Pronouns in the Japanese language are used less frequently than they would be in many other languages, mainly because there is no grammatical requirement to explicitly mention the subject in a sentence. So, pronouns can seldom be translated from English to Japanese on a one-on-one basis.
Most of the Japanese pronouns are not pure: they have other meanings. In English the common pronouns have no other meaning: for example, "I", "you", and "they" have no use except as pronouns. But in Japanese the words used as pronouns have other meanings: for example, 私 means "private" or "personal"; 僕 means "manservant".
The words Japanese speakers use to refer to other people are part of the more encompassing system of Japanese honorifics and should be understood within that frame. The choice of pronoun will depend on the speaker's social status compared to the listener, the subject, and the objects of the statement.
The first person pronouns (e.g. watashi, 私) and second person pronouns (e.g. anata, 貴方) are used in formal situations. In many sentences, when an English speaker would use the pronouns "I" and "you", they are omitted in Japanese. Personal pronouns can be left out 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 circumstances: for example, kureru (くれる) means "give", but in the sense of "somebody gives something to me or somebody very close to me"; while ageru (あげる) also means "give", but in the sense of "someone gives something to someone (usually not me)". Sentences consisting of a single adjective (often those ending in -shii) are often assumed to have the speaker as the subject. For example, the adjective sabishii can represent a complete sentence meaning "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 situations it can be considered uncouth to refer to the listener (second person) by a pronoun. If it is required to state the second person explicitly, 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 bring about another challenge as men and women use different pronouns to refer to themselves. Social standing also determines how a person refers to themselves, as well as how a person refers to the person they are talking to.
List of Japanese pronounsEdit
The following list is incomplete. There are numerous such pronoun forms that exist in Japanese, which vary by region, dialect, and so forth. This is a list of the most commonly used forms. "It" has no direct equivalent in Japanese.Note that Japanese doesn't generally inflect by case, so, e.g., I is equivalent to me.
|Romaji||Hiragana||Kanji||Level of speech||Gender||Notes|
- Me -
|watashi||わたし||私||formal||both||わて wate in the Kansai dialect.|
|watakushi||わたくし||私||very formal||both||The most formal polite version.|
|waga||わが||我が||very formal||both||Means "my" or "our". Used in speeches and formalities; 我が社 wagasha (our company) or 我が国 wagakuni (our country).|
|ore||おれ||俺||informal||males, rarely females (boyish)||Meaning "I". Frequently used by men. It can be seen as rude depending on the situation. Establishes a sense of masculinity. Used with peers or those younger or of lesser status, indicating one's own status. Among close friends or family, its usage is a sign of familiarity rather than masculinity or superiority.|
|boku||ぼく||僕||informal||males and rarely females (boyish)||Also meaning "I". Used in giving a sense of casual deference, uses the same kanji for servant (僕, shimobe), especially a male one, from a Sino-Japanese word. Can also be used towards children, (English equivalent - "kid" or "squirt")|
|washi||わし||儂||old males||Colloquial. Often used in fictitious creations to stereotypically represent old male characters.|
|atai||あたい||私||very informal||females||Slang version of あたし atashi.|
|atashi||あたし||informal||females||Often considered cute. Rarely used in written language, but common in conversation, especially among younger women.|
|uchi||うち||家||informal||mostly young girls||Means one's own. Often used in the Kansai and Kyūshū dialects. Uses the same kanji for house (家, uchi).|
|(own name)||informal||both||Used by small children, considered cute.|
|oira||おいら||informal||both||Similar to 俺, but more casual. May give off sense of more country bumpkin.|
|ora||おら||both||Dialect in Kanto and further north. Gives off sense of country bumpkin. Used among children influenced by main characters in Dragon Ball and Crayon Shin-chan.|
- You -
|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.||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. Similar to omae. Often expresses anger or contempt towards a person. Generally seen as rude or uneducated. Used by old men who also use washi instead of watashi.|
|otaku||おたく||お宅, 御宅||formal, polite||both||Polite form of saying "your house", also used as a pronoun to address a person with slight sense of distance. Otaku/Otakku/Otaki/Otakki turned into a slang referring to some type of Otaku/geek/obsessive hobbyist, as they often addressed each other as Otaku.|
|omae||おまえ||お前||very informal||both||Used by men with more frequency, but also used by women. Expresses contempt/anger, the speaker's higher status or age, or a very casual relationship among peers. Used with おれ ore. Should never be said to elders.|
|手前||rude and confrontational||mainly males||Temee, a version of temae, is more rude. Used when the speaker is very angry.|
|kisama||きさま||貴様||extremely hostile and rude||mainly males, but also used by women.||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|
|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||こいつ||此奴||very informal, implies contempt||both||Denotes a person or material nearby the speaker. Analogous to "this one".|
|soitsu||そいつ||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||あいつ||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 now always means boyfriend.|
- She -
|kanojo||かのじょ||彼女||formal (neutral) and informal (girlfriend)||both||Can also mean girlfriend.|
- We -
|hei-sha||へいしゃ||弊社||formal and humble||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 -
|kare-ra||かれら||彼等||common in spoken Japanese and writing||both|
- Notable Others -
|ware-ware||われわれ||我々||formal "we" sometimes "they"||both||Mostly used when speaking on behalf of a company or group.|
|Romaji||Hiragana||Kanji||Meaning||Level of speech||Gender||Notes|
- Archaic Pronouns -
|asshi||あっし||I||males||From the feudal ages.|
|sessha||せっしゃ||拙者||I||males||Used by ninjas and samurais during the feudal ages. From a Sino-Japanese word meaning "one who is clumsy".|
|waga-hai||わがはい||我が輩,吾輩||I||both||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||both||Ancient form of "watakushi".|
|warawa||わらわ||妾||I||both||Ancient form of "watakushi".|
|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.|
|onore||おのれ||己||I or you||males||The kanji literally means "snake". It is humble when used as a first person pronoun and hostile 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 namuti in the most ancient texts and later as なんち nanti or なんぢ nandi.|
|onushi||おぬし||御主||males||Used by ninjas and samurais to talk to people of equal or lower rank. 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 medieval times, but now used when speaking to an inferior in a pompous and old-fashioned tone.|