5.1 Formal and Informal Speech Styles

This module will provide you with an overview of the distinction between formal and informal speech styles in Japanese.

When it comes to speaking Japanese, there are two main speech styles: formal and informal.

These styles, shaped by social dynamics and relationships, hold the key to successful communication in Japanese.

For the young adult and adult beginners embarking on their language learning journey, focusing on mastering formal speech style is a wise choice. It unlocks the gates to professional settings, where respect and politeness are particularly important.

What are the key differences?

In formal speech – when talking to a stranger or someone who is older or in a senior position – it is important to show respect by using polite forms. This includes the polite form です (desu) at the end of sentences, which we have emphasised so far.

Exclamation Icon In Module 6.1, we will learn another important polite form, the ます (masu) form. For now, we will continue to focus on the polite form です (desu).

Conversely, in informal speech –when talking to a close friend or family member – you can be more relaxed and casual. You can use shorter sentences without the polite form です and even leave out certain particles.


The resource from Learn Japanese with Dokidokicomics presents both formal and informal versions of various phrases. While it’s not necessary to watch the entire video or grasp all the content, as it may include unfamiliar words, phrases and grammar, the aim is to give you an overview of the differences between formal and informal speech styles.


Why is it important to learn the formal speech style?

Understanding the distinction between formal and informal speech is important for confidently navigating different social situations. For beginners, we recommend starting with a solid understanding of the formal speech style. This is because you are more likely to encounter new people in Japanese-speaking contexts. As a young adult or adult, you are expected to use polite and formal speech initially when building social and professional relationships.

At the same time, maintaining a balance in your Japanese learning journey is also crucial. We encourage you to become comfortable using polite forms and expressions, while also exploring the nuances and flexibility of informal speech. Achieving this balance is a key aspect of mastering the language!


Exercise 1

This is a quick review exercise on formal and informal speech styles. Read the following questions and select either the ‘true’ or ‘false’ button to respond.



Exclamation IconExclamation Sign Icon” (untitled) by Dave Gandy. Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC by SA 3.0.



Learn Japanese with Dokidokicomics. “Informal and Formal Japanese Phrases! (Casual vs Polite).” YouTube video, 12:01. April 30, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDIC_Vso5Eg.





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Japanese Introductory 1 Copyright © 2024 by Iori Hamada is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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