LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Addressing People

Posted by Tae Kim

Addressing other people directly

In Japanese, the word "you" is seldom used to refer to a person except in the case of very close relationships. Most of the time, you will refer to people using their name (last name is more polite than first) usually followed by a name-suffix. You have probably already heard 「さん」 somewhere at some point. It is the polite name-suffix used to refer to your social superiors, elders, or people you are unfamiliar with. The most common name-suffixes are listed below.

  • ~さん - Polite name-suffix (gender-neutral)
  • ~君 【くん】 - Casual name-suffix (generally for males)
  • ~ちゃん - Casual name-suffix (generally for females)

If you're not sure which to use to address someone, 「さん」 with the person's last name is generally the safest option. You can also always ask the person what they prefer to be called by.

Always sleepy

  1. はい - yes (polite)
  2. でも - but
  3. 眠い 【ねむ・い】 - sleepy
  4. それ - that
  5. 大変 【たい・へん】 - hardship; rough time; tough
  6. 大丈夫 【だい・じょう・ぶ】 - ok
  7. いつも - always

Toggle Translations

先生: スミスさんは、元気ですか。
スミス: はい、元気です。
先生: リーさんは、元気ですか?
リー: はい、元気です。でも、眠いです。
先生: それは、大変です。
スミス: 大丈夫です。リーさんはいつも眠いです。

Teacher: Smith-san, (are you) well?
Smith: Yes, (I'm) fine.
Teacher: Lee-san, (are you) well?
Lee: Yes, (I'm) fine. But (I'm) sleepy.
Teacher: That's tough.
Smith: (It's) ok. Lee-san is always sleepy.

Talking about yourself

We already saw that it's usually understood implicitly by context when you're talking about yourself. However, there are times you may still want to refer to yourself as a topic to say, "As for me..." or "me too".

There are several options for referring to yourself depending on level of politeness and gender.

List of different words meaning me, myself, and I

  1. 私 【わたし】 - polite, gender-neutral
  2. 私 【わたくし】 - same Kanji as 「わたし」 but this reading is only used in very formal situations
  3. 僕 【ぼく】 - polite, masculine
  4. あたし - casual, very feminine
  5. 俺 【おれ】 - very casual and masculine

How's the pizza?

  1. ピザ - pizza
  2. おいしい - tasty
  3. ううん - no (casual)

Toggle Translations

ジョン: ピザは、おいしい?
リー: ううん。
アリス: は、おいしい。

John: As for pizza, tasty?
Lee: No.
Alice: As for me, tasty.

This short conversation highlights a very important point. The topic only brings up the general topic of the conversation and does not necessarily indicate the subject of any one particular sentence. The last sentence 「私は、おいしい」 would be very strange if it meant "I am tasty". However, because "I" is only a general topic, from the context of the entire conversation, we know that Alice is saying that as for her, the pizza is tasty.

Addressing family members

We've already encountered the honorific prefix 「お」 in 「お元気」. This prefix is used in all sorts of words and comes from a Kanji which can be read as either 「ご」 or 「お」. However, determining which reading to use is usually not an issue as this Kanji is usually written in Hiragana.

Definition: honorable
Stroke Order
Kun-yomi: お
On-yomi: ゴ
  1. 金 【お・かね】 - money
  2. 飯 【ご・はん】 - rice; meal
  3. 茶 【お・ちゃ】 - tea

The reason we're looking at it here is because of how the honorific prefix is used to refer to family members. The basic idea is to use the honorific prefix when referring to somebody else's family. You would not use honorifics to refer to your own family unless you are speaking to someone within your family. We will learn more about the concept of inner and outer circle for honorifics in a much later chapter.

The list below is by no means complete and only covers the more common words for the primary family members.

Family member chart
One's own family Someone else's family
Family 家族【か・ぞく】 ご家族【ご・か・ぞく】
Parents 両親【りょう・しん】 ご両親【ご・りょう・しん】
Mother 母【はは】 お母さん【お・かあ・さん】
Father 父【ちち】 お父さん【お・とう・さん】
Wife 妻【つま】 奥さん【おく・さん】
Husband 夫【おっと】 ご主人【ご・しゅ・じん】
Older Sister 姉【あね】 お姉さん【お・ねえ・さん】
Older Brother 兄【あに】 お兄さん【お・にい・さん】
Younger Sister 妹【いもうと】 妹さん【いもうと・さん】
Younger Brother 弟【おとうと】 弟さん【おとうと・さん】
Son 息子【むすこ】 息子さん【むすこ・さん】
Daughter 娘【むすめ】 娘さん【むすめ・さん】

Smith's parents

  1. 山田 【やま・だ】 - Yamada (surname)
  2. アジア人 【あじあ・じん】 - Asian (person)
  3. いいえ - no
  4. でも - but
  5. 母 【はは】 - (one's own) mother
  6. 日本人 【に・ほん・じん】 - Japanese (person)
  7. そう - so
  8. お父さん 【お・とう・さん】 - father
  9. 父 【ちち】 - (one's own) father
  10. アメリカ人 【アメリカ・じん】 - American (person)
  11. なるほど (exp) - I see

Toggle Translations

山田: スミスさんは、アジア人ですか?
スミス: いいえ。でも、母は、日本人です。
山田: そうですか。お父さんは?
スミス: 父はアメリカ人です。
山田: なるほど。

Yamada: Smith-san, are (you) Asian (person)?
Smith: No. But, (my) mother is Japanese.
Yamada: Is that so? As for (your) father?
Smith: (My) father is American.
Yamada: I see.