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Addressing people properly in Japanese
Not only is it important to use the right type of language with the right people, it is also important to address them by the right name. It is also
important to address yourself with the proper level of politeness. Japanese is special in that there are so many ways of saying the simple words, "I"
and "you". We will go over some of the ways to refer to yourself and others.
Referring to yourself
There are many ways to say "I" in Japanese. Some of these words are not as common and others are hopelessly outdated. We will go over the
most common ones that are in use today. The usages of all the different words for "I" is separated into two categories: gender and politeness. In other
words there are words that are usually used by males in different social contexts and other words that are usually only used by females.
Before going into this: a note about the word 「私」. The official reading of the kanji is 「わたくし」. This is the reading you hear (or use) in a
formal context (for example, a speech by the president of a company). This reading will probably be accompanied with
honorific and humble forms, which we will cover later. In all other situations, it is usually read as 「わたし」. This is the most generic
reference to "I" in terms of politeness and gender, therefore it is usually one of the first words taught to students of Japanese.
Here is a list of the most common words for "I" and how they are used:
私（わたくし） - Used by both males and females for formal situations.
私（わたし） - Used by both males and females for normal polite situations.
僕 - Used primarily by males from fairly polite to fairly casual situations.
俺 - A very rough version of "I" used almost exclusively by males in very casual situations.
あたし - A very feminine and casual way to refer to oneself. Many girls have decided to opt for 「わたし」 instead because of its cutesy and
One's own name - Also a very feminine and kind of childish way to refer to oneself.
わし - Usually used by older men well in their middle-ages.
Let's see how different types of sentences use the appropriate version of "I". 「わたくし」 is left out because we have yet to go over very formal
（１） 私の名前はキムです。- My name is Kim. (Neutral, polite)
（２） 僕の名前はキムです。- My name is Kim. (Masculine, polite)
（３） 僕の名前はボブだ。- My name is Bob. (Masculine, casual)
（４） 俺の名前はボブだ。- My name is Bob. (Masculine, casual)
（５） あたしの名前はアリス。- My name is Alice. (Feminine, casual)
Referring to others by name
Japanese does not require the use of "you" nearly as much as English does. I hope that the examples with Bob, Alice, and Jim have shown that
people refer to other people by their names even when she is directly addressing that person. Another common way to address people is
by their title such as 「社長」、「課長」、「先生」, etc.. The word 「先生」 is used to generally mean any person who has significant knowledge and expertise
in something. For example, people usually use 「先生」 when directly addressing doctors or teachers (obviously). You can also include the
person's last name such as 「田中先生」 (teacher Tanaka). In the case where your relationship
with the person doesn't involve any title, you can use their name
(usually their last name) attached with 「さん」 to show politeness. If calling them by their last name seems a little too polite and distant, the practice
of attaching 「さん」 to their first name also exists. More endearing and colloquial versions of 「さん」 include 「くん」 and 「ちゃん」. 「くん」 is usually attached to
the name of males who are of equal or lower social position. (For example, my boss sometimes calls me 「キムくん」).
「ちゃん」 is a very endearing way to refer to usually females of equal or lower social position.
Referring to others with "you"
Please do not use 「あなた」 just like you would use the word "you" in English.
In directly addressing people, there are three levels of politeness: 1) Using the person's name with the appropriate suffix, 2) Not using anything
at all, 3) Using 「あなた」. In fact, by the time you get to three, you're dangerously in the area of being rude. Most of the time, you do not need to
use anything at all because you are directly addressing the person. Constantly pounding the listener with "you" every sentence sounds like you are
accusing the person of something.
あなた - Generally only used when there is no way to physically address the person or know the person's name.
For example, direct questions to the reader on a form that the reader must fill out would use 「あなた」.
君 - Can be a very close and assuming way to address girls (especially by guys). Can also be kind of rude.
お前 - A very rough and coarse way to address someone. Usually used by guys and often changed to 「おめえ」.
あんた - A very assuming and familiar way to address someone. The person using this is maybe miffed off about something.
