掃除を怠ると、X – “Failure to undertake periodic cleaning will result in bad consequence X.” I can’t remember what bad consequence X was, but I think it was something along the lines of electrocution…or maybe just malfunction?

定期的な掃除をしないと、is a perfectly valid alternative except for that pesky ない hanging around near the end of the clause. The company providing the manual wouldn’t ever want to imply that the game center purchasing the game, the お客様 as it were, might not do something, so they instead suggest that they might fail to do something.

Japanese is awesome.

遠慮 and 怠る correlate nicely with Prometheus and Epimetheus, as suggested in the title to this post. For those of you unfamiliar with the myth, 1) your parents deserve a smack on the head – what were they making you read when you were a kid? – and 2) this is a good place to start.

Prometheus (literally “forethought”) and Epimetheus (“afterthought”) were given the job of divvying up cool traits to all the animals. Epimetheus went about the task with Japanese efficiency, giving elephants really long trunks, making giraffes super tall, allowing cheetahs to run really fast, and neglecting to save anything for humans. To help his brother, Prometheus made man in the shape and image of the Gods. This angered Zeus, so he denied humans fire. Prometheus stole it anyway.

怠る is perfectly Epimethean. I guess Prometheus didn’t really 遠慮 all that much, but 遠慮 definitely involves forethought, so perhaps this is still a useful analogy.  

Avoiding the ない

I’ve got a short piece on 遠慮 over at Néojaponisme. It’s a rewritten version of one of my first posts  – “How to Say No by Saying Yes”. Don’t forget that you can also make use of お断り as a “Hell no” for comedic purposes.

遠慮 is a useful phrase for avoiding ない, but かねます is a far more blatant dodge. It is a verb ending that attaches to the stem (most often to the verbs できる, する, 致す, and 負う) and means “can’t” or, more appropriately in this case, “unable to”.

So rather than use できない or できません, you can say できかねます which has the same fundamental meaning. This is, as you can probably imagine, an incredibly polite, serious way to say something. Personally I find it hilarious that you can just replace the unpleasant negative ending with one that isn’t negative and make it all better. I’d like to meet the first guy who did that.

(Oda Nobunaga: おい、お前。パイ作ってきてくれ。
Advisor: えっと、あのぅ。パイ、作れなーあっ。作ることができなーあっ。作り...かねます。
Nobunaga: かねますって、一体何なんだ?
Advisor: はっきり言えば、できないということ。
Sound of head falling on tatami.)

In every case, the speaker finds him/herself unable to do something that puts him/her in an unfortunate position. かねます almost has a built in “unfortunately” along the same lines as 〜てしまった as well as a “we ask for your understanding” as in ご了承ください.

An extremely useful set phrase I learned in college is わたくしどもでは決めかねます, which can be used if you’re ever put on the spot to make a decision that is outside of your immediate jurisdiction; it literally means “I alone am unable to make that decision”, but it also sort of implies that you will consult your superiors.

する, 致す, and できる are generally attached to other verbs. For example, 賛成 (さんせい) – そういう考えもあるかもしれませんが、賛成できかねます。 “You may think that, but I (unfortunately) am unable to agree.”  

負う, as ALC tells us, is often used to duck responsibility – 責任を負いかねます.

Very much like 遠慮, かねます is one of those secret code words/patterns that is able to convey a lot of meaning efficiently because everyone knows what it really means. You, too, can tap into all the trappings of かねます, as long as you know when you need to use them.

Underrated Phrase – お願いします

Students of Japanese whine about keigo more than any other part of the language. I wonder if they realize that they use it on a daily basis. お願いします is another one of those ultimate “get used to it” phrases, and it is keigo of the humble variety.

The pattern is pretty easy to remember: お + verb stem + します. The only other thing to remember is that you ONLY USE IT FOR VERBS WHERE YOU YOURSELF ARE THE SUBJECT. A few examples: お返しします (I humbly return something to someone), お断りします (I humbly refuse), お持ちします (I humbly carry something), お借りします (I humbly borrow something).

While お願いします is a form of keigo, it has other more important uses than purely just as a humble request. It is, as we say in English about “please,” the “magic word.” It’s almost more important than please in English – it’s please and thank you all wrapped into one.

This is purely theoretical, but I’m willing to bet that people in the States would be more offended by people not saying “thank you” than by people not saying “please.” I’m equally willing to bet that people in Japan are more offended by a lack of お願いします rather than a lack of ありがとう.

