From Old Japanese. Originally a compound of さ (sa, “that”, pronominal indicating a person, place, thing, or direction in the middle distance) + ま (ma, “likeness, way, similarity”, suffix indicating a quality).
(with rendaku when used as a suffix in some combinations)
- ざま (-zama) (when used as a suffix in some combinations)
さま (rōmaji sama)
- a person's appearance (as of body, or style, or face, etc.)
- the state or situation of a thing
- Eibin. Kankaku ga surudoi koto. Mata, sono sama.
- Eibin. For the senses to be sharp. Or, the state of being such.
- the general trend, tenor, or feel of a thing
- one's social station, status, or quality
- the way or means of doing something, how one does something
- the reason or circumstances for something
さま (rōmaji sama)
- (archaic, honorific) second-person pronoun: you, you all
- (archaic, honorific) third-person distal pronoun: he, she, they (distant from both speaker and listener)
The pronoun senses have largely fallen into disuse. These originated as abbreviations of longer forms 君様 (kimisama, literally “lord + that way”), 方様 (katasama, literally “that side + that way”), or 貴様 (kisama, literally “noble + that way”), with the -sama suffix (see below) developing into an independent use.
さま (rōmaji -sama)
- (honorific) polite personal suffix: honorable, Mr., Ms.
- Yoshida-sama ga koraremashita.
- Mr. [honorable] Yoshida has come here.
- (honorific) attaching to nouns or other nominals: a politeness marker that often has no direct translation, replacing copula です (desu)
- You have done well [honorable].
- attaching to specific nouns or other nominals: that way, that direction
- sakasama, yokosama
- backwards, sideways
- (archaic) attaching to verbs: just as (indicating the specific time when the verb is happening)
- attaching to verbs: the way of doing something, how one does something (often undergoes rendaku, changing -sama to -zama)
- how one sits
The -sama suffix after personal names is more respectful than the everyday さん (-san), and is generally only used when being very polite. Gender-neutral. This is sometimes glossed as honorable, but honorable is also used as a title, such as for judges or governors or certain ranks of nobility, whereas -sama is purely about politeness and relative social closeness.