The Japanese language accommodates several levels of politeness through different verb endings and alternative expressions and words. There are three general levels of politeness, which are expressed through different kinds of speech. The levels correspond to colloquial, polite and honorific situations. The honorific level of speech is called keigo (敬語).

When speaking to those of much higher social status, (for example, customers, teachers or elders), one is supposed to use honorific speech. Generally, keigo involves using very humble expressions to refer to oneself and very honorific ones to refer to the person addressed.

Students of the Japanese language may find keigo complicates their attempts to communicate. However, even native Japanese speakers need considerable exercise in order to be able to correctly express themselves in this formal, honorific way.