You hear the word どうも (dōmo) all the time in Japan. どうも (dōmo) has many different meanings. It can be used as:
- an adverb to emphasize feelings of appreciation and gratitude.
- an adverb to emphasize feelings of apology.
- a greeting, “hi,” “hey,” or “hello.”
- a casual way of saying “thank you,” like “thanks.”
- “somehow,” “somewhat,” “likely,” or “for some reason” with a negative nuance.
どうも is always written in hiragana.
How to Use どうも (Dōmo) Naturally in Japanese
Here are different ways to use どうも (dōmo), just like a native Japanese speaker.
1. Dōmo: To Emphasize Feelings Of Appreciation and Gratitude
どうも (dōmo) is commonly used together with ありがとう (arigatō). As many of you know, ありがとう is the Japanese word for “thank you” or “thanks.”
Using どうも with ありがとう emphasizes the feeling of thankfulness. Or, in simple terms, it’s like saying “thank you very much” instead of “thank you.”
If you want to be extra polite or formal, you add ございます (gozaimasu) to the end.
- ありがとう (arigatō): Thank you
- どうもありがとう (dōmo arigatō): Thank you very much
- どうもありがとうございます (dōmo arigatō gozaimasu): Thank you very much (formal/polite version)
健: お腹すいた？ お菓子食べる?
Ken: (Onaka suita? Okashi taberu?)
Ken: Are you hungry? Do you want some snacks/sweets?
Emi: (Hai, dōmo arigatō.)
Emi: Yes, thank you very much.
Kazuki: (Otanjyōbi omedetō.)
Kazuki: Happy Birthday!
Mika: (Dōmo arigatō!)
Mika: Thank you very much!
2. Dōmo: To Emphasize Apologetic Feelings
Just like using どうも (dōmo) with “thank you,” you can use it with an apology to emphasize how sorry you are.
There are many ways to say sorry in Japanese, but one of the most useful is すみません (sumimasen). Let’s see what happens when you add どうも to すみません.
I’m sorry. / I apologize.
I’m really sorry. / I’m very sorry.
Makoto: (Osara aratta?)
Makoto: Did you wash the dishes?
悠斗: あ、 忘れた! どうもすみません!
Haruto: (A, wasureta! Dōmo sumimasen!)
Haruto: Oh shoot, I forgot about it! I’m so sorry!
Sana: (Sumimasen. Osaifu o otoshimashita yo.)
Sana: Excuse me, you just dropped your wallet.
Minami: (Ah, arigatō gozaimasu. Dōmo sumimasen.)
Minami: Oops, thank you very much. I am very sorry.
*Note: Minami said both “arigatō gozaimasu” and “dōmo sumimasen” to show her appreciation and an apology. She didn’t do anything wrong, so why did she say this? Japanese people may say both when they feel extremely grateful. In this case, “dōmo sumimasen” means “I am very sorry for troubling you (for stopping and telling me about my wallet).” Japanese people often say どうもすみません (dōmo sumimasen) for even small mistakes or slight inconveniences to be polite.
3. Dōmo As Greeting: Hi / Hello / Hey
Dōmo is a more casual greeting than konnichiwa. You can use dōmo with friends or people you are close to at the office but not with your boss or clients.
Momo: (Konnichiwa. Genki?)
Momo: Hello, how are you?
Atsuko: (Dōmo. Genki desu.)
Atsuko: Hi, I am fine, thanks.
Asuka: (Dōmo. Chōshi wa dō?)
Asuka: Hi/Hey, what’s up? / What are you doing?
Tatsuki: (Dōmo. Nantoka.)
Tatsuki: Just surviving. / I am doing okay.
Example 3: At the Store
In example 3 above, this “dōmo” is used to acknowledge the shop attendant’s presence more than to give them a warm greeting. Most people don’t say anything when an employee tells them いらっしゃいませ to welcome them into their store. You can also do a slight bow when saying どうも to make it more polite.
Other Ways どうも is Used as a Greeting
Besides using “dōmo” among friends or in the office, you may hear two types of people use “dōmo” as a greeting:
1) Someone Who Doesn’t Like Talking or Is Not Interested in Talking:
If you greet someone with a “konnichiwa” or “irasshaimase” and they say an unenthusiastic “dōmo” back, guess what? It’s a hint that they are not interested in starting a conversation with you.
2) Someone Who Is Trying to Act Cool:
If someone says “dōmo” as a greeting, it is the equivalent of saying, “hey, sup?” in English. For instance, you may see this situation in an interview with rock stars on TV, as they are trying to be cool. However, in everyday situations, it would be rude to use “dōmo” when meeting someone for the first time.
When meeting someone for the first time in Japan, you should always be polite and use more formal language. The most standard, yet polite way to greet someone for the first time in Japanese is by using 初めまして (hajimemashite), which has a meaning of “nice to meet you.” You can follow this with どうぞよろしくお願いします (dōzo yoroshiku onegai shimasu) which has a meaning of “pleased to meet you.”
