The Difference Between "Kudasai" and "Onegaishimasu"

Learn Which Japanese Word to Use When Making a Request

Please Daddy!
Learning the right context for "please" is important in Japan. Pete Ark / Getty Images

Both "kudasai (ください)" and "onegaishimasu (お願いします)" are used when making a request for items. In many cases, these two Japanese words are interchangeable.

However, there are nuances associated with each word making them slightly different. Meaning, there are some situations where it is more appropriate to use "kudasai" over "onegaishimasu" and vice versa. 

After going over how to use correctly use "kudasai" and "onegaishimasu" in terms of grammar, let's then delve into certain scenarios where only "kudasai" or "onegaishimasu" is warranted.


How to Use Kudasai in a Sentence

"Kudasai" is a more familiar request word. Meaning, it is used when you are requesting something you know you are entitled to. Or if you are requesting something of a friend, peer or someone of lower status than you.

Grammatically, "kudasai (ください)" follows the object and the particle "o".

Kitte o kudasai.
Please give me stamps.
Mizu o kudasai. 
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. It is also used if you are directing the request to a superior or to someone who you do not know that well.

Like "kudasai", "onegaishimasu" follows the object of the sentence. In the examples above, "onegaishimasu" can be replaced with "kudasai". When using "onegaishimasu", the particle "o" can be omitted.

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, one should use "onegaishimasu". For example:

Tokyo eki made onegaishimasu. 
Tokyo Station, please. (to a taxi driver)
Kokusai denwa onegaishimasu.
Overseas telephone call, please.
(on the phone)

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

Kazuko-san onegaishimasu.
May I speak to Kazuko?

Kudasai Specific Cases

Sometimes, you will make a request that involves an action, such as to listen, arrive, wait and so on. In those cases, it is customary to use the request word, "kudasai". Additionally, the verb "te form" is added to "kudasai". "Onegaishimasu" is not used in this case. 

Chotto matte kudasai. 
Wait a moment, please.
Ashita kite kudasai.
Please come tomorrow.