How to Use "San," "Kun," and "Chan" Correctly When Speaking Japanese

Why You Don't Want to Mix Up These Three Words in Japanese

illustration of mother calling daughter

"San," "kun," and "chan" are added to the ends of names and occupation titles to convey varying degrees of intimacy and respect in the Japanese language.

They are used very often and it is considered impolite if you use the terms the terms incorrectly. For instance, you should not use "kun" when addressing a superior or "chan" when talking to someone older than you.

In the tables below, you'll see how and when it is appropriate to use "san," "kun," and "chan."

San

In Japanese, "~ san (~さん)" is a title of respect added to a name. It can be used with both male and female names, and with either surnames or given names. It can also be attached to the name of occupations and titles.

For example:

surnameYamada-san
山田さん
Mr. Yamada
given nameYoko-san
陽子さん
Miss. Yoko
occupationhonya-san
本屋さん
bookseller
sakanaya-san
魚屋さん
fishmonger
titleshichou-san
市長さん
mayor
oisha-san
お医者さん
doctor
bengoshi-san
弁護士さん
lawyer

 

Kun

Less polite than "~ san", "~ kun (~君)" is used to address men who are younger or the same age as the speaker. A male might address female inferiors by "~ kun," usually in schools or companies. It can be attached to both surnames and given names. Additionally, "~kun" isn't used between women or when addressing one's superiors.

Chan

A very familiar term, "~ chan (~ちゃん)" is often attached to children's names when calling them by their given names. It can also be attached to kinship terms in a childish language.

 

For instance:

Mika-chan
美香ちゃん
Mika
ojii-chan
おじいちゃん
grandpa
obaa-chan
おばあちゃん
grandma
oji-chan
おじちゃん
uncle