If you meet someone you respect (your hero, someone who is highly respected, etc.) or with high social status (like the president of a company, famous people, etc.), you can use a formal and polite greeting like this:
(Ome ni kakarete kōei desu.)
It’s an honor to meet you.
4. Dōmo to Say Thank You / Thanks
This is one of the most common ways どうも (dōmo) is used in Japan. It is also the easiest to use. どうも can be used as a casual way to casually thank someone. It’s like saying “thanks” in English.
Just remember that this is a CASUAL way to thank someone. You can use this with your friends when they do a small favor for you. Or you could say it to the cashier at a supermarket when you finish paying for your groceries. In more formal situations, it is better to combine どうも (dōmo) with ありがとう (arigatō) and even ございます (gozaimasu) to make it even more polite:
(Dōmo arigatō gozaimasu.)
Thank you very much.
Aya: (Shusse, omedetō!)
Aya: Congratulations on your promotion!
Haruki: (Okuyami mōshi agemasu.)
In examples 1 and 2, “arigatō” or “arigatō gozaimasu” are not used to make it more casual. This is because this conversation is between two friends or close co-workers. However, if you are speaking to someone with a higher social status than you (your boss, customers, elders, etc.), saying どうも in these situations can come off as rude (especially if you don’t bow while saying it). If you are talking to people who have a higher social status than you, always use “dōmo arigatō gozaimasu” or “arigatō gozaimasu.“
5. Using Dōmo to Say Sorry
This usage of どうも (dōmo) can be a little difficult to understand, as it does not directly translate as “sorry.” Instead, using どうも in situations when you are at fault acts to “soften” the situation. It is kind of like saying “oh my bad” in English. This makes it a casual and light way to excuse yourself. It should not be used with people of higher status than you or when you did something terrible, that warrants a sincere apology.
大晟 (Taisei) is late for the meeting:
Karen: (Taisei osoi desu ne.)
Karen: Taisei is late, isn’t he?
Taisei: (Dōmo dōmo, osoku narimashita.)
Taisei: Sorry, my bad. I’m late.
In this case, 大晟 (Taisei) is most likely a boss, friend, or co-worker (with a close relationship) of かれん (Karen). When Taisei says the casual “dōmo dōmo” when entering the room, it softens the atmosphere and shortens the psychological distance from the others in the room.
6. Dōmo: “Well”
This is also a usage of どうも (dōmo) that gives Japanese learners trouble. This is because どうも doesn’t directly translate to “well” in English. Instead, it makes a situation more casual and “light.” It works just like the English “well.”
Let’s look at two sentences:
- Hello there.
- Well, hello there.
What is the difference in nuance between these two sentences? Using “well” makes the statement (hello there) softer and not as direct. This is done in Japanese as well.
Mie: (Ara, mata oai shimashita ne.)
Mie: Oh wow, we meet again, huh?
Hiroshi: (Dōmo, konnichiwa.)
Hiroshi: Well, hello there.
7. Dōmo: Somehow / Somewhat / Likely / For Some Reason
This usage of どうも (dōmo) implies that you are not too sure about something, or the reason for something is not clear. This is similar to “somehow” or “somewhat” in English. This usage of どうも is used in unfavorable situations (where something “bad” is happening or has happened).
It is easier to understand the nuance of this usage with natural conversations, so please look at the examples below.
お母さん: 真由美は、 その大学に受かるかな。先生は、なんて言ったの？
Okāsan: (Mayumi wa, sono daigaku ni ukaru kana. Sensei wa nante itta no?)
Mother: I wonder if you can pass the entrance exam for that university. What did the teacher say?
Mayumi: (Dōmo muri ga aru tte itteta.)
Mayumi: My teacher said it’s somehow (for some reason) not easy to pass.
Yūko: (Atarashii jitensha wa dō?)
Yuko: How do you like your new bicycle?
Mika: (Dōmo taiya ga okashii no.)
Mika: The tires are somewhat bad.
Maiku: (Ringo wa kirai nano?）
Maiku: Don’t you like apples?
Taiki: (Dōmo ringo wa nigate de.)
Taiki: Somehow, apples are not my favorite food. / I don’t care for apples.
Ayano: (Kyō ame ga furu kashira?）
Ayano: Do you think it’s going to rain today?
Ayaka: (Un, kyō wa dōmo ame ga furu rashii yo.)
Ayaka: Yes, it’s likely to rain today.
Riko: (Naomi wa kuru no?）
Riko: Is Naomi coming?
Yui: (Dōmo konai rashiii.)
Yui: For some reason, she cannot make it.
As you see in examples 1 – 5, this usage of dōmo is used with a negative nuance.
どうも (dōmo) is a versatile and helpful word when living in Japan. It is an essential word that you’ll want to remember when learning Japanese.
Please don’t forget to bow a little when you say only “dōmo” in a conversation!