The Difference Between "Kudasai" and "Onegaishimasu" in Japanese

Learn which word to use when making a request

Learning the right context for 'please' is important in Japan.
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Both kudasai ください)and onegaishimasu(お願いします ) are Japanese words used when making a request for items. In many cases, these two Japanese words, which translate roughly as "please" or "please give me," are interchangeable. However, there are nuances associated with each word giving each a slightly different meaning. There are some situations where it is more appropriate to use kudasai instead of onegaishimasu and vice versa.

After reviewing how to correctly use kudasai and onegaishimasu grammatically, familiarize yourself with scenarios where one word or the other is the preferable term. Generally, deciding between kudasai and onegaishimasu depends on the social context.

How to Use Kudasai in a Sentence

Kudasai is a more familiar request word in Japanese. It is used when you are requesting something you know you are entitled to. For example, if you are requesting something from a friend, peer, or someone who is of lower status or social rank than you, you would use kudasai.

Grammatically, kudasai ください)follows the object and the particle o  (を). When o is placed after a noun, it indicates that the noun is the direct object. In the tables in this and subsequent sections, the Japanese phrase is listed first as it is spelled phonetically using English letters, followed by the word or phrase written in Japanese letters (called kanji, hiragana, and katakana), while the English translation is listed on the right.

Kitte o kudasai.
切手をください。
Please give me stamps.
Mizu o kudasai. 
水をください。
Water, please.

How to Use Onegaishimasu in a Sentence

While kudasai is a more familiar term, onegaishimasu is more polite or honorific. Thus, this Japanese word is used when you are requesting a favor. You would also use it if you are directing the request to a superior or to someone you do not know well.

Like kudasai, onegaishimasu follows the object of the sentence. The sentences below echo the examples in the previous section, except that you would replace kudasai with onegaishimasudue according to the context and social circumstances, where you need to make a request in a more formal manner. When using onegaishimasu, you can omit the particle o.

Kitte (o) onegaishimasu.
切手 (を) お願いします。
Please give me stamps.
Mizu (o) onegaishimasu.
水 (を) お願いします。
Water, please.

Onegaishimasu-Specific Cases

There are some situations when only onegaishimasu is used. When making a request for service, you should use onegaishimasu, as in the examples in these two tables.

Tokyo eki made onegaishimasu. 
東京駅までお願いします。
Tokyo Station, please. (to a taxi driver)
Kokusai denwa onegaishimasu.
国際電話お願いします。
Overseas telephone call, please.
(on the phone)

Onegaishimasu should also be used when asking for someone on the phone.

Kazuko-san onegaishimasu.
和子さんお願いします。
May I speak to Kazuko?

Kudasai-Specific Cases

When you make a request that involves an action, such as "to listen," "arrive," or "wait," use kudasai. Additionally, the Japanese verb form -te is added to kudasai in these cases. The -te form does not indicate tense by itself; however, it combines with other verb forms to create tenses.

Chotto matte kudasai. 
ちょっと待ってください。
Wait a moment, please.
Ashita kite kudasai.
明日来てください。
Please come tomorrow.