What is The Meaning of “Kudasai”(ください)?

In the daily conversation of Japanese, you may hear many phrases commonly said with the word “Kudasai” such as the following sentences;

  • “Omizu wo Kudasai” which means “Please give me water”
  • “Mite Kudasai ” which means “Please look” and so on.

Have you heard both sentences when you were traveling or being in Japan?

Normally, it is being translated roughly as “Please” somehow. However, “Kudasai” has other meanings depending on the situation. In many other countries, people are confused to get the difference between “Kudasai” and “Onegaishimasu”.

There are some situations when it’s more appropriate to use “Kudasai” instead of using “Onegaishimasu” and vice versa. Could you tell me when the situation is? If you are not sure, please don’t worry! You can comprehensively master the phrase “Kudasai” from now on. Let’s check it out!

1. What does “Kudasai” [ください] mean?

Each language represents the culture and it is influenced by history. At first, take a look at the original meaning. “Kudasai” [ください] is derived from the verb “Kudasaru” [くださる], which means to ”Give Me Something”. It is the polite explanation verb that means the same as “Kureru” [くれる]

Following this, “Kudasai” [ください] is used when you want to get something from the other speaker or party. In English, we can translate it to “Please give me (this).” Thus, the verb is describing the action of the “Requester” and “Kudasai” is a word used when asking or urging other people to take some action.

Then what does the meaning of “Kudasai” in a sentence?

2. What does the meaning of “Kudasai” [ください] in a sentence?

The meaning of “Kudasai” depends on whether it is used in a Verb or an Auxiliary verb. There is little difference in meaning and usage. The most famous phrases are the following 3 Grammatical Patterns.

2.1 “Kudasai” as a Verb
Noun (N) + を [wo] + Kudasai    or     “Please give me…”

“Please give me N” is used when you are asking someone to give you something (Noun). The example of the sentences using the above pattern is as the following;

(1) これをください
Korewo Kudasai
Please give me this.

NOTED: “Nをください“ or “Please give me N” is used for people who have lower positions than you.
Talking about the real case, for an instant: when a teacher asks something from a student, asks for something or product at a store, or orders at a restaurant.

(2) 書類のコピーをください          
Shoruino kopi wo Kudasai.
Please give me a copy of the document.

Additionally, if you want to ask more politely, use “Kudasaimasennka” which means “Would you” as follows.

(3) すみません、水をくださいませんか     
Sumimasen, Mizuwo Kudasaimasenka?
Would you please give me some water?

(4) あの、地図をくださいませんか      
Ano, Chizuwo Kudasaimasenka?
Hmm, would you please give me a map?

2.2 “Kudasai” as an Auxiliary verb
Verb て [Te] form + Kudasai or “Please…”

The most famous “Verb +Kudasai” meanings are to Instruct, Request, and Recommend or Allowing Certain Things.

(1) To Give an Instruction

  • 20ページを見てください         
    20pege wo mite-kudasai.
    Please see page 20 of the textbook.
  • 田中さん、次を読んでください   
    Tanaka-san, tsugi wo yonde-kudasai.
    Mr. Tanaka, please read the next (part).
  • パスポートを見せてください     
    Passport wo misete-kudasai.
    Please show your passport.

(2) To Request

  • すみませんが、この漢字の読みかたを教えてください
    Sumimasenga, Kono Kanjino Yomikata wo Oshiete-kudasai.
    Excuse me, but please tell me how to read this Chinese character.
  • すみませんが、あそこの荷物を持ってきてください  
    Sumimsasenga, Nimotsuwo Mottekite-kudasai.
    I’m sorry, but please bring the luggage there.
  • すみませんが、かばんを持ってください             
    Sumimasenga, Kabanwo Motte-kudasai.
    I’m sorry, but please bring a bag.

    In those sentences you also read the phrase “sumimasen”, please go here to know about this phrase.

(3) To Recommend or Allowing

  • どうぞ食べてください               
    Douzo, Tabete-kudasai
    Please do not hesitate to eat.
  • 残業でおくれるので、先にはじめてください    
    Zangyo de okurerunode, Sakini Hajimete-kudasai
    I will be a little late due to overtime, please start first.
  • どうぞ、いすに座ってください。                
    Douzo, Isuni Suwatte-kudasai
    Please sit in a chair.

    In addition, let learn more about how to express “Kudasai” or “Please” to be more polite below!

2.3 お [O] / ご [Go] Verb ます [Masu] + Kudasai   “Please…”
“Kudasai” with the Honorific Prefixes

This polite phrase is actually having a very close meaning with the word “Recommend” and normally we put “Douzo” at beginning of the sentence. Please see the example below.

