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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher where I’ll answer some of *your* most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is…
What does GOZAIMASU mean and why does it make phrases more polite?
When you say “Good morning” in Japanese, you can say “Ohayo” casually or “Ohayo Gozaimasu” to be polite. However, you cannot say ‘Kon’nichiwa gozaimasu’ or ‘Konbanwa gozaimasu’ as more polite phrases of ‘Kon’nichiwa’ or ‘Konbanwa.’
So what’s going on with this?
When you say “Good morning” politely, you say ‘Ohayo gozaimasu.’ It’s just the casual “Good morning,” ‘Ohayo’ with ‘gozaimasu’ at the end.
The word ‘gozaimasu’ is a very polite expression and can roughly be translated as “am,” “is,” or “are” in English.
The phrase “ohayo” comes from an adjective, “hayai” meaning “early” and it literally means “it’s early.” So, “ohayo” can take the polite expression “gozaimasu” after that to say it politely.
However, other greeting phrases, such as ‘Kon’nichiwa’ meaning “Hello,” and ‘Konbanwa’ meaning “Good evening.”‘ cannot take ‘gozaimasu.’ You don’t say ‘Kon’nichiwa gozaimasu’ or ‘Konbanwa gozaimasu.'
It’s because the phrases “kon’nichiwa” and “Konbanwa” have different origins from ‘Ohayo (gozaimasu)’. ‘Kon’nichiwa’ means “today (is)…” and came from the sentence, ‘Kon’nichi wa genki desu ka.’ meaning “How are you today?” Whereas Konbanwa’ means “this evening (is)...” and came from ‘Konban wa genki desu ka.’ meaning “How are you this evening?” So, the latter part, ‘genki desu ka,’ is dropped to make “Kon’nichiwa” and “Konbanwa”. They don’t come from adjectives like how Ohayo comes from “hayai” so these two greetings cannot take ‘gozaimasu’ after them.
Just remember that you can choose either the casual or polite version when you say “Good morning” but you don’t have to worry about the politeness when you say “Hello” and “Good evening” in Japanese.
I hope this makes sense to you, and it was interesting to hear about the origins of these popular Japanese phrases!
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!