365 Days of Japanese Day #3

The image for yesterday’s entry was of two Japanese men dancing in a bathroom. It is from the Japanese movie Shall We Dance? (1996).

I explained yesterday that you can make a “shall we” form of a verb from the “let’s” form by adding “ka” on the end. For example:

いきましょう → いきましょうか
“ikimashou” → “ikimashou ka”
let’s go → shall we go?

Wouldn’t it have been fun to put “shall we dance?” into yesterday’s list?

Today I will explain a subtlety of the “mashouka” (ましょうか) form that we may need to use if we want to say something like “shall we dance?”…

Let’s start with the Japanese for dance:


The above is just a base word for dance. Let’s turn it into a verb!

(to) dance

Given what we know from the previous two posts…how can we make this into “shall we dance?”

That’s right!

“odorimashou ka”
shall we dance?

But hey…not so fast. If you asked a Japanese person how to say “shall we dance?” they would probably not say “odorimashou ka” (踊りましょうか). They would be more likely to say “odorimasen ka” (踊りませんか).

You may know that “masen” (ません) is the negative verb form.

So “odorimasen ka” (踊りませんか) could be literally thought of as “shall we not dance?”

That may sound strange, but we do use negative forms for positive questions in English, too. “Won’t you dance?” could be one way.

However, in Japanese, using the negative has different connotations from in English.

The “masen ka” (ませんか) form is used for invitations while the “mashou ka” (ましょうか) form is more like suggesting or offering.

You can find a lot of great explanations online about the subtleties of the two forms. Below is one that I found particularly helpful:

~ませんか – is a less forceful way of asking someone to do something, it also helps bring across your own desire to do something. (In Japanese, the negative always indicates strong opinion or desire.)

~ましょうか – is a bit forceful and assumes that the person is already on your side and is therefore willing to do what you want to do and a consensus has been agreed upon. Therefore there is less of an opinion about it because it has already been decided.

  1. 図書館に行きませんか – here you would be asking someone to go with you. You have never discussed this before, but you are politely asking them if they want to go to the library.
  2. 図書館に行きましょうか – here you are already assured that the person is agreeing to the plan of going to the library but now you want confirmation that they will go.

Perhaps that makes it clearer why, for asking someone to dance (with you?), the “masen ka” (ませんか) form is likely the more correct choice for the context.

Today’s image came from the same movie. Tomorrow I will talk a little about Japanese words for “dance” (related to the movie – you will see why!) and I will also unpack the sentences from the quote above, about asking someone whether they would like to go to the library.

1 Comment

  1. As a bonus, here is a Japanese music video called “踊りませんか?”.

    It is quite crazy, maybe a bit disturbing, and at the time of posting this has 134 thumbs down and only 54 thumbs up on youtube.

    But…I found it catchy!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s