What Desu Means, How to Use It and Audio Examples

です (desu) is often translated as “to be” in English. 

However, です is so much more complex and nuanced than that.

Read on for a full explanation of the politeness and grammar aspects of the Japanese です.


The 4 Forms of です You Need to Know

Simply put, です means “to be” and comes at the end of sentences, as all Japanese sentences follow a subject-object-verb pattern. It’s pronounced as dess rather than desoo

Here are the four most common forms of です.

1. です (desu): The polite and most common form

In most cases, it’s best to use the polite form of です—which is, well, itself.

Not only does it ensure that your sentences are grammatically correct, but also that they’re not offensive. It’s standard to use です with your superiors or people you might not know very well.

2. でございます (degozaimasu): The respectful form used in formal situations

If you’re familiar with 敬語 (けいご)— keigo or polite speech, you know that verbs can have very different levels of politeness.

でございます is considered a very respectful form of です and has the same meaning and usage.

You might find it written in email correspondence or on website pages. You may also hear it spoken in meetings and presentations.

3. である (de aru): The polite form used in public speech and literature

You’ll likely see である as the form of です most often used in journalism and formal writing, so it’s good to know for reading the news in Japanese.

4. (da): The casual form used in informal situations

Lastly, だ indicates the lowest level of politeness. Thus, it can sound very straightforward.

Take the following examples and their translations:

何方様ですか? (どなたさまですか?)— May I ask who might you be?

ですか? (だれですか?)— Who is it?

(だれ?)— Who dat?

How to Use です

As a linking verb or copula

です is used to connect subjects and predicates. For example:

My name is Tom.

Today is Friday.

As a connector for two independent sentences

Whereas (and) is used for connecting nouns, です is used for connecting two complete sentences.

Like the Japanese godan verbs, です has a -てform (connecting form), which is , as in:

The test is today and the presentations are next week.

With adjectives and verbs

Using です with adjectives and verbs doesn’t change the meaning or tense of these words.

Tokyo is highly populated.

In casual speech, です is usually omitted. Here’s the same sentence with and without です:

It was cold yesterday.

It was cold yesterday.

Remember, because Japanese adjectives can be conjugated, です doesn’t function like the “to be” verb in English. So でした (the past tense of です) would sound unnatural if used as follows:

It was cold yesterday.

To soften strong expressions

Another unique aspect of Japanese adjectives and verbs is that they can take on the 〜たい or the “I want to…” form. For example:

I want to eat strawberries!

Expressing desire like this sounds very powerful. So you’ll typically want to soften the impact with です or even 〜と思います (〜とおもいます). 〜と思います literally translates as “I think that…” but acts as a humble sentence ending to display politeness.

I want to drink some coffee.

I would like to drink some coffee.

As 〜のです (~no desu)

The particle goes at the end of a sentence to explain something to the speaker. Here, です is optional and its form depends on the style of speech, but its presence (or absence) doesn’t change the meaning.

I want to drink some coffee.

How to Conjugate です

です can be used in different tenses.

The past tense of です is でした , with the casual form being だった .

Yesterday was my birthday.

You can link different statements together, but they don’t have to be in the same tense:

Yesterday was my birthday but today is my little sister’s birthday.

There’s also the presumptive form, which (as the name suggests) is used for uncertainty and presumptions. The polite form is でしょう , while the informal form is だろう .

Isn’t she the winner this year?

Is this fine?


Now, you have all the tools and knowledge you need to get out there and score some perfectly structured sentences.

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