Japanese pronouns are words in the Japanese language which are used to address or refer to people or things. Some linguists suggest that the Japanese language does not have pronouns as such, since, unlike pronouns in most other languages that have them, these words are syntactically and morphologically identical to nouns. As others point out, however, these words function as personal references, demonstratives, and reflexives, just as pronouns do in other languages.
Pronouns are used less frequently in the Japanese language than in many other languages, mainly because there is no grammatical requirement to include the subject in a sentence. So, pronouns can seldom be translated from English to Japanese on a one-to-one basis.
The common English personal pronouns, such as "I", "you", and "they", have no other meanings. However, most Japanese personal pronouns do. Consider for example two words corresponding to the English pronoun "I": 私 (watashi) also means "private" or "personal" and 僕 (boku) also means "manservant".
Japanese words that refer to other people are part of the encompassing system of honorific speech, and should be understood within that context. Pronoun choice depends on the speaker's social status (as compared to the listener's), as well as the sentence's subjects and objects.
The first-person pronouns (e.g., watashi, 私) and second-person pronouns (e.g., anata, 貴方) are used in formal contexts. In many sentences, pronouns that mean "I" and "you" are omitted in Japanese when it is clear who the speaker is talking about.
When it is required to state the topic of the sentence for clarity, the particle wa (は) is used, but it is not required when the topic can be inferred from context. Also, there are frequently used verbs that can indicate the subject of the sentence in certain contexts: for example, kureru (くれる) means "give" in the sense that "somebody gives something to me or to somebody very close to me." Ageru (あげる) also means "give", but in the sense that "someone gives something to someone other than me." In sentences comprising a single adjective (often those ending in -shii), it is often assumed that the speaker is the subject. For example, the adjective sabishii (寂しい) can represent a complete sentence that means "I am lonely."
Thus, the first-person pronoun is usually only used when the speaker wants to put a special stress on the fact that he is referring to himself, or if it is necessary to make it clear. In some contexts, it may be considered uncouth to refer to the listener (second person) by a pronoun. If it is required to state the second person, the listener's surname, suffixed with -san or some other title (like "customer", "teacher", or "boss"), is generally used.
Gender differences in spoken Japanese also create another challenge, as men and women refer to themselves with different pronouns. Social standing also determines how people refer to themselves, as well as how they refer to other people.
List of Japanese personal pronouns
The list is incomplete, as there are numerous Japanese pronoun forms, which vary by region and dialect. This is a list of the most commonly used forms. "It" has no direct equivalent in Japanese (though in some contexts the demonstrative pronoun それ is translatable as "it"). Also, Japanese doesn't generally inflect by case, so, I is equivalent to me.
|Romaji||Hiragana||Kanji||Level of speech||Gender||Notes|
– I/me –
|watashi||わたし||私||formal/informal||both||In formal or polite contexts, this is gender neutral, but when used in informal or casual contexts, it is usually perceived as feminine.|
|watakushi||わたくし||私||very formal||both||The most formal polite form.[better source needed]|
|ware||われ||我, 吾||very formal||both||Used in literary style. Also used as rude second person in western dialects.|
|waga||わが||我が||very formal||both||Means "my" or "our". Used in speeches and formalities; 我が社 waga-sha (our company) or 我が国 waga-kuni (our country).|
|ore||おれ||俺||informal||males||Frequently used by men. It can be seen as rude depending on the context. Establishes a sense of masculinity. Emphasizes one's own status when used with peers and with those who are younger or who have less status. Among close friends or family, its use is a sign of familiarity rather than of masculinity or of superiority. It was used by both genders until the late Edo period and still is in some dialects. Also oi in the Kyushu dialect.|
|boku||ぼく||僕||informal||males||Used when casually giving deference; "servant" uses the same kanji. (僕 shimobe), especially a male one, from a Sino-Japanese word. Can also be used toward children. (English equivalent – "kid" or "squirt".)|
|washi||わし||儂||formal/informal||mainly males||Colloquial. Often used in western dialects and fictional settings to stereotypically represent characters of old age. Also wai, a slang version of washi in the Kansai dialect.|
|atai||あたい||very informal||females, rarely males (girlish)||Slang version of あたし atashi.|
|atashi||あたし||informal||females, rarely males (girlish)||Often considered cute. Rarely used in written language, but common in conversation, especially among younger women.|