手前 - Very rude. Like 「お前」, to add extra punch, people will usually say it like, 「てめ~~」. Sounds like you want to beat someone up. I've
only seen this one used in movies and comic books. In fact, if you try this on your friends, they will probably laugh at you and tell you that you've
probably been reading too many comic books.
貴様 - Very, very rude. Sounds like you want to take someone out. I've also only seen this one used in comic books. I only go over it so you
can understand and enjoy comic books yourself!
Referring to others in third person
You can use 「彼」 and 「彼女」 for "he" and "she" respectively.
Notice that 「彼女」 can also mean "girlfriend" so how can you tell which is being
used? Context of course. For example, if someone asks, 「彼女ですか」 obviously the person is asking if she is you're girlfriend because the
question, "Is she she?" doesn't make any sense. For boyfriends, since the word 「彼氏」 means "boyfriend" exclusively, there is no
ambiguity for that word.
Unfortunately, 「彼」 can also mean "boyfriend" as well, so again, be aware and go by the context.
Another less commonly used alternative is to say 「ガールフレンド」 and
「ボーイフレンド」 for, well, I'm sure you can guess what they mean.
Referring to family members
Referring to family members is a little more complicated than English. (It could be worse, try learning Korean!) For the purpose of brevity,
(since this is a grammar guide and not a vocabulary guide) we will only go over the immediate family. In Japanese, you refer to members of
other people's family more politely than your own. This is only when you are talking about members of your own family to others outside the
family. For example, you would refer to your own mother as 「母」 to people outside your family but you might very well call her 「お母さん」 at home
within your own family. There is also a distinction
between older and younger siblings. The following chart list some of the most common terms for family members. There may also be other possibilities not covered in this chart.
Family member chart
One's own family
Someone else's family
Another word for wife, 「家内」 is often considered politically incorrect because the kanji used are "house" and "inside" which implies that
wives belong in the home. Amen. (Just kidding)
dc, i know the popjisyo link is a really good idea, but if one does not have a background knowledge of japanese one will have a hard time figuring out the difference. other then that, this page really rocks!
Great page. I'm teaching myself Japanese and, while I've got a couple of books to learn from, I'll take anything and everything I can get to help me. Good job with this, and thanks for using Kanji instead of kana only, it helps with learning the reading. :D
私【わたくしWATAKUSHI 】 myself; private affairs.
私【わたしWATASHI】 (a-no) I.
僕【しもべ /ぼくSHIMOBE/BOKU】 manservant; servant (of God).
俺【おれ ORE 】 I (boastful first-person pronoun); someone as skilled as me; someone like me.
あたし【あたしATASHI 】 (fem) I.
（１） 私 の 名前 は キム です。- My name is Kim. (Neutral, polite)
Watashi no namae wa kimu desu.
（２） 僕 の 名前 は キム です。- My name is Kim. (Masculine, polite)
Boku no namae wa kimu desu.
（３） 僕 の 名前 は ボブ だ。- My name is Bob. (Masculine, casual)
Boku no namae wa bobu da.
（４） 俺 の 名前 は ボブ だ。- My name is Bob. (Masculine, casual)
Ore no namae wa bobu da.
（５） あたし の 名前 は アリス。- My name is Alice. (Feminine, casual)
Atashi no namae wa arisu.
One of my friends told me that in Japanese (and I'm guessing that Chinese is similar to this too) that in families of more than one child, apparently the younger sibling is not supposed to call the older sibling by their first name directly (but the older ones can apparently call their younger siblings whatever they want within reason). So in the case of my friend, her name is Kurumi, but her three brothers always adress her as "neechan" (older sister) or Kurumi-neechan (as a form of respect I suppose). She of course doesn't call them "otouto" back, but uses their name.
I always get different answers when I ask about 俺. Some say that it's a rude/impolite term while others say it's just a casual term. Is this a regional difference, or just different people's perceptions?
I think for 俺 and well, for all of them really, it depends on the situation at hand and who you're speaking too. Just like the English word "you", you can say "hey you!" to someone you hate and have it sound really rude, or you can say it more casually to a friend.
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