Personal Pronouns in Japanese

How to Use "I, You, He, She, We, They" in Japanese

Page from 'First Grammar Book for Children'
Culture Club. Hulton Archive

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. In English, examples of pronouns include "I, they, who, it, this, none" and so on. Pronouns perform a variety of grammatical functions and are thus heavily used is most languages. There are many subtypes of pronouns such as personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns, possessive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, and more.

Japanese vs English Pronoun Usage

The use of Japanese personal pronouns is quite different from English. They are not used as often as their English counterparts, though there are a variety of pronouns in Japanese depending on the gender or the style of speech.

If the context is clear, the Japanese prefer not to use the personal pronouns. It is important to learn how to use them, but also important to understand how not to use them. Unlike English, there is no strict rule to have a grammatical subject in a sentence.

How to Say "I"

Here are the different ways one can say "I" depending on the situation and to whom one is speaking to, whether it be a superior or a close friend.

  • watakushi わたくし --- very formal
  • watashi わたし --- formal
  • boku (male) 僕, atashi (female) あたし --- informal
  • ore (male) 俺 --- very informal

How to Say "You"

The following are the different ways of saying "you" depending on the circumstances.

  • otaku おたく --- very formal
  • anata あなた --- formal
  • kimi (male) 君 --- informal
  • omae (male) お前, anta あんた--- very informal

Japanese Personal Pronoun Usage

Among these pronouns, "watashi" and "anata" are the most common. However, as mentioned above, they are often omitted in conversation. When addressing your superior, "anata" is not appropriate and should be avoided. Use the person's name instead.

"Anata" is also used by wives when they address their husbands. "Omae" is sometimes used by husbands when addressing their wives, though it sounds a little bit old-fashioned.

Third Person Pronouns

The pronouns for the third person are "kare (he)" or "kanojo (she)." Rather than using these words, it is preferred to use the person's name or describe them as "ano hito (that person)." It is not necessary to include gender.

Here are some sentence examples:

Kyou Jon ni aimashita.
I saw him (John) today.
Ano hito o shitte imasu ka.
Do you know her?

Additionally, "kare" or "kanojo" often means a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Here are the terms used in a sentence:

Kare ga imasu ka.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Watashi no kanojo wa kangofu desu.
My girlfriend is a nurse.

Plural Personal Pronouns

To make plurals, a suffix "~ tachi (~達)" is added like "watashi-tachi (we)" or "anata-tachi (you plural)".

The suffix "~ tachi" can be added to not only pronouns but to some other nouns referring to people. For example, "kodomo-tachi (子供達)" means "children."

For the word "anata," the suffix "~ gata (~方)" is used sometimes to make it plural instead of using "~ tachi." "Anata-gata (あなた方)" is more formal than "anata-tachi." The suffix "~ ra (~ら)" is also used for "kare," such as "karera (they)."

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Abe, Namiko. "Personal Pronouns in Japanese." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Abe, Namiko. (2023, April 5). Personal Pronouns in Japanese. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "Personal Pronouns in Japanese." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).