(1)どうぞ、お飲みください                         Please drink it.
Douzo, Onomi-kudasai
(2)どうぞ、ごらんください                    Please have a look
         Douzo, Goran-kudasai
(3)どうぞ、ご自由にお使いください        Please feel free to use
Douzo, Gojiyuuni Otsukai-kudasai
(4)どうぞ、ゆっくりお休みください          Please take a rest
Douzo, Yukkuri Oyasumi-kudasai

2.4 Other usages of “Kudasai”

There are exceptions other than the above usages. Examples are below.

(1) To support → がんばってください                  Please do your best.
             Ganbatte-kudasai
(2) Be careful → 気を付けてください                   Please be careful.
Kiwotsukete-kudasai
(3) Begging → たすけてください                               Please help.
Tasukete-kudasai

“Ganbattekudasai” and “Kiwotsukete-kudasai ” are often used in daily life, and If you faced an emergency situation, “Tasukete-kudasai ” is the most useful word, so please keep in mind to remember these “Kudasai” phrases.

3. What is the difference between “Kudasai” [ください] and “Onegaishimasu”[おねがいします]

Both “Kudasai” [ください] and “Onegaishimasu”[おねがいします] are Japanese words used when requesting items. In many cases, these two Japanese words, which translate roughly as “Please” or “Please give me” are interchangeable.

However, there is a slightly different meaning. There are some situations when it is more appropriate to use kudasai instead of onegaishimasu and vice versa. Generally, deciding between “Kudasai” and “Onegaishimasu” depends on the social context.

Beyond a simple translation, they are selectively used depending on the tone, context, and sentence structure you’re going for. Then, when should we use “Kudasa” [ください] and “Onegaishimasu” [おねがいします] same situation? And what kind of situations? As I mentioned before, “Kudasai” is used as a Verb and an Auxiliary verb. 

1. When Kudasai is used as a Verb

We can also use “Onegaishimasu” in the same situation and it has the same meaning. Please look at the following example.

Pattern: Nをください translates to “Please give me N.”
  • これ を ください/おねがいします     Please give me this
    Kore wo Kudasai/Onegaishimasu   
  • コーヒーを ください/おねがいします  I will buy a coffee
    Coffee wo Kudasai/ Onegaishimasu  

In addition, please note that “Kudasai”ください is used to ask someone equal or holding a lower position than the speaker. In Japan and its society, social status, positions, and ages are important, and your position will determine the degree of politeness. Therefore, Keigo (humble Japanese form used in business or work) is a big part of Japanese culture. A teacher who is requesting something from their student will use “Kudasai” instead of using “Onegaishimasu” because, having to bear the higher title, they can speak more casually. The same can be said when you are a guest (お客さま) ordering at a store or a restaurant.

It is not good to use “Kudasai” for your manager or supervisor. Instead, use it for requesting a friend or someone who has a lower position than yourself, like your junior at work or school as follows.

  • えんぴつ を ください   Give me the pencil.
    Enpitsu wo Kudasai

You may notice that in these example sentences, “Kudasai” feels more like a command, closer to order, and may feel awkward when it’s used to someone with a higher social status.

2. “Kudasai” is used for only concrete or tangible things

You can only use ~wo Kudasai [~をください] for concrete things. For things like an understanding, explanation, or other non-tangible requests, opt for “Onegaishimasu” instead. You can, however, tie the object with a verb (~te form) and add “Kudasai”. Have a look at the example below.

× 説明 を ください         An explanation please (wrong).
Setsumei wo Kudasai.
 説明してください。        Please explain (correct).
Setsumei shite-kudasai.

3. “Kudasai” is more casual when requesting an object

Simply speaking, “Kudasai” has a more casual (not to be mistaken as rude) tone than “Onegaishimasu”. It implies a demand and want, rather than a wish or request.

4. Only Use ”Kudasai” for Specific Cases

As I have mentioned previously, we can not use “Onegaishimasu” as an auxiliary verb. We can only use “Kudasai” when we need to make sentences with an Auxiliary Verb.

  • Verb て [Te] form + Kudasai   “Please…”
  • お [O] /ご [Go] Verb ます [Masu] + Kudasai   “Please…”
1. ちょっと待ってください Chotto matte kudasai.  Please wait for a moment.    
2. 明日来てくださいAshita kite kudasai.     Please come tomorrow.
3. 助けてくださいTasukete kudasai.Please help me!  
4. ご自由にご覧くださいGojiyu-ni Goran-kudasai Please feel free to have a look.
Example of the sentences using verb ~te kudasai

5. The Meaning of ”Onegaishimasu” [おねがいします]

“Onegaishimasu” [おねがいします] is used to make requests for someone higher than you or a stranger. This is a more passive and humble tone to it. You’ll find “Onegaishimasu” partnered together in other formal phrases: when you meet someone, when you reply to a mail or when you’re working together. It’s more commonly used to request a favor from a superior or someone you don’t know. This is because “Onegaishimasu” is closer to “I beg of you” than “would you please.”

