Translation:How old are you?
So, I asked a few Japanese people and なんさいですか is the informal and おいくつですか is formal. Here is what someone said: おいくつ、何さい usually means "how old". おいくつですか may translate to "how many is it?", and it may be a polite version. but usually we use おいくつ when we ask about age, and いくつ when we ask about how many.
Ahh.. that makes sense. I have noticed that they use some polite forms such as for introducing yourself, マリアといいます。as opposed to just the formal、 私の名前はマリアです。This was throwing me off a little because when I took Japanese in college we were taught to ask "how old are you" using 何歳(なんさい)。Thank you for this clarification! It never crossed my mind that it could be a polite form.
My instructor taught me that いくつ is a counter for general/abstract objects "the most common and versatile counter. It can be used to count almost anything". He lived in Japan all his life and grew up bilingual in Japanese and English from what he says, apparentally the Japanese have hundreds of counters for different things like how we say a dozen cookies or a school of fish.
Thanks for explaining the difference with おいくつ thats something I didn't know yet
He lived in Japan all his life and grew up bilingual in Japanese and English from what he says, apparentally the Japanese have hundreds of counters for different things like how we say a dozen cookies or a school of fish.
Searching "counter for" on Jisho is simultaneously a blast and also terrifying. It's a blast just because some of them seem so ridiculously specific, and terrifying because holy crap I have to learn all of these, don't I?
To be fair, なんさいですか is polite, at least more so than なんさい？
There's actually a considerable difference between "polite" words and "formal" words in Japanese when you really get into, but even native speakers can have trouble with that, let alone beginners.
But the difference between なんさいですか and おいくつですか isn't dialectical.
I'll give a brief summary, but I'm sure I can't do this topic justice, because this is rapidly getting into the realm of keigo (敬語) in case you wanted to do further reading.
As @hiilani12 points out, generally speaking informal = casual, です/ます = polite and formal = business language, and what form you use is dependent on the situation and who you're talking to. However, if you start looking in more detail, it becomes necessary to separate this conflation of formality and politeness. You can, for example, speak formally and still offend people, so formal =/= polite. On the other end, you can speak casually and still use respectful language, so informal =/= rude.
So, to begin with, there's three main classes of verbs/grammar structures within 敬語, which literally means "honor language". The easiest to understand is sonkeigo (尊敬語) which is "respectful language"; using a sonkeigo verb means you (the speaker) are elevating or showing respect to the person who does the verb.
- 召し上がりますか？【めしあがりますか？】= "Will you eat this?" (召し上がる = sonkeigo version of "to eat")
Then, there's the opposite of that: kenjougo (謙譲語), which is "humble language". Using a kenjougo verb means that you (the speaker) are lowering the status of the person who does the verb (generally yourself) below that of the listener.
- 頂けますか？【いただけますか？】= "May I eat it?" (頂く = kenjougo version of "to eat/to receive/to accept")
Note that using these correctly makes your speech polite, but you can also use the plain/informal forms (「召し上がる？」 or 「頂いていい？」) and still be polite. Alternatively, if you use these incorrectly, e.g. using sonkeigo to talk about your own actions (effectively "respecting" yourself more than the listener), can be impolite even if you used the formal ます forms of the verbs.
The third class of keigo verbs is teineigo (丁寧語), which kind of just makes things complicated because it just means "polite language". This is just your base level "politeness" that most people are familiar with. It includes using です, ます forms of verbs, using full nouns over shortened versions (e.g. こちら instead of こっち), and also includes bikago (美化語) or "beautification language" which just makes your speech sound nice. It is generally consider formal and "polite" in the sense that it's basic "civilized" speech.
- 食べますか？【たべますか？】= "Will you eat it?" (食べます = teineigo/"polite" version of "to eat")
Below all the keigo, there's plain forms of verbs (also commonly called "casual" or "dictionary" forms) which are considered informal, but not inherently impolite. The impoliteness associated with these forms is from using them in the wrong situations, i.e. using them when you're expected to use teineigo.
- 食べるの？【たべるの？】= "Will you eat it?" (食べる = plain version of "to eat", の = softening question particle)
Below that, some words have rude/crass versions which are considered inherently impolite, but acceptable if you're messing around with friends or hanging with the wrong (or right, I guess) crowd.
- 食うか？【くうか？】= "You gonna eat it?" (食う = crass version of "to eat", not "swear word" levels of impropriety but pretty low-brow)
There were a lot of things I missed, like the concept of uchi-soto (内外), and many social considerations about when any of these are appropriate, but hopefully this gives you a taste of the difference between politeness and formality.
PS. I think you will get notified, but my apologies for the late reply. お待たせしました
Informal is usually considered casual and is used when talking with friends - 肉を食べない. Polite is where you would add です or ます and is essentially speaking "properly" rather then shortening a sentence- 肉を食べます. Formal is used in business settings most often and is a whole different structure then what Duolingo teaches.
They are situational and really depends on who you're talking to. I guess imagine how you would answer a question about your favorite movie to a friend, your teacher, and to your boss. Most likely, you won't answer the same way to each of them. That is kind of the distinction between the different structures.
