The Japanese language, just like English, has personal pronouns such as I, me, my, we, you, he, she, they, it and etc. However, there are different words/characters to use, which depend on the age, gender, and status of the person speaking and the person spoken to. Therefore, there are intricate grammatical rules for the proper use of personal pronouns in Japanese.
For instance, you address youths much differently than seniors. Additionally, authority figures and those in positions of power require pronouns that are more formal.
Women refer to themselves in a slightly different way than men and the elderly use separate pronouns than children.
About Japanese Pronouns
Because of the nuances in gender, age, and social status in regards to pronouns, we will cover only the basic ones everyone can use.
This is because the variations are so wide-ranging that’s it’s best to start simple to reduce confusion and prevent from accidentally using a pronoun that may come off rude, arrogant, or ignorant.
Once you can get a better grasp on Japanese, then delve deeper into the different pronouns. Plus, it’s also worth mentioning that there are some pronouns that are archaic. These are good to know for literary purposes.
Even though there are several types of pronouns in Japanese, they serve a similar role in a sentence as they would in English. They can either emphasize or replace other nouns. But, which ones do you use in Japanese depending on the point of view: first, second or third person.
I, Me ; My
When speaking about yourself in Japanese, you will use 私 and this illustrates “I,” “me” and “my.” But, there’s a participle required to demonstrate grammatical context to distinguish the reference of “I,” “me” or “my.”
- 私[Watashi or Watakushi]: “I” (subject)
- 私は [Watashi-wa]: “I” (subject)
- 私を[Watashi-o]: “me” (object)
- 私の[Watashi-no]: “mine” or “my” (indicates ownership)
These ones listed above are good for general use without committing any linguistic faux pas. However, there are other ways to say “I,” “me” and “my” depending on your age, gender, and social position. These rules have great nuance and it can be a little confusing for newcomers to Japanese.
Myself or Oneself
As a reflexive pronoun, the same characters for “myself” also mean “oneself,” depending on the context and to whom you are speaking. So, you can also use it for “you,” “he,” “she” etc as long as other words around it are in gender agreement.
- 自分 [Jibun]: “oneself” or “myself” with reference to people.
While there is “you” as a pronoun in Japanese, it’s often implied. Even though English also has an implied use of “you,” it has a completely different context in Japanese. The people in the Land of the Rising Sun hold polite, courteous, and respectful speech in high regard.
English vs. Japanese Usage
“You” carries a negative connotation that can sometimes come off as rude, inappropriate or demeaning in some way. To understand, observe the following English sentences:
- Inclusion: You come over here.
- Implied: Come over here.
Even in English, you can see the difference in tone and conveyance of meaning when you include verses that imply “you.” The inclusion of it sounds harsh, commanding, and demanding. But, the social inference isn’t the same as it is in Japan. To say “you” in such a way would be a faux pas.
Including “You” in Japanese
Having said all that, there are times when you might want to use the pronoun “you” to be rude intentionally. Also, when someone is speaking to you and they use the pronoun in your direction, you can quickly understand that they either feel superior to you in some way or are being rude on purpose.
All of the characters below indicate various ways to say “you” as the subject of a sentence. The good news is you will say the same thing in all these variations: An’ta (rude) or Anata (formal).
- 貴方: “you,” as in one’s equal (can also mean “your house”)
- 貴男: “you,” as in one of equal or lower status (can also mean “dear” or “honey”)
- 貴女: “you,” when referring to a woman
When addressing more than one person as “you,” it’s not nearly as rude as the singular use of “you.” To make it plural, you add -達 [-tachi] at the end of the character set as a suffix. Just like the singular form, all will annunciate the same: An’ta-tachi or Anata-tachi.
- 貴方達: “you,” referring to a group of equals
- 貴男達: “you,” referring to a group of those who are equal or lower
- 貴女達: “you,” when referring to a group of women
There are several ways to refer to males, females, and neutral objects in Japanese. What’s listed below are the most polite uses. How you use “he,” “she” or “it” will depend on your relationship with the person or object in question.
- あの方 [Ano kata]: very formal for “he,” “she” or “it”
- あの人 [Ano hito]: formal or informal for “that person”
- 奴 [Yatsu]: Very informal for “dude,” “guy” or a thing
- 彼 [Kare]: in a formal sense, it’s neutral for “he” but it means “boyfriend” in casual settings; translates to “that one”
- 彼女 [Kanojo]: “female” in the formal but “girlfriend” in casual speech; translates to “that female”
Because “they” or “them” suggests the plural referring to a group of people, you will add the suffix -達 (-tachi) much in the same way as for the plural form of “you.” However, you add this when referring to the specific gender of a group. There are many pronouns for “they,” some of them are:
- 彼等 [Kare-ra]: “they,” “them;” for groups of males or mixed gender
- 彼ら [Kare-ra]: “they,” “them;” for groups of males or mixed gender
- 彼達 [Kare-tachi]: “they,” “them;” for groups of males
- 彼女達 [Kanojo-tachi]: “they,” “them;” for groups of females
- 奴等 [Yatsu-ra]: “they,” “those guys;” can be derogatory
When speaking of yourself as part of a group with other people, “we” is the plural form. As in “they” and “you” in the plural, add the suffix -達 (-tachi). In other instances, you simply write the character(s) for “me” twice. There are a host of ways to use “we” as a pronoun in Japanese. The pronouns below are just two examples.
- 私達 or 私たち [Watashi-tatchi]: “we/us” from “I” or “me”
- 我々 [Ware- Ware]: “we/us” from “I” or “me”
Below is a quick reference guide to using the right pronouns along with the pronunciation, English translation, and any other applicable rules.
|English||Hiragana||Kanji||Romanji||Pronunciation||Part of Speech|
|私||Watashi Watakushi||Wah-tah-shee |
|Mine or My||わたしの||私の||Watashi-no||Wah-tashi-noh||Ownership/|
|An’ta (rude) Anata (formal)||Ahn-tah|
|Subject (best to avoid)|
|You (plural)||あなた達 |
|An’ta-tachi (rude) Anata-tachi (formal)||Ahn-tah-tah-chee Ah-nah-tah- tah-chee||Subject|
|He/She/It||あのかた||あの方||Ano kata||Ah-no kah-tah||Subject|
|That Person||あのひと||あの人||Ano hito||Ah-no hee-toe||Subject|
|Informal He/It (dude, guy)||やつ||奴||Yatsu||Yah-t-soo||Subject|
|彼等 彼ら |
彼達 彼女達 奴等
Kare-tachi Kanojo-tachi Yatsu-ra
|Subject or Object|
|We/Us||わたしたち われわれ||私達 |
|Watashi-tatchi Ware-Ware||Wah-tah-shee-tah-chee |
|Subject or Object|