  • 水をください           (Give me) water, please.
    Mizu wo Kudasai
  • 水をおねがいします    (A glass of) water, please.
    Mizu wo Onegaishimasu

As you may notice in the example, “kudasai” feels more direct. This relates to Japanese culture. Japanese people are generally indirect communicators. They may be ambiguous when answering questions and making requests to prevent a loss of face or out of politeness. You can also use ‘kudasai’ for an item, but if you want to be more formal when requesting an object, use “Onegaishimasu” instead.

6. Only use “Onegaishimasu” for Specific Cases and Situation

There are some situations when only “Onegaishimasu” is used. When making a service request, you should use onegaishimasu, as in the examples in these two tables.

①  Requesting a service you can’t fulfill yourself

  • 東京駅まで おねがいします   To Tokyo Station, please.
    Tokyo-eki made Onegaishimasu

When you’re requesting service for something you can’t do yourself, you must not use kudasai. In the above situation above, you can’t travel to Tokyo Station alone. Instead, you’re asking a taxi driver to do it for you.

Asking to speak to someone on the phone

This is one of the situations where only “Onegaishimasu” is used (the other being asking for a service). When asking to speak to someone on the phone, you can only use “Onegaishimasu”. You can’t ask someone to “Give” you a person.

  • 田中さんおねがいします    May I speak to Mr. Tanaka?
    Tanaka-san Onegaishimasu

Similarly, you can’t ask for someone using kudasai as it is considered rude.

  • べんごし おねがいします   May I have a lawyer, please.
    Bengoshi Onegaishimasu

③  Calling someone for attention

When you want to call someone or a waiter, you could raise your hand and say “Onegaishimasu” [おねがいします]. And someone should be coming on your way! You can also use “Sumimasen”[すみません] for this purpose. Also, In case you want to get your bill, you can use this phrase as well. 

  • お会計おねがいします    May I get the bill? / Bill please
    Okaikei Onegaishimasu

④ Request non-tangible objects

“~wo Onegaishimasu” [~をおねがいします] can be used when you ask for abstract or non-tangible things. This includes explanations, understanding, or cooperation. One of the examples is an expression you’d often hear on train platforms or informal announcements.

  • ご協力 を おねがいします    We ask for your cooperation.
    Gokyouryoku wo Onegaishimasu
  • ご理解 を おねがいします    We ask for your understanding.
    Gorikai wo Onegaishimasu

Please note that we use “Go” [ご] to add a feeling of politeness. In Japanese, it is common to use the prefixes “O”[お] and “Go” [ご] when using Keigo. In short, “Onegaishimasu” is used when asking someone for help to do something that you cannot do by yourself. For example, asking a taxi driver to help you take you somewhere.

Again, “Kudasai” is probably the more common form of saying please. “Onegaishimasu” however, is a more polite and formal way to say please and is technically used when you are requesting a favor from someone or when you are requesting someone to do something you cannot do yourself. This can also be used if you are speaking to a superior or someone you do not know well. 

Onegaishimasu is best to be used when ordering from a restaurant, giving directions to a cab driver, or when you are requesting service. 

Summarize

We can summarize this article as the following points:

  • The meaning of “Kudasai” depends on whether it is used in a Verb or an Auxiliary verb.
  • “Kudasai” has 3 meanings [Instruct, Request, and Recommend] depending on the situation.
  • When “Kudasai” is used as Verb, we can also “Onegaishimasu” at the same situation and meaning.
  • “Kudasai” is used to ask someone who is equal or has a lower position than the speaker.
  • “Onegaishimasu” is used to make requests for someone higher than you or a stranger
  • “Onegaishimasu” is used when asking someone for help to do something that you cannot do by yourself.
About Yuri Sensei 25 Articles
I am Yuri. I have worked for several companies, involved in assisting foreigners and teaching Japanese. I have also worked in Vietnam, teaching Japanese. I would like to help students abroad and teach Japanese culture. My hobbies are traveling abroad and sports, like tennis. Following excitement and discovering new things inspires me a lot. My joy in life is to help people overseas so that I can pass on the charm of Japanese culture.

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