ください (kudasai) and おねがいします (onegaishimasu): What’s The Difference?

Last Updated on 21.12.2021 by Coto Japanese Language School

ください (kudasai) and おねがいします (onegaishimasu) are one of the first phrases you’ll hear when you’re studying Japanese. Their versatility — not to mention their relation to Japan’s culture of politeness and humility — is the reason you’ll find Japanese people using them a lot.

In essence, both words mean “please,” and it’s easy to use them interchangeably. Sure, in English, there’s only one way to say “please”, but while ください and おねがいします seem identical in their usage, that’s not quite the case.

This little semantic difference is backed by years and years of cultural preference. Beyond a simple translation, they are selectively used depending on the tone, context and sentence structure you’re going for. So when and how do you use kudasai and onegaishimasu seperately?

Before we go further into the article, note that this article will use hiragana, so prior knowledge of them is a must. If you’re still learning them, don’t worry. Take a look at our hiragana chart to review them.

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The Literal Meaning of Kudasai and Onegaishimasu

ください or 下さい is derived from the verb ださる, which means to ”give me”. It is the humble honorific verb that means the same as くれる. Following this, 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”

On the other hand, おねがいします or お願いします comes from the word 願い・ねがい, which means “wish” or “hope“. When you use おねがいします, you are basically asking someone to humbly do you a favor. Think of it as describing the action of the requestor. When used to tell someone to do something with おねがいします, it becomes less of a wish and more of an instruction (“to request”). When you are saying おねがいします, you are literally saying either “I’d like that” or “I beg of you.”

To get a better picture of how these two phrases differ, check out the example sentences.

ラーメン を ひとつください。
Give me one (bowl) of ramen.

サラダ を お願いします。
さらだ を おねがいします。
Salad, please.

Now that you know the literal meaning, let’s get into both words’ contextual implications.

Contextual Meaning of Kudasai (ください)

1. ください is used when asking something for yourself (or your group)

While these two words can be roughly translated as “please”, ください is used to make a request for something you are entitled to. In other words, you can’t use kudasai on someone’s behalf.

For example, Nをください translates to “Please give me N.” Take a look at a simple example below.

A:これ を ください (Please give me this)。
B:はい (Yes)。

2. ください is used to ask someone who is equal or below your social status

In Japan and its society, rank is important, and your position will determine the degree of politeness. This is why 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 ください instead of おねがいします 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.

You wouldn’t want to use “kudasai” to your manager or supervisor. Instead, you use it for making a request to a friend or someone who has a lower social status, like your こうはい (your junior at work or school).

鉛筆 を ください
えんぴつ を ください
Give me the pencil.

Notice that in these example sentences, ください feels more like a command, closer to order. ください’s blatancy can feel awkward when it’s used to someone with a higher social status.

3. ください is used for only concrete or tangible things

You can only use ~をください for concrete things. For things like an understanding, explanation or other non-tangible requests, opt for おねがいします instead.

You can, however, tie the object with a verb (~te form) and add ください. Take a look at the example below.

説明 を 下さい。
せつめい を ください
Explain, please (wrong).

説明して下さい。
せつめいしてください
Please explain (correct).

4. ください is more casual when requesting an object

Simply speaking, ください has a more casual (not to be mistaken as rude) tone than おねがいします. It implies a demand and want, rather than a wish or request.

The same way Japanese men and women uses different suffix (kun, chan or san) and first-and-second pronouns (watashi, ore or boku), you’ll tend to hear men use ください more often than women.

水 を ください
みず を ください
Give me (a glass of) water.

5. ください can be used to make formal commands

You can’t use onegaishimasu for commands, but you can use kudasai to do an action using the ~て formula. This is because “kudasai” can be used with a verb.

Keep in mind that ください is a less polite way of requesting an object (something tangible), but when it comes to making an order, it is considered polite. Take a look at the example below.

座ってください。
すわってください。
Please take a seat.

食べてください。
たべてください。
Please eat.

ちょっと待ってください
ちょっとまってください。
Please wait a moment.

To make the command more casual (be careful when using it), you can omit the ください.

ちょっと待ってね。
ちょっとまってね
Wait.

