As in any language, verbs in Japanese express the action in a sentence. In Japanese, verbs also express the speaker’s status relative to the listener. When you learn Japanese, you quickly see that by changing the verb ending, the speaker can show honor toward the listener or show humility toward the speaker’s own actions. This system set of keigo, or honorific language, is a distinguishing characteristic of the Japanese language.
Giving and receiving in Japanese is closely tied to the speaker’s view of his status or position versus his perception of the listener’s status or position. Japanese has layers and layers of nuance, and discovering those layers reveals the beauty of the language. However, it is important to stay focused on the essentials as you learn Japanese. Follow this guide to learning the seven Japanese verbs for giving and receiving:
- Ageru means the speaker gives something to someone else. The subject of the sentence is the speaker: I give to X.
- Morau means the speaker receives something from someone else. The subject of the sentence is the giver: X gives to me.
- Sashiageru means the speaker gives something to someone else of higher status, such as a supervisor at work or a teacher. The usage is identical to ageru, except this verb expresses honor toward the recipient. The sentence subject is the speaker: I give to X (with honor).
- Itadaku means the speaker receives something from someone else in a humble way. The sentence subject is the speaker, and the verb expresses the speaker’s humility toward the giver: I (humbly) receive from X.
- Yaru means the speaker gives something to someone or something. If the recipient is a person, it should be someone lower in status than the speaker, such as a child. The subject of the sentence is the speaker: I give to X (lower in status).
- Kureru means the speaker is given something. The subject of the sentence is the giver: X gives to me.
- Kudasaru means the speaker is given something from someone higher in status or to whom honor should be expressed. The subject of the sentence is the giver: X (with honor) gives to me.
When you learn Japanese, start your study with ageru, morau, and kureru. These three Japanese verbs will do for all situations of giving and receiving. Kare-ni ringo-o agemashita means I gave him an apple; kare-ni ringo-o moraimashita means I received an apple from him; and kare-ga ringo-o kuremashita means he gave me an apple. The difference between ageru and kureru trips up many Japanese students, so study these two verbs carefully.
Then, as you learn more Japanese, add itadaku and kudasaru. These verbs are equivalent to morau and kureru, respectively, but are used when you wish to express humility or honor. If you ask someone on the street for directions, for example, it is appropriate to use itadaku as in michi-o oshiete itadakemasen ka?, because you are asking a favor of a stranger.
Finally, add sashiageru and yaru to your Japanese vocabulary. These two verbs both mean “I give,” but they are exact opposites when it comes to the position of the recipient with respect to you (the speaker). The Japanese verb yaru was traditionally used when giving things to children or to pets, but recently, some Japanese have started using ageru instead. This change puts the child or pet at the same rank as the speaker, which more traditional Japanese claim is improper use of the Japanese language.