An abundance of grammatical gratitude

While you may not spend Japan’s 勤労感謝の日 (Kinrō Kansha no Hi, Labor Thanksgiving Day) on Nov. 23 with a turkey packed with stuffing and drowning in gravy, the exercise of giving thanks is scientifically proven to make you happier, improve relationships and even reduce aches and pains.

Fortunately, Japanese is a language full of gratitude. There are far more ways to express thanks and appreciation than you can count, let alone fit into one article or Japanese lesson. Some are simple, and some are highly specific to formal or business settings. Regardless, it all starts with the universally beloved ありがとう (arigatō, thank you), which can be modified in myriad ways: a more polite ありがとうございます (arigatō gozaimasu) or どうもありがとうございます (dōmo arigatō gozaimasu) for strangers and superiors, the past tense ありがとうございました (arigatō gozaimashita) for favors already completed, with the addition of 色々 (iro-iro) to give thanks for not one but various things, or with 本当に (hontō ni), 大変 (taihen) or 誠に (makoto ni) at the front for really expressing your gratitude. But the multiplicity of ありがとう only touches the surface. Oh, and with most thank-yous it is best to thank the person twice — once at the time of the favor, and again the next time you see them.

In a dark, conflicted and pandemic-ridden year, what is there to be thankful for? I can definitely thank my Japanese teachers for helping me to survive here. To my girlfriend, who has taught me Japanese much more casually, I say, “日本語を教えてくれてありがとう” (Nihongo o oshiete-kurete arigatō, Thanks for teaching me Japanese).

Appending that くれる (kureru, to give) in its te-form is one key way to express gratitude to others for favors and gifts received. If you’re speaking to someone else about receiving help, just change it to ~てもらう (~te morau, I receive~). For example, if I was describing my thanks to my girlfriend to a third party, I’d go with: 彼女に日本語を教えてもらったから助かった (Kanojo ni Nihongo o oshiete-moratta kara tasukatta, My girlfriend really helped me by teaching me Japanese).

くれる and もらう can be elevated to formal expressions of thanks to a teacher, stranger or boss by changing to the polite forms of くれる and もらう, which are 下さる (kudasaru) and 頂く (itadaku), respectively. To my teacher, I can say, “今年もたくさん教えて下さって大変ありがとうございました (Kotoshi mo takusan oshiete-kudasatte taihen arigatō gozaimashita, Thank you so much for teaching me a lot this year). This sentence is like a level three expression of thanks: it combines a ~て下さる for politeness with a 大変 for emphasis and put in the past tense as well, since the teaching occurred over the past year.

What about being thankful for the small things, like being grateful for the gift of life? 感謝 (kansha) literally means gratitude but, surprisingly, it isn’t used much for interpersonal communication. You can say

今年は私も家族も健康に過ごせたことに感謝しています (kotoshi wa watashi mo kazoku mo kenkō ni sugoseta koto ni kansha shite-imasu, I’m grateful that my family and I were healthy this year), but a more common way to phrase it would be simply to say 今年は私も家族も健康に過ごせて良かったです(kotoshi wa watashi mo kazoku mo kenkō ni sugosete yokatta desu, thankfully me and my family were healthy this year). 良かったです does a lot of work on its own in expressing gratitude.

Still, much of our gratitude is interpersonal, and 良かったです won’t cut it for thanking my boss for giving me the opportunity to translate an important project or sponsoring my visa. There are dozens of formal expressions of gratitude in Japanese, but two common ones are ありがたく思います (arigataku omoimasu) and 御礼を申し上げます (onrei mōshiagemasu). The former is for formal thanks when asking for something from clients: 金曜日までに送っていただければありがたく思います (Kinyōbi made ni okutte-itadakereba arigataku omoimasu, If you can send it to me by Friday I would be thankful). The latter is more suited to me thanking my company CEO: ビザに関するお手続きのご支援を頂き、厚く御礼を申し上げます (Biza ni kansuru otetsuzuki no goshien o itadaki, atsuku onrei mōshiagemasu, Thank you sincerely for your assistance with my visa procedures). This sounds more natural in an email, however; 誠にありがとうございました probably rolls off the tongue better in person, and is a good catch-all for formal thank-yous.

There’s a lot to be thankful for, and a hundred and one ways to say that you are in Japanese. そしてこの記事を読んでいただき、本当にありがとうございます (Soshite kono kiji o yonde-itadaki, hontō ni arigatō gozaimasu, And thank you so much for reading this article, too).

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