Note that you can use a verb with onegaishimasu, but you have to change the verb into a noun. In this case, adding の (no) after it nominalizes a verb.

Contextual Meaning of Onegaishimasu (おねがいします)

1. おねがいします is used to make requests for someone who is higher than you or a stranger

Onegaishimasu has a more passive and humble tone to it. In fact, you’ll find おねがいします 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 おねがいします is closer to “I beg of you” than “would you please.”

水をください。
みずをください。
(Give me) water, please.

水をお願いします。
みずをおねがいします
(A glass of) water, please.

Notice that 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 おねがいします instead.

If you want to be more humble use, you’d say おねがいいたします. いたします is the most humble form of “do” or する.

3. おねがいします is used when you are requesting a service you can’t fulfill yourself

東京駅 まで お願いします。
とうきょうえき まで おねがいします。
To Tokyo Station, please.

When you’re requesting service for something you can’t do yourself, you mustn’t 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.

4. おねがいします is used for asking to speak to someone on the phone

This is one of the situations where only おねがいします is used (the other being asking for a service). When asking to speak to someone on the phone, you can only use おねがいします. You can’t ask someone to “give” you a person.

田中さんお願いします。
たなかさんおねがいします。
May I speak to Mr. Tanaka?

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.

5. おねがいします can be used to request abstract objects

~をお願いします 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。
ごきょうりょく を おねがいします。
We ask for your cooperation.

ご理解 を おねがいします
ごりかい を おねがいします。
We ask for your understanding.

Note that we use “go” ご to add a feeling of politeness. In Japanese, it is common to use the prefixes お and ご when using keigo. If you want to know more about them, check our introduction to Japanese honorific and humble form here.

How to Use Kudasai (ください)

Noun + を + ください

Kudasai (ください) is put after an object and its o particle (を).

Example sentenceEnglish translation
スタンプ(を)ください。Stamp, please.
カフェラテ(を)ください。(One) caffe latte, please.
おかわり(を)ください。Please refill

It’s common in everyday conversation to skip the o (を) particle when using ください.

Verb ~て + ください

For this, you will need to know how to conjugate Japanese verbs into ~te (~て). There are three different conjugation groups, with some irregular verbs that have exceptions to the て form rules. If you haven’t learned them already, we’ve made a separate blog post on how to transform a verb into a ~te verb, complete with handy illustrated cards.

Example sentenceEnglish translation
自分の袋を持ってください
じぶんのふくろをもってください。
Please bring your own bag.
毎日勉強してください
まいにちべんきょうしてください。
Please study every day
写真を撮ってください
しゃしんをとってください。
Please take a picture.

How to Use Onegaishimasu (おねがいします)

Noun + を + おねがいします

Similar to kudasai, おねがいします follows the o particle (を) and the object of the sentence. Remember that while you can replace ください with おねがいします, it depends on the context and social circumstances.

を in ~をおねがいします can be skipped, particularly in spoken conversations.

Example sentenceEnglish translation
よやくをおねがいします。I want to make a reservation, please.
でんわをおねがいしますPlease make a phone call.
メニューをおねがいします。(I want to see) the menu, please.

おねがいします can stand alone

はい、お願いします。
Yes, please.

宜しくお願いします。
よろしくおねがいします。
This phrase roughly translates to “I hope things go well” or “I hope you treat me well”.

There are a number of ways to translate the meaning of よろしくおねがいします, but the important point to note is that it is not said with regards to something that has already happened. Instead, it is used as an expression of gratitude, apology, explanation, or expression of something that will happen in the future.

Nominalized verb + おねがいします

To do this, use a plain-form verb and attach it to a の (no)

Plain formVerb to noun
to eatたべるたべるの
to drinkのむのむの
to seatすわるすわるの
to goいくいくの
to readよむよむの

For the word たべるの, because it essentially becomes a noun, you can use it with おねがいします and do the following:

たべるの(を)おねがいします。

ちょっとまっておねがいします
Please wait a moment. Wrong.

Although using it is pretty simple, we strongly advise you to say まってください instead.

Conclusion

Ultimately, both are equivalent to “please”, so you’re not going to be wrong no matter which one you use. Just remember that kudasai can be used for a te-form verb. Once you find your footing and preference, using them will be a breeze.

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