願う (ねがう) means to hope or request. I’m confident that it should always be used following a request to someone equal or above you, and it’s worth tacking on to all requests so you don’t end up looking like an asshole. Like a please or a thank you, it softens whatever request you made and shows that you you truly appreciate the effort that they, in this case, will go through. You can add a よろしく on to the front to reemphasize the request (by drawing it out through additional syllables, which always means “more polite” in Japanese). In the case of people on an equal level you can opt for  よろしく on it’s own; I have a feeling that the Japanese teacher of English I worked with used this with his students as a sort of joke when he handed them assignments. (よろしくね *cruel laughter*)

In conclusion, よろしくお願いします is often grossly misunderstood by beginner/intermediate students, including myself long ago; while it is part of the self-introduction routine here, it’s more important when asking someone to do something for you. Once you understand its role there, you are more likely to understand what it means during a self-introduction.

Translation Don’ts – 〜をはじめ、

In the spirit of avoiding mistranslations, here’s another translation don’t.

〜をはじめ、 is a JLPT Level 2 pattern. Maybe a Level 1 pattern. I can’t remember. Whatever.

Here’s a Japanese example sentence:


Read that and think about it for a second.        Okay?

Please, whatever you do, don’t translate it as “beginning with ~”, in this case “beginning with nihonshu.” Sure, it’s got the 始まる in there, but that’s really not what it means at all. Step away from your previous knowledge of the language, and put the 直訳 down. What you should be paying attention to is when it is used.

I always remember it from the graduation ceremonies at the junior high school. The whole auditorium was full of 200-something first and second year students. The third years parade in, a bunch of important people give speeches, some kids cry, and then they leave. But before all that happens, the big wigs slowly make their way in and sit on the side of the hall. The mayor, the superintendent of education, principals of elementary schools, members of city council. All the important guys. These are the designated “invited guests,” and they get respected. But there are too many to thank personally, so when people give speeches, they thank the invited guests with the phrase 町長をはじめ、. (Notice that I’ve left the comma there.) I’m kicking myself now because I can’t remember the exact phrase, but it’s something like 山口町長をはじめ、招待者の皆様、ありがとうございます。 Something like that. Or maybe there’s a 感謝を申し上げます in there.

Basically it’s saying, “I’d like to thank the mayor and all other invited guests.” (Actually, you can see that exact phrase in action from a congratulatory message to incoming students at a JHS.) Just as the sentence above really means something like, “In Japan, people drink nihonshu as well as other booze from around the world.”

I was thinking about it at work the other day and likened it to a very, very soft もちろん. Of course you’re going to thank the mayor, and of course people drink nihonshu in Japan. It’s just a softening of that italicized emphasis that you get so often with “of course.” But there’s no need to translate that into English.

So get used to it, and learn how to use ~をはじめ、 to shorten long lists of people and things.

Keep Your Ears Open – ご覧のスポンサー

お預かりします is “get used to it.” よろしくお願いします is “get used to it.”

The essence of “get used to it” is finding those sentences that surround you in everyday life and learning how to use them/what they mean. It is beneficial to break the phrases down and see how they work, but try not to expend too much brain power or else you’ll be one of those freaks explaining the origin of saying “bless you” when someone sneezes. (Demons make you sneeze, of course, thus making you in need of a blessing. Duh.)

Saturday I was watching TV and saw one of these:

I’m sure you’ve all noticed it at some point. At different points in a show, generally just before a commercial break or the end of the show, the phrase 提供 (ていきょう) pops up on the screen with some company names underneath it. Then the voiceover announcer says 「ご覧のスポンサーの提供でお送りします。」

I believe ご覧 refers to the audience looking at the actual company names written on the screen, so literally “the sponsors you (honorably) see.” That combined with 提供 gives us “the contribution of the sponsors you (honorably) see.”

お送りします is the humble honorific of 送る (おくる), so that’s the television channel itself doing the sending, giving us, “We (humbly) send you (this show) via the contributions of the sponsors you (honorably) see.” Woo.

In English we’d probably say something like, “Brought to you by State Farm Insurance – Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is there!” That or "Support for Show X is provided by Chevy Trucks – Like a Rock."

Take it (for me)


I steadfastly refused to believe that phrase existed for a long time. I’m not sure why. I think there was a barrier somewhere in my head blocking the logic connection. Getting used to it helped remove that barrier, and now I’m cool.

取る (とる) is often used with “take” verb patterns. Take vacation, take time, etc. So I think that prevented me from realizing that while it does mean take something (in this case, whatever object you are pointing at / put before it with を), but it also means “and give it to me.” Altogether it means “pass.” It’s one of those patterns you learn your first year in class, but for some reason I never got used to it until now. Maybe it has something to do with sharing a small apartment between a large number of people – it’s easier to pass things than to forever shuffle around すみませんing.

With friends you can say the casual 〜を取って, but make sure to add the ください at the office or with people significantly older than you.

I logged this entry under passive. Get it?