Sometimes, it’s very important to find some common topics in conversation. They would help us to break the ice quickly. In my opinion, talking about age is one of them. It can be the start of good conversation. In a way, talking about age is one of the most needed conversation skills. In this blog post, I will explain the Japanese phrase to ask someone’s age in detail.
On the other hand, however, it can be rude sometimes. So, when we ask someone’s age, we need to be polite as much as possible. In this blog post, I will also explain a polite way to ask someone’s age in Japanese. Let’s get started!
- Nansai desuka meaning from its components
- More polite way to ask someone’s age in Japanese
- And the rest
Nansai desuka meaning from its componentsFirst of all, let me explain the meaning of “nansai desuka” and its components.
- nansai desuka – 何歳ですか (なんさいですか) : a Japanese phrase to ask someone’s age, meaning ‘how old are you?’. Its kanji expression is “何歳ですか” or “何才ですか”. The latter one looks more casual while the former one is a bit more formal.
- nan – 何 (なん) : an indefinite demonstrative pronoun meaning ‘what’ in Japanese.
- sai – 歳 (さい) : a counter suffix used to mean ‘years old’. It can also be pronounced “toshi”. In this case, it means ‘age’.
- desu – です : an auxiliary verb usually put after a noun or adjective to make its polite form. It would be well known for a part of desu form.
- ka – か : a sentence ending particle put at the end of sentence to make a simple interrogative sentence, namely, question. By putting it at the end of sentence and raising its pitch, we can easily make a question.
Example of nansai desuka
- anata – あなた : a pronoun meaning ‘you’.
- wa – は : a binding particle working as a case maker or topic maker. In the example, it is put after the pronoun, “anata”, to make the subject word.
Sometimes, however, they avoid to use this expression since it could still sound a bit casual. Especially in formal situations, they’d use a much more polite expression. In the next paragraphs, I will explain it.
More polite way to ask someone’s age in JapaneseAsking someone’s age can be rude. It is not only in Japan, but in other countries as well, I think. So, when we talk with others and ask their age, we need to be careful. We should try to be polite as much as possible.
When Japanese people ask someone’s age in formal situations, they would use a different expression than shown in the example above. It shall be much more polite. Below is the one.
- oikutsu desu ka – おいくつですか : a phrase to ask someone’s age politely, meaning ‘how old are you?’
Example of oikutsu desuka
- shitsurei – 失礼 (しつれい) : a noun meaning ‘rudeness’. In reality, Japanese people often use it to mean ‘excuse me’. But sometimes, Just saying “shitsurei” can sound a bit too casual.
- ga – が : a conjunctive particle put after a plain formed verb or adjective to mean ‘but’, ‘yet’, ‘though’, ‘although’ or some such. It can be used to connect two sentences which have different or opposite meanings.
- o – お : a prefix used to make its following word more polite. Learn more about it through a word, “omotenashi”.
- ikutsu – いくつ : a noun widely used to mean ‘how many’, ‘how much’, ‘how old’ and so forth. In a way, it is a numeral which can be used when a number is indefinite in conversation.
The former part of the example sentence, namely, “shitsurei desu ga” is a very common expression meaning “excuse me” in Japanese. It would help Japanese learners a lot in various situations. It’s worth remembering.
As you can see here, “oikutsu” consists of two parts, “o” and “ikutsu”. “O” is a prefix widely used to make polite expressions in Japanese. It is often put just before a noun to make its polite expression. Yet, this does not mean it can be used only with nouns. Actually, it is also widely used with verbs and adjectives. The other one, “ikutsu” is a noun and corresponds well to some English phrases like “how many”, “how much”, “how old” and so on. In this case, therefore, we can consider “oikutsu” as a Japanese polite expression of “how old”.
This is the details of Japanese polite way to ask someone’s age.
And the restIn the last paragraphs, I’ve explained that “ikutsu” means ‘how many’, ‘how much’, ‘how old’ and so forth. This could mean that depending on context and situations, “oikutsu desu ka” can be a polite expression for ‘how many’ or ‘how much’ as well. Actually, It is not a dedicated phrase for ‘how old are you?’ So, we need to be careful with context. Below is an example conversation between two Japanese, Haru and Aki.
- ringo – 林檎 (りんご) : a noun meaning ‘an apple’ or ‘apples’. In Japanese, there is no clear border between singular and plural. Learn more about them.
- wo – を : a case particle widely used to make the objective case. In the example, it is put just after the noun, “ringo”, to change it to the objective word.
- kudasai – 下さい (ください) : a command form of a verb, “kudasaru”, which corresponds well to “please”.
So, in a way, learning Japanese conversation skills itself would increase the accuracy of understanding of “oikutsu”. But, again, context is very easy in many cases. So, don’t worry that much.
Japanese Particles Master
Masaki Mori is a Japanese particles master. Through teaching Japanese language, he is trying to spread the culture of Japan. His goal is to preserve it as much as possible.