When you enter a shop

いらっしゃいませ!
“irrashaimase”
Welcome!

何をお探しですか
“Nani o o-sagashi desu ka”
What are you looking for?

Okay, I admit, I mostly just wanted to post this funny picture (Suzuki Kiosk in Tokyo), but let’s unwrap the Japanese a bit.

The first part is uncontroversial, you hear “irrashaimase” all the time! It just means “welcome”, but with the role-assignment of vendor~customer. You don’t say it when someone comes into your home, but you do when you’re running a business and you are greeting a [potential] patron.

In the second part I found a few variations on wording and I’m not sure which are usual or correct – perhaps all of them?

何を探しますか
“Nani o sagashimasu ka”
What are you looking for?

Note the dropped (optional) honorific “o” from the verb, and “sagashi” itself being in the “masu” form rather than “i + desu” form. I’ve read up on the differences and it is not obvious exactly what is going on here and which is (more) correct. Certainly most examples give “i + desu” as the natural phrasing. Until I know more, I will assume both are correct but “i + desu” is preferred.

あなたは今何を探しているのですか
“Anata wa ima nani o sagashite iru no desu ka”
What are you looking for right now?

This is a much longer construction starting “anata wa”, making “you” (anata) the subject of the sentence. Typically Japanese does not do this when the subject is discernible from context, and I don’t think this form is natural Japanese. It also specifies “now” (ima), and has that “iru no”, which I believe is modifying the verb “sagashite”, though I am not sure why/how. This example could be sketchy and not really natural or correct Japanese.

何かお探しですか
“Nani ka osagashi desu ka”
What are you looking for?

Almost identical to the first one we showed but the first “o”/”wo” has been replaced with “ka”. In this case it would seem the “o” on osagashi is still serving an honorific role and the “ka” means “o”/”wo” indicating that “nani” (what) is the object of the sentence. But I can find no reference for why this substitution would be valid, so assume it isn’t allowed and this example is not correct Japanese…until I know more.

何を探しているのですか
“nani o sagashiteiru no desu ka”
What are you looking for?

This is like the one a couple of examples back. Perhaps the “+teiru no” is just a valid way to modify the verb in this context?

何を探しているの
“nani o sagashiteiru no”
What are you looking for?

This is a more casual form of the previous one. That would make sense, given that it has just dropped the “desu ka”.

I haven’t done a great job of dismantling these alternate forms but I do think that the original I gave is likely the most correct, and these other options provide varying degrees of accuracy/naturality. Certainly they help our exposure to different potential verb forms in Japanese and at some point in the future I am sure they will all make more sense!

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