Japanese Essentials: How to Ask Permission?

In our previous article, we have learnt how to ask permission to pay by credit card using the phrase でいいですか, following a noun. In this article we will learn how to ask for permission to do something but this time following a verb.
May I borrow this pen?

  • りる: to borrow
  • ペン: pen
  • この: this

りて is the te form of the verb りる. “verb + てもいいですか” translates “is it okay if I do this?” or “can I do this?”
John: Excuse-me, can I borrow this pen?
Receptionist: Yes.
Let’s remember the te-form of a few verbs with examples.

Dictionary Form Te Form Sample Sentence Translation
る – To see 見て – To watch テレビを見てもいいですか Can I watch TV?
使つかう – To use 使って – To use パソコンを使ってもいいですか Can I use this computer?
はいる – To enter 入って – To come in 入ってもいいですか Can I enter?
すわる – To sit 座って – To sit ここ、座ってもいいですか Can I sit here?
う – To smoke 吸って – To smoke タバコを吸てもいいですか Can I smoke?
る – To take (a photo) 撮って – To take (a photo) 写真しゃしんを撮ってもいいですか Can I take a picture?

The last phrase is very convenient if you’re traveling around Japan and are not sure if you are allowed to do something. For example, if you enter a temple, you might want to ask if taking a picture or if touching something is okay.
John: Excuse-me, can I take a picture here?
Staff: Yes, please do.
John: Also, can I touch this?
Staff: I’m sorry, but that’s not allowed.

  • さわる、さわって: to touch
  • どうぞ: yes, please free to, please do
  • それはちょっと・・・:literally means “it’s a bit difficult…” and translates in this context that something isn’t allowed.

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