One of the most important grammar points is asking and giving permission. The way to do that is by using the phrase “te mo ii” (てもいい).

If you ask me how often I use it, I’d say pretty often. If it’s not me using it, it’s me hearing it being used. In both statement and question form, this grammar language can save you a few minutes of language barrier and miscommunication. Sure, a “daijoubu” (大丈夫) can cover most situations, but aren’t we all here to up our nihongo game? 

The information in this article can also be found on our Nihongo Master Podcast, Season 4 Episode 11. While you can get most of the information in this article, we have roleplaying scenarios on the podcast. Check that out!

Image Credit: Max Pixel

Grammar Point

If you read online, some pages would say that this grammar language is about granting permission or asking permission. That’s the formal way to put it. It’s kind of like saying “You may do this” or “May I do this?” Reminds me of when I was in elementary school and had to ask permission to go to the toilet. 

But this is not that kind of permission. It’s more like asking casually “Can I do this” or “Is this act permitted to do”. The best example when you want to try something on when you’re in a clothes shop but are unsure if it’s okay to do that. So you ask, “can I try this on?”

Quick Recap of the Te-Form

The first part of the grammar point is to understand the te-form. We covered that in Season 4 Episode 13 of the podcast, but keep an eye out for the article on the blog! 

Anyway, ru-verbs have the ending ru (る) changed to te (て), while u-verb ending with u (う) have a few different conjugations. Here’s a quick breakdown: 

  • Those ending with ru (る), tsu (つ) or u (う) have their final syllable replaced with tte (って). For example, noru (乗る) becomes notte (乗って)
  • Those ending with ku (く) have their final syllable replaced with ite (いて). For example, kaku (書く) becomes kaite (書いて)
  • But if it ends with gu (ぐ), like oyogu (泳ぐ, which means to swim), then the gu (ぐ) is replaced with ide (いで) to make oyoide (泳いで).
  • Those ending with nu (ぬ), bu (ぶ) and mu (む) have their final syllable replaced with nde (んで). Shinu (死ぬ) becomes shinde (死んで)
  • Those ending with su (す) have their final syllable replaced with shite (して). For example, hanasu (話す) becomes hanashite (話して).

Asking for permission using てもいい 

Now onto the format of this grammar point. After getting the te form, we add mo ii to the verb. The format is:

Verb (て form) + もいい

As for our example of “can we try this on?”, we first get the verb, which in this case is shichaku suru (試着する) to mean “to try something on”. We change it to its te-form, which means instead of ending in the u sound, it ends with te instead. 

In our case, we have suru — this is an irregular verb which changes from suru (する) to shite (して). And you get shichaku shite (試着して). We then add the grammar point which is “mo ii”, to get: shichaku shitemo ii? (試着してもいい?) The polite form of the question is: shichaku shitemo ii desu ka? (試着してもいいですか?)

We usually add “ka” (か) to ask if something is okay or permitted to do: temo ii desu ka? (てもいいですか) You can also omit the “ka” if it’s in casual form, or even add “no” (の) to make “temo ii no” (てもいいの).

Giving perrmission using てもいい

If you remove the ka (か) at the end, you basically get the sentence version instead of a question. 

Let’s have another example: let’s say you want to tell someone, “it’s okay to eat the cake.” 

The verb to eat is taberu (食べる), but make sure to change it to its te-form which is tabete (食べて). Cake is kēki (ケーキ); now put them together with the grammar point and you get: kēki wo tabetemo ii (ケーキを食べてもいい).

You can also say that it’s okay to not do something as well, and the grammar point is “nakutemo ii” (なくてもいい). All you have to do is get the verb in its negative form and then change it to its te-form.  

The format is:

Verb (negative て form) + もいい

Don’t panic just yet, it’s not that hard at all. We’ll use the cake example. If you want to say “it’s okay to not eat the cake”, we change taberu (食べる) to tabenai (食べない), then change it to tabenakute (食べなくて). Then just add the grammar language. All together you get: kēki wo tabenakutemo ii (ケーキを食べなくてもいい).

Vocab Recap

In the episode, we introduced a few new Japanese words. Here’s a list of them for your reference:

Shichaku suru (試着する) — to try something on

Taberu (食べる) — to eat

Kēki (ケーキ) — cake

Wanpisu (ワンピス) — dress

Meccha (めっちゃ) — very

Ao (青) — blue

Aka (赤) — red

Shichaku shitsu (書着室) — fitting room

Chigau (違う) — to differ or to vary

Ookisugiru (大きすぎる) — to be too big

Saizu (サイズ) — size

Esu (エス) — S (for size)

Iro (色) — colour

Reji (レジ) — cash register

Kādo (カード) — card, short for credit card

Genkin (現金) — cash

ijou (以上) — more than

Tsukau (使う) — to use

Kau (買う) — to buy

Hoshii (欲しい) — want

Suwaru (座る) — to seat

Mada (まだ) — not yet

Kimeru (決める) — to decide

Chikaku (近く) — nearby

Miru (見る) — to see

Oishii (美味しい) — delicious

Nanika (何か) — something

Isshoni (一緒に) — together

Fuku (服) — clothes

Takusan (たくさん) — a lot

Surippa (スリッパ) — slippers

Bīchī (ビーチー) — beach

Hayai (早い) — fast or early

Kutsu (靴) — shoes

Haku (吐く) — to wear (for items like pants, skirts, footwear), if it’s shirts you use “kiru” (着る) instead

Benri (便利) — convenient

Ask and Give Permission in Japanese!

Isn’t granting and asking permission a breeze? Whether it’s for shopping or just everyday situations, it’s without a doubt a useful grammar language you want to have up your sleeve. I mean, it can even be used in business situations — but that’s a whole other episode on its own!

Check out our other blog articles for similar basic Japanese grammar points, as well as our Nihongo Master Podcast’s Study Saturday language series!