|uchi||うち||家, 内||informal||females (girlish)||Means "one's own". Often used in western dialects especially the Kansai dialect. Generally written in kana. Plural form uchi-ra is used by both gender. Singular form is also used by both sexes when talking about the household, e.g., "uchi no neko" ("my/our cat"), "uchi no chichi-oya" ("my father"); also used in less formal business speech to mean "our company", e.g., "uchi wa sandai no rekkaasha ga aru" ("we (our company) have three tow-trucks").|
|(own name)||informal||both||Used by small children and young women, considered cute and childish.|
|oira||おいら||informal||both||Similar to 俺 ore, but more casual. May give off sense of more country bumpkin.|
|ora||おら||informal||both||Dialect in Kanto and further north. Similar to おいら oira, but more rural. Used among children influenced by main characters in Dragon Ball and Crayon Shin-chan. Also ura in some dialects.|
|wate||わて||informal||both||Dated Kansai dialect. Also ate (somewhat female).|
– you (singular) –
|(name and honorific)||formality depends on the honorific used||both|
|anata||あなた||貴方, 貴男, 貴女||formal/informal||both||The kanji is rarely used. It is not used as much, since, when speaking to someone directly, the name of the addressee is better.[better source needed] Commonly used by women to address their husband or lover, in a way roughly equivalent to the English "dear".|
|anta||あんた||informal||both||Version of あなた anata. Often expresses contempt or familiarity towards a person. Generally seen as rude or uneducated when used in formal contexts.|
|otaku||おたく||お宅, 御宅||formal, polite||both||A polite way of saying "your house", also used as a pronoun to address a person with slight sense of distance. Otaku/otakki/ota turned into a slang term referring to a type of geek/obsessive hobbyist, as they often addressed each other as otaku.|
|omae||おまえ||お前||very informal||both (masculine)||Similar to anta, but used by men with more frequency. Expresses the speaker's higher status or age, or a very casual relationship among peers. Often used with おれ ore. Should never be said to elders. Commonly used by men to address their wife or lover, paralleling the female use of "anata".|
|手前||rude and confrontational||mainly males||Temee, a version of temae, is more rude. Used when the speaker is very angry. Originally used for a humble first person.|
|kisama||きさま||貴様||extremely hostile and rude||mainly males||Historically very formal, but has developed in an ironic sense to show the speaker's extreme hostility / outrage towards the addressee.|
|kimi||きみ||君||informal||both||The kanji means "lord" (archaic). Generally used with 僕 boku. The same kanji is used to write -kun. It is informal to subordinates; can also be affectionate; formerly very polite. Sometimes rude or assuming when used with superiors, elders or strangers.|
|kika||きか||貴下||informal, to a younger person||both|
|kikan||きかん||貴官||super formal, used to address government officials, military personnel, etc.||both|
|on-sha||おんしゃ||御社||formal, used to the listener representing your company||both|
|ki-sha||きしゃ||貴社||formal, similar to onsha||both|
– he / she –
|ano kata||あのかた||あの方||very formal||both||Sometimes pronounced ano hou, but with the same kanji.|
|ano hito||あのひと||あの人||formal/informal||both||Literally "that person".|
|yatsu||やつ||奴||informal||both||A thing (very informal), dude, guy.|
|koitsu, koyatsu||こいつ, こやつ||此奴||very informal, implies contempt||both||Denotes a person or material nearby the speaker. Analogous to "this one".|
|soitsu, soyatsu||そいつ, そやつ||其奴||very informal, implies contempt||both||Denotes a person or material nearby the listener. Analogous to "he/she", "it" or "this/that one".|
|aitsu, ayatsu||あいつ, あやつ||彼奴||very informal, implies contempt||both||Denotes a person or (less frequently) material far from both the speaker and the listener. Analogous to "he/she" or "that one".|
– he –
|kare||かれ||彼||formal (neutral) and informal (boyfriend)||both||Can also mean "boyfriend". Formerly 彼氏 kareshi was its equivalent, but this now always means "boyfriend".|
– she –
|kanojo||かのじょ||彼女||formal (neutral) and informal (girlfriend)||both||Originally created from 彼の女 kano on'na "that female" as an equivalent to female pronouns in European languages. Can also mean "girlfriend".|
– we (see also list of pluralising suffixes, below) –
|ware-ware||われわれ||我々||formal||both||Mostly used when speaking on behalf of a company or group.|
|ware-ra||われら||我等||informal||both||Used in literary style. ware is never used with -tachi.|
|hei-sha||へいしゃ||弊社||formal and humble, used when representing one's own company||both||Used when representing one's own company. From a Sino-Japanese word meaning "low company" or "humble company".|
|waga-sha||わがしゃ||我が社||formal, used when representing one's own company||both|
– they (see also list of pluralising suffixes, below) –
|kare-ra||かれら||彼等||common in spoken Japanese and writing||both|
Archaic personal pronouns
|Romaji||Hiragana||Kanji||Meaning||Level of speech||Gender||Notes|
