In English, the verb “to be” is used to describe what something is or where it is, for example: “He is a student” and “He is at school”. In Japanese, the two are described very differently. The state-of-being we will learn is used to describe only what something is and not where it exists.
The state-of-being is very easy to describe because it is implied within the noun or adjective. There is no need to use a verb nor even a subject to make a complete sentence in Japanese. Take for example, a casual conversation among friends asking, “How are you?”
How are you? (casual)
- 元気 【げん・き】 – healthy; lively
※Used as a greeting to indicate whether one is well
A: (Are you) well?
B: (I’m) fine.
While the previous dialogue may be fine among close friends, you should use the polite form when speaking to a teacher, a superior such as your boss, or people you’re not very familiar with.
For nouns and adjectives, all that is required for the polite form is to add 「です」 to the end of the sentence. We did this in our simple self-introduction in the last section and because it’s understood by context that you are talking about yourself, there is no need to add a subject.
We can ask questions in the polite form by further adding 「か」 to 「です」. The 「か」 is a question marker so a question mark is not necessary. Below is a simple greeting in the polite form.
How are you?
A: (Are you) well?
B: (I’m) well.
Here’s an example of a casual morning greeting between two classmates and a polite morning greeting with the teacher.
Casual Morning Greeting
- おはよう – Good Morning (casual)
Alice: (Are you) well?
Lee: (I’m) good.
Polite Morning Greeting
- 先生 【せん・せい】 – teacher
- おはようございます – Good Morning (polite)
- お～ – a honorific prefix used for politeness and never used when referring to oneself
Smith: Good Morning!
Teacher: Are (you) well?
Smith: (I’m) well.
You can follow a similar model to practice greeting people in the morning. We’ll learn the expressions for afternoon and evening greetings in the next section.