Question about humble/honorific example

I came across this example in my Bunpro reviews today and I’m a bit confused.

これを彼にお 渡わたししてください。
Please humbly hand over this to him.

What would be the context for something like this? I would have thought that if making a request, you’d use honorific instead of humble form, no?

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The context would be that you are requesting someone in your group (内) to do this. If you were requesting someone outside of your group (外) to do it then you would use the honorific form.

This is the same concept of 内 and 外 that you may have learned when studying あげる, くれる, and もらう.


Woah, it wasn’t obvious for me, thank you!
I wish there was a grammar point that make a learner properly conjugate verbs in honorific form based on 内/外. Something like これを彼に______ください [渡す、内]

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Thank you! Does that mean (hypothetically speaking) that if I were to speak to my peers at work (my in group), I should use humble form?

It goes back to the concept of 内 and 外, as mentioned by @gyroninja

Suppose you talk to your boss at work (and you’re being very polite), you use honorific to talk about him and humble to talk about yourself, because within your company he is 外 outside your group (above you). But, if you are talking to your company’s business client, everybody in that other company is 外 outside your company, so now your boss is part of 内 your in-group. So to politely ask your boss to hand over something to the client, you humbly tell your boss to hand over a paper to the honorific client.

(For my example, actually it’d probably be これをお客様きゃくさまにお渡ししてください。)


Humble and honorific aren’t about who you’re speaking to but rather who you’re speaking about. And you don’t have one particular in-group either: If you’re talking to a friend then your in-group is probably just you, if you’re talking to a stranger then it’s you, your family, your company etc. I think of the in-group as more or less “the people that are closer to me socially than the person I am talking to right now”.

So if you’re speaking politely and you’re talking about someone in your in-group you use humble forms, and if you’re speaking about someone in your out-group you use honorific language. Example dialogue from a textbook:

A: Nakamura-san irassyaimasu ka?
B: Ima tyotto orimasen ga…
A: Zyaa, Nisida-san wa?
B: Nisida desu ka? Nisida wa san-gai ni orimasu ga…
(from Japanse: The Spoken Language Part 1)

Is Mr/s. Nakamura here?
They aren’t here now, but… (would anyone else do?)
How about Mr/s. Nishida?
Nishida? Nishida is on the third floor, but… (is there anything I can do?)

Here both Nakamura and Nishida are people of B’s company, while A is an outsider. And so even if they’re hierarchically above B, B uses humble language to refer to them and doesn’t use honorifics with their names, because in this context, they’re in B’s in-group and B uses the humble verb おる. A on the other hand uses the honorific いらっしゃる when asking about Nakamura, because they’re in A’s out-group.


Oooh now that makes the example make much more sense. Thanks! I think I just needed the social context for that.

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I had never thought about how polite/humble is used in relation to who you’re speaking about! That’s great! Thanks so much!