How to Speak Japanese

Complete Explanation: What Does おつかれさま Mean?

Japanese Phrase: Otsukaresama

One of the most difficult aspects when it comes to learning Japanese is to understand phrases which your language does not have an equivalent to. Since there is no perfect translation, you have to learn them by knowing the context in Japanese. A typical phrase is おつかれさま. This is a very practical phrase and can be heard every day in Japan. In this article, you will master what おつかれさま means.

What おつかれさま Really Means Explained by Native Speakers

Analysis of おつかれさま

おつかれさま consists of three parts: お (a prefix representing a polite form) , つかれ (tiredness), and さま (a suffix representing honorific). It is said that the origin is something like giving your appreciation for someone doing a good job. In this day and age, there are a lot of other usages and surprisingly this is one of the highest frequency words in Japan.

Conjugation Table Past Present Feature
Casual おつかれ
Neutral おつかれさま
Formal おつかれさまでした おつかれさまです

You can actually use the present form in any tense, although the formal expression has the past tense form. One the other hand, as a phrase between casual and neutral expressions, 「おつかれさん」  and 「おつかれです」 are sometimes used. However, we think that you should focus on the three categories the table shows in order to avoid confusing you; if you focus on them, you will have no problem communicating.

When It’s Appropriate to Use おつかれさま

When you write an email

A woman writing emails

When you write an email to your co-workers or boss, you should start with 「おつかれさまです。」. In this context, it does not have a particular meaning and could be translated as “Hi” or “Hello”. Please be careful, however it can be used within an organization you belong to. When you write an email externally, you need to start with 「お世話せわになります」.

When you place a call

A woman calling

This usage is same as when you write an email. When you talk with your co-workers or boss on the phone, you should start with 「おつかれさまです。」. And, it can be used internally. When you place a call externally, you need to start with 「お世話せわになります」.

When you meet an acquaintance

Thumbnail: Body Language

There are roughly 2 greetings which people often use; 「おはようございます」 and 「おつかれさまです」. 「おはようございます」 can be used to everyone during the morning (before noon) . With face to face communication, 「おつかれさまです」 can be used both internally and externally except for the morning and can be translated as “Hi” or “Hello”. Please note: if you would like to be formal with your clients or customers, you should use 「お世話せわになります」.


When you finish work


A man who finish his work

When you finish work, you should farewell your co-workers or boss with 「おつかれさまです。」 In this context, 「おつかれさまです」 could be translated as “Have a good night”. Then, people will respond to it with 「おつかれさまです」as if it was like “you too”.

When someone finishes a project, a presentation, etc

A man saying Congratulation

When you tell your appreciation to people who have done a great job, you can express it by saying 「おつかれさまです」 or 「おつかれさまでした」 like “Good job!”. In this context, you should say this phrase soon after the job has finished. If you meet the people a few days later, you should mention that time specifically such as, 「プレゼンテーション、大成功だいせいこうだったときました。おめでとうございます。 I heard your presentation was big successful. Congratulation!」.

When you drink a toast

Drinking a toast

In Japanese culture, drinking is one of the most important ways to communication. When you drink a toast you can say 「乾杯かんぱい」 or 「おつかれさまです」 like “cheers”.

*To your friends, you can use the casual form 「おつかれ」or the neutral form 「おつかれさま」 in the same above contexts.

おつかれさま Vs. ごろうさま

「ごろうさま」 has almost the same meanings as 「おつかれさま」. The difference is that 「ごろうさま」 can be used only from superior people to inferior people. If you did the opposite or even use it to your friends, it would sound very rude. Please be careful.


Do you have a clearer picture about what 「おつかれさま」 means now? This phrase is very useful and often used by native speakers. Since it cannot be translated because of the wide context, people consider it very difficult. The advantage to know the usages is that if you can use it correctly, people will be surprised by your proficiency. Let’s try to use it from today.

Thank you for reading. おつかれさまでした!

Recommended Links

Complete Explanation; What Does よろしく Mean?

How to Write Emails in Japanese (with Practical Examples)

How to Make a Phone Call in Japanese

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