|asshi||あっし||私||I||males||Slang version of watashi. From the Edo period.|
|sessha||せっしゃ||拙者||I||males||Used by samurai during the feudal ages (and often also by ninja in fictionalized portrayals). From a Sino-Japanese word meaning "one who is clumsy".|
|waga-hai||わがはい||我が輩,吾輩||I||males||Literally "my fellows; my class; my cohort", but used in a somewhat pompous manner as a first-person singular pronoun.|
|soregashi||それがし||某||I||males||Literally "So-and-so", a nameless expression. Similar to sessha.|
|warawa||わらわ||妾||I||females||Literally "child". Mainly used by women in samurai family. Today, it is used in fictional settings to represent archaic noble female characters.|
|wachiki||わちき||I||females||Used by geisha and oiran in Edo period. Also あちき achiki and わっち watchi.|
|yo||よ||余, 予||I||males||Archaic first-person singular pronoun.|
|chin||ちん||朕||I||males||Used only by the emperor, mostly before World War II.|
|maro||まろ||麻呂, 麿||I||males||Used as a universal first pronoun in ancient times. Today, it is used in fictional settings to represent Court noble male characters.|
|onore||おのれ||己||I or you||males||The word onore, as well as the kanji used to transcribe it, literally means "oneself". It is humble when used as a first person pronoun and hostile (on the level of てめえ temee or てまえ temae) when used as a second person pronoun.|
|nanji||なんじ||汝, less commonly also 爾||you, often translated as "thou"||both||Spelled as なむち namuchi in the most ancient texts and later as なんち nanchi or なんぢ nanji.|
|onushi||おぬし||御主, お主||you||both||Used by elders and samurai to talk to people of equal or lower rank, as well as by fictional ninja. Literally means "master".|
|sonata||そなた||其方 (rarely used)||thou||both||Originally a mesial deictic pronoun meaning "that side; that way; that direction"; used as a lightly respectful second person pronoun in previous eras, but now used when speaking to an inferior in a pompous and old-fashioned tone.|
|sochi||そち||其方 (rarely used)||thou||both||Similar to そなた sonata. Literally means "that way"|
Suffixes are added to pronouns to make them plural.
|Romaji||Hiragana||Kanji||Level of speech||Notes|
||Makes the pronoun plural; for example, watashi ("I") becomes watashi-tachi ("we"). Also can be attached to names to indicate that person and the group (s)he is with (Ryuichi-tachi = "Ryuichi and friends").|
|方||formal (ex. あなた方, anata-gata)||More polite than 達 tachi.|
|domo||ども||共||humble (ex. 私ども, watakushi-domo)||Casts some aspersion on the mentioned group, so it can be rude|
|ra||ら||等||informal (ex. 彼ら, karera. 俺ら, ore-ra. 奴ら, yatsu-ra. あいつら, aitsu-ra)||Used with informal pronouns. Frequently used with hostile words. Sometimes used for light humble as domo (ex. 私ら, watashi-ra)|
Demonstrative and interrogative pronouns
Demonstrative words, whether functioning as pronouns, adjectives or adverbs, fall into four groups. Words beginning with ko- indicate something close to the speaker (so-called proximal demonstratives). Those beginning with so- indicate separation from the speaker or closeness to the listener (medial), while those beginning with a- indicate greater distance (distal). Interrogative words, used in questions, begin with do-.
Demonstratives are normally written in hiragana.
|kore||これ||此れ||this thing / these things (near speaker)|
|sore||それ||其れ||that thing / those things (near listener)|
|are||あれ||彼||that thing / those things (distant from both speaker and listener)|
|kochira or kotchi||こちら / こっち||此方||this / here (near speaker)|
|sochira or sotchi||そちら / そっち||其方||that / there (near listener)|
|achira or atchi||あちら / あっち||彼方||that / there (distant from both speaker and listener)|
|dochira or dotchi||どちら / どっち||何方||what / where|
Japanese has only one word corresponding to reflexive pronouns such as myself, yourself, or themselves in English. The word 自分 (jibun?) means "one's self" and may be used for human beings or some animals. It is not used for cold-blooded animals or inanimate objects.
- Gender differences in spoken Japanese
- Gender-neutral pronoun: Japanese
- Japanese honorifics
- T–V distinction, pronoun distinctions more generally
- Noguchi, Tohru (1997). "Two types of pronouns and variable binding". Language 73: 770–797. doi:10.1353/lan.1997.0021.
- Kanaya, Takehiro (2002). 日本語に主語はいらない Nihongo ni shugo wa iranai [In Japanese subjects are not needed]. Kodansha.
- Akiyama, Nobuo; Akiyama, Carol (2002). Japanese Grammar. Barron's Educational. ISBN 0764120611.
- Ishiyama, Osamu (2008). Diachronic Perspectives on Personal Pronouns in Japanese (Ph.D.). State University of New York at Buffalo.
- Maynard, Senko K: "An Introduction to Japanese Grammar and Communication Strategies", page 45. The Japan Times, 4th edition, 1993. ISBN 4-7890-0542-9
- Personal pronouns in Japanese Japan Reference. Retrieved on October 21, 2007
- 8.1. Pronouns sf.airnet.ne.jp Retrieved on October 21, 2007
- "old boy". Kanjidict.com. Retrieved 2012-05-07.
- "he". Kanjidict.com. Retrieved 2012-05-07.
|Look up Category:Japanese pronouns in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|