Japanese has several different words for giving and receiving. Which word is used depends on various factors:
- whether the giver is the speaker or is another person
- whether the other person has higher status than the speaker
- whether the speaker views the action as giving or as receiving
In the rest of this post, I use speaker to refer to a speaker or writer. The term speaker also covers any member of the speaker’s ‘in group’, for example:
- members of the speaker’s family, when talking to (or about) someone outside the family
- co-employees, when talking to (or about) someone outside the company that employs the speaker
There are 3 basic verbs for giving and receiving in Japanese:
- ageru: gift by the speaker
- kureru: gift to the speaker
- morau: receipt by the speaker
Ageru: gift by the speaker
Ageru refers to a gift by the speaker to someone else.
|Watashi wa||tomodachi ni||hon o||agemashita|
|I gave my friend a book|
Explanation of example 1:
- The particle wa marks watashi (‘I’) as the topic (TOP) of the sentence.
- The particle ni marks tomodachi (‘friend’) as the indirect object.
- The particle o marks hon (‘book’) as the direct object (OBJ)
Kureru: gift by someone else
Kureru refers to a gift by someone else to the speaker (or writer).
|Tomodachi wa||watashi ni||hon o||kuremashita|
|My friend gave me a book|
Morau: receipt by the speaker
Morau refers to a receipt by the speaker.
|Watashi wa||tomodachi ni||hon o||moraimashita|
|I received a book from my friend|
The sentence in example 3 marks the donor (tomodachi, ‘friend’) with the particle ni. The particle kara (‘from’) can replace the particle ni here.
Each of the 3 verbs has an honorific counterpart, as follows. Also, ageru also has a humble (or condescending) counterpart.
|Normal form||Honorific form||Humble form|
The honorific is used when the speaker portrays the other person as having higher social status than the speaker. In example 4, the verb sashiageru is used instead of the verb ageru. That is because the recipient (the teacher) has higher status than the speaker.
|Watashi wa||sensei ni||hon o||sashiagemashita|
|I gave the teacher a book|
The humble form yaru is used when the speaker gives something to someone of lower status. It is used, for example, among close friends, or when the recipient is a child, animal or plant.
Sentences not involving the speaker
The above discussion covers sentences in which the subject is the speaker (or other member of the speaker’s in group). Kuno (1973) states that:
- the verbs kureru, kudasaru, sasiageru and tadakimasu can be used only in those sentences.
- the verbs ageru, yaru and morau can be used even if their subject is not the speaker (or other member of the speaker’s in group).
Using these verbs as auxiliary
The verbs of giving or receiving can be combined as an auxiliary with another verb (the main verb). This construction shows that the person portrayed as the recipient (of the verb of giving or receiving) of the gift benefits from that the action of the main verb.
In this construction, the main verb appears in a connective form ending in -te. In examples 5-7, the verb form yonde is the -te form of the verb yomu, ‘read’.
|Watashi wa||Taroo ni||hon o||yonde||agemashita|
|I read the book for Taroo’s benefit|
|Taroo wa||Watashi ni||hon o||yonde||kuremashita|
|Taroo read the book for my benefit|
|Watashi wa||Taroo ni||hon o||yonde||moraimashita|
|I received benefit of Taroo reading me a book|
Common phrases using verbs of giving
A couple of common phrases are based on words mentioned above:
- the normal word for ‘please’ is kudasai, a form of kudasaru. For example, ‘please show me’ is misete kudasai (literally please do the favour of showing me)
- when people start to eat a meal together, they say itadakimasu (‘we are receiving from someone of high status’)
The Structure of the Japanese Language, by Susumu Kuno (1973)
An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics, by Natsuko Tsujimura (1996)