How can I say “Please” in Japanese ?

People can normally translate “please” into “Onegaisimasu”/「おねがいします」 or “Kudasai”/「ください」. When you visit Japan, you will necessarily use these expressions in various situations. I will introduce how you should use different expressions depending on the situations and what the difference of these expressions is.

1. Onegaisimasu/お願ねがいします

When you ask for something very politely, you can say “Onegaisimasu”/「おねがいします」. You can’t use it with verbs. “Onegai”/「おねがい」means “ask for” and “Simasu”/「します」is a polite language. Even if you say it to strangers or elderly people in various situations, they don’t feel unpleasant. I will introduce 3 examples to you.

Ex.1) When you pay accommodation fee at a hotel
A hotel staff : Do you need the receipt of accommodation fee ?/宿泊費しゅくはくひ領収書りょうしゅうしょ必要ひつようでしょうか?

Syukuhakuhi no ryousyusyo ha hituyou desyouka ?

You : Yes, please./はい、おねがいします。

hai, onegaishimasu.

Ex. 2) When you have a dinner at a restaurant
A restaurant staff : May I pour a glass of water ?/みずをおぎしましょうか?

Mizu wo otugishimasyouka ?

You : Yes, please./はい、おねがいします。

hai, onegaishimasu.

Ex. 3) When you need help because you don’t know how to buy a ticket for a train
A staff at a station : Could I tell you how to buy a ticket ?/切符きっぷかたをおおしえしましょうか?

Kippu no kaikata wo ooshie shimasyouka ?

You : Yes, please./はい、おねがいします。

hai, onegaishimasu.

These conversations are very natural and everyone must willingly accept your request if you say “Onegaisimasu”/「おねがいします」.

2. Kudasai/ください

“Kudasai”/「ください」has 2 ways to use it. As to one, we use it as a transitive verb in a polite form of the imperative. As to the other, we use it as an auxiliary verb with verbs when we request something to other people politely.

(1) A transitive verb in a polite form of the imperative

When you ask for things and so on to strangers or elderly people, you can say “Kudasai”/「ください」. This is a polite style, but Japanese would feel “Onegaisimasu”/「おねがいします」more polite. I will introduce 2 examples.

Ex. 1) When you would like to buy a Japanese sweet at a souvenir shop
You : Please this sweet./このお菓子かしをください。

Kono okashi wo kudasai.

A staff member at the shop : Yes, of course./ええ、もちろん。

Ee, mochiron.

Ex. 2) When you have a dinner at a Japanese restaurant
A staff at the restaurant : May I bring Japanese soy sauce ?/醤油しょうゆってましょうか?

Syoyu wo mottekimasyouka ?

You : Yes, please/はい、ください。

hai, kudasai.

(2) An auxiliary verb with verbs

Normally it’s said that when you request something politely you say “~ ~Kudasai”/「~ ~ください」with verbs, but depending on a way of saying Japanese might feel it a bit harsh. So you need to use it carefully. If you request something to strangers or elderly people, it would be better you say “Could you ~ ~ ?”/「していただけませんか?」although we can understand what you mean even if you say “~ ~Kudasai”/「~ ~ください」. If we requested something to use “~ ~Kudasai”/「~ ~ください」, we would say as following 2 examples.

Ex. 1) When you don’t know how to go to Tokyo station
You : Please tell me how to go to Tokyo station./東京駅とうきょうえきかたおしえてください。

Tokyoeki no ikikata wo oshietekudasai.

⇒ I think it’s a more polite expression “Could you tell me the way to go to Tokyo station ?”/「東京駅とうきょうえきかたおしえていただけませんか ?」.

Tokyoeki no ikikata wo oshiete itadakemasenka ?

Ex. 2) When you would like someone to speak Japanese more slowly
You : Please speak Japanese more slowly./もっとゆっくり日本語にほんごはなしてください。

Motto yukkuri nihongo wo hanashite kudasai.

⇒ I think it’s a more polite expression “Could you speak Japanese more slowly ?”/「もっとゆっくり日本語にほんごはなしていただけませんか ?」.

Motto yukkuri nihongo wo hanashite itadakemasenka ?

Summary

You can say “Kudasai”/「ください」as a verb when you ask for something, but “Onegaisimasu”/「おねがいします」is a more polite expression and people would feel more pleasant. If you say “Kudasai”/「ください」and ask for something, depending on a way of saying people would feel it a bit harsh, so it’s better you say “Could you ~ ~ ?”/「していただけませんか?」.

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