Learners often think that keigo, or honorific language, is the scariest and most frustrating part of studying Japanese. But actually, keigo follows pretty straightforward rules, and mastering its usage is no different to becoming proficient in any other part of the language. All it takes is a lot of exposure and practice - in that order.
In fact, keigo used to be a lot more complicated in older Japanese. The number of conjugation forms and special words was much higher, and modern keigo looks almost too simple in comparison. However, the basic principle of "the longer, the more honorific" has been a constant feature of keigo throughout its history.
Sometimes you'll see this principle applied much more outlandishly than in common day-to-day settings, and it's important for you to be able to recognize the meanings and understand why the grammar works the way it does.
In Reajer book 4, Masahira's Poem (read the free samples on Amazon and iBooks), the curious verb 知っておいでなされる pops up in one of the dialogues. The story, which is a retelling of an episode from Tales of Times Now Past (今昔物語), is set in a historical period - but this kind of over-the-top use of keigo is not limited to the old language; the verb here is in perfectly standard modern Japanese.
One thing that helps when dealing with keigo is to think of every honorific expression as an expansion of some plain, "default" word. In this case, the mammoth verb is actually a very honorific version of... 知っている. That's all! So let's take a closer look at the elements and find out how this run-of-the-mill verb became such a complex creature.
The first thing that happened is that いる was replaced with its honorific substitute, おいで. In current Japanese this word is often used on its own in the sense of "come here" (usually when speaking to dogs!), but おいで is actually a noun, so it can't replace いる in a complete sentence unless some verb is attached to it.
That's the function of the verb なさる, an honorific version of する, which follows おいで in our example. You probably know this verb from its (irregular but ubiquitous) command form なさい. Now you're probably asking yourself, how come it's なされる? What happened to the normal なさる?
The answer is that なされる is the potential form of なさる. The potential conjugation was historically used as one way of making plain verbs honorific (a mechanism that has been taken over by the passive conjugation, which itself used to have a potential sense too). And because keigo just loves redundancies, the already honorific なさる becomes even more so when it's turned into なされる.
The final outcome of using all these overlapping and redundant elements is that 知っている has become a highly respectful verb, worthy of being used to describe the actions of a noble person as it is in the dialogue.
Unless you plan to join the Imperial family, you will probably never need to actually use such forms when speaking or writing. On the other hand, understanding them when reading and listening will prove very handy in many contexts - including in manga, where many favorite stock phrases rely on historical expressions and creative usage of keigo. It takes some time to get used to, but it's not nearly as hard as it looks. The more you read, the more natural it will become.
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