It is most probably not about whether おいくつ or なんさい is more polite or rude. They are roughly the same in politeness.
It is about whether you should ask a person his age or not.
As discussed elsewhere within this thread, refrain from asking the age of any person you have just met, or someone seems older than you. Except if you are an old person or a small child, then it would be more flexible.
Mostly context, but also (as I've just been reprimanded by my partner) asking someone's nationality in that way is incredibly rude, so it would be unlikely that that's the intended meaning.
A polite Japanese person would say something like 「どちらの国(kuni)の方(kata)ですか」, which is a respectful way to ask "of which country are you".
The use of お indicates not only politeness, but also the direction of the question, i.e. towards the listener. The sentence is also respectful because it is intentionally made vague by avoiding the specific counter for age (歳 sai), which harkens back to a time when Japanese politics and language were deeply intertwined.
But you're right, there isn't much to go on. It's better to think of this as a set phrase, much like はじめまして or おはようございます, in that, while you can break it down and explain nuggets of meaning which inform us about what the phrase means nowadays, there is very little literal meaning retained in the phrase.
I think there is a MAJOR PROBLEM with this question.
When you mouse over it, it says 'how many' as a translation, AND it is being introduced in the house section - which has absolutely nothing to do with age.
So why when i'm counting things and describing things in my house do I suddenly get a question that is applicable to that but tells me to say something else entirely different?
Ah, my friend, the Japanese have all sorts of rules for just about every situation you could come up with. But the problem for us foreigners is that they're all unspoken rules. A native Japanese speaker would be able to tell you if a given situation is considered rude or not, but they'd probably have a hard time explaining "why" in a general sense.
As Keith mentioned, asking the age of someone you just met is generally not good manners, but of course, there are always exceptions.
- You are an old person. Old people have a lot of leeway in Japan, and most rules don't seem to apply to them (or they all ignore them).
- The person you are asking is a small child, maybe around 10 or younger.
*Disclaimer*: these exceptions are just my observations from the two years I was living and working in Sapporo.
If you think it might be rude to ask the age but want to do it anyway I would use おいくつですか。
I was asked this by some of the older female co-workers when I did an internship in Japan and I am female as well. But I don't know which of these factors made them choose おいくつですか。Might be the age gap, gender or the formal surroundings.
As I understood it, you should use it in more formal situations when you don't know the listener well since it is more polite than 何歳ですか。And for people who are older than you or have a higher rank.
The reason for おいくつ not being used in TV or radio shows might be because it's often already known (talkshows, news), not relevant or the program is more casual (entertainment programs).
The subject here is implied very strongly to be the listener, i.e. "you", because お usually makes things respectful towards the listener, like お名前.
If you were already talking about whoever "he/she" is, then you can just say いくつですか and the subject is implied to be unchanged, i.e. "he/she". If you were talking about something else, you have to indicate that you're changing the topic and specify what you're changing it to. So you would say 彼/彼女 はいくつですか.
This is assuming that the situation calls for いくつですか and not 何歳ですか, but in the latter case, the same thinking process applies.
Not particularly more or less so compared with Western (Australian) cultures. You have the same sort of considerations in Japanese too, such as the relative age of the person you're asking, what sort of social situation it is, etc.
Actually, in my experience, it's more common for Japanese people who are/appear roughly the same age to ask each other's age, because it helps establish 上下関係【じょうげかんけい】or the social heirarchy. If someone is obviously older or younger than you, there's no need to ask, but if you're not sure, you're more likely to check so that you show the proper respect if they end up being older than you.
おいくつ is almost always about age. The お is honorific in this case. From the dictionary (https://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/word/%E5%BE%A1%E5%B9%BE%E3%81%A4/) it can be "customary usage" as well (but it is rarely used). From the dictionary「今年おいくつにおなりですか」 (How old are you this year) is honorific usage,「おいくつ差し上げましょうか」(How many should I give you) is customary usage.
When you ask a question the subject is the listener, not a pronoun. Like if im asking you a question I would use literally anything else, your Name, job, relation, superiority/inferiority etc. before a pronoun to describe you the listener when asking a question. Id only use 彼, それ etc, if im asking about someone else specifically, or if im making a statement about them.
For example. The sentence 猫が好きですか？ Isnt literally "Do 'you' like cats?" Its "Do 'you, the person listening' like cats?"
Similarly by adding context with 彼. 彼は猫が好きですか is "Does he like cats?"
The trick is, no context for statements means "Myself" is the topic. No context for questions, the listener is the topic.
いくつ is the question word "how many"; used for the general counter つ
With the additional honorific お it is a polite way to say "How old"
You're literally asking "How many is it" with "years/age" being implied with the honorific that shows respect toward the listener. It is more polite than using the counter for age 歳 -「何歳ですか」How old are you? (lit. 'what number of years old are you?) which is very direct so is usually only used with those below you in social standing, such as children.
おいくつですか - How many (years old) are you?
This is also discussed pretty extensively on the rest of this page :)