Me, myself, and I

Does anybody else find there’s no good male word for “I”? 「私」 is too formal except for work (which I no longer do in Japanese). I was comfortable with 「俺」 for a while but now I’m too old and Mr. Rogers-ish. And I never liked 「僕」 as it feels a bit too much boy scout-ish. I wish there was something not as rough as 「俺」 but not so boyish as 「僕」. Maybe something new in that crazy slang young people are coming up with all the time?

47 thoughts on “Me, myself, and I

  1. What’s wrong with 俺? The urban myths that Mr. Rogers was a former marine sniper are false, but it’s still a cool image, and proves that you can be a Mr. Rogers type and still be 俺 😉

    If you really want to embrace old-man-hood, there’s always わし -_-

      • I never perceived myself at first. I felt like it was for those people who were a man’s man’s man. But then I asked my gf and she said I was definitely an 俺

  2. When I worked at a restaurant in Shinjuku (I was the only foreigner), the owner would speak to staff with 俺 and the landlord (an elderly woman he’d known for a long time) with 僕. I don’t think I ever heard him say 私.

    Of course, it depends on the environment and people involved. Our restaurant had pretty casual environment. I don’t know what an office environment would be like.

  3. I liked 僕, it felt just the right amount of “I’m a boy but I don’t want to make a point of it”. But now at 26 I think I’m too old for 僕… At least with my tea ceremony teacher I know I can use わたくし.

    Let’s just give up and use せっしゃ、われわれ or わが 😀 or この俺さま。

  4. 「自分」? 🙂

    I don’t think I could bring myself to use 「僕」, for some reason I’ve always disliked it.

  5. The true Japanese Jedi master learns to avoid personal pronouns in all cases. If you choose your words carefully, you can go for weeks at a time without ever needing one. =)

  6. 我輩は僕である。。。

    Personally I don’t really see the ‘flavouring’ of 私, 僕 and 俺 as absolutes, and I think you can just switch them around as you please according to the feel of the situation… Though mostly I do just use 僕.

  7. The big problem occurs because “was created” the difference between male word and female for “I”. How come I just can’t say “I” like is spoken in other languages only in one way? (smile). For example, “Eu” in portuguese, “I” in english, “Je” in french, “Ich” in german and so forth.

    I agree with Warwick above. We should use according to the feel of the situation.

    Even though it seems female word, in conference/meeting we must not use neither 僕 nor 俺.


    Hélio Shiino
    Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL

  8. Most of the male essayists and columnists I’ve read seem to use 僕, so I’d hardly call that ‘boyish’.

  9. Really difficult question :D. I was a 僕 fan, but recently i was feeling it was too childish (and i’m not young at all XD) so i’m switching to 俺。I only use 僕 when i want to sound respectful, and using 私 in those contexts would be a bit too much.

    俺 is not only for brats. I think it fits older guys (like us :P)

    • It’s not about native or non-native, it’s about how the word makes you feel. It’s personal and different for everybody. For me, it’s not girly, just feels too youthful (青年).

      • Actually, specifically because “it’s about how the word makes you feel” I think that the non-nativeness is an important and interesting aspect of the conversation, in that nonnatives develop strong impressions of the language that aren’t shared by the culture that uses the language. Another example from Japanese is an irrational hatred of the word 外人 that some foreigners have (“OMG, it means ‘outside person’!!!”). In such cases those impressions likely didn’t come directly from the culture itself, but rather from external impressions of the culture filtered and molded through our own cultures. For example, I don’t think that Japanese men feel like ぼく is a youthful word (as pointed out below, many middle aged men use it—indeed, one of my classroom assistants is around 80 years old and most commonly calls himself ぼく), nor do they long for an alternative pronoun. So to me the interesting thing isn’t so much that nonnatives feel that way, but rather *why* they feel that way (and to that, I don’t have a good answer).

  10. I met with a lot of 40 years-old men recently and they were all using 僕。

    Men have at least three “I” but think of women!! :p

  11. Also remember that we men all have basically only two choices (practically). I think many people would choose a third if one existed.

  12. For me I think it feels normal to say 俺 with my Japanese mates as they always use it.
    I’ve also never liked 「僕」

  13. I normally use 「僕」, but I guess it’s okay since I’m still in my mid-twenties. A lot of the 課長 and 部長 at my company use 「わたし」 mainly. They would use 「俺」 in more informal situations (chatting with subordinates, drinking with coworkers, etc.). Many use 「僕」 regardless of age.

  14. 「うち」?
    Although personally I’ve only heard women use that in Tokyo, I was originally told its a genderless word out West. Maybe still a young-only word though. Then again, I’ve failed to get a grasp of what “young” actually encompasses in Japan having heard more than the odd 40-something man use 「僕」.

    Perhaps you can pretend to be a time-travelling samurai, throw away the belittling shackles of ~ます conjugation yet keep the 丁寧語 vocab and stick it to them with a 「せっしゃ」 or 「わがはい」! You won’t sound boyish, but sounding just outright strange may be a slight consolation.

  15. I live “out west” (if Kyoto counts? My coworkers are from all around Kansai, it seems) and I’ve only ever heard women use うち, to the best of my knowledge. But maybe waaaay out west? Maybe it’s just me, but referring to yourself by name seems like you’re either full of yourself or a very small child (or both?). What to do??

    I found the Japanese wikipedia article on the subject really interesting:

    Personally, I use 僕 more often (especially in working situations where I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to run things), but I’ve been trying to bring 俺 into play in more social situations.

    Tae- you could always give in to the comforting allure of the track suit and go with 自分:体育会系の男性に多い。 What do you think?

    • Further out west it does become a male pronoun. Kinda once you get far enough west that マクド becomes マック once more. I think it must be pretty localised to certain dialects though. Wish I made a note of those who used it and their hometowns now.

  16. As I see:
    俺 is for alpha males,
    僕 is for beta males,
    私 is for weirdos.

    I use 私.

    • Personally, I avoid 私(わたし) like the plague because in my experience people tend to hear that and see a foreigner and assume zero ability. Sets you a step backwards before you even begin. Funnily enough, I’ve heard stories of hapless learners getting taught 私(わたくし) from heck-knows-what-source and assuming that as their self-pronoun.

  17. I personally try to avoid if I can using the personal pronoun. But if I had to use it I would use 僕。Also I would depend on whom I was talking to. watashi for unknown people, boku to people I am close to, ore for fun and being sarcastic:), jibun to make a strong point and to be assertive. Well that is my opinion or experience anyway.
    I occasionally use atashi, just for fun 😉

  18. This is why I like Korean. There’s the humble “jeo” and the regular “na.” Aside from exceptions that arise from a few different words that might follow, you choose which of the two you’ll use based on the position of the listener. Simple as that. I’ve always felt rude using “ore” and feeble saying “boku” so Japanese feels awkward for me sometimes.

    Romanized for readers’ convenience and lack of a Japanese keyboard, respectively.

  19. Top this off, I’ve been hearing an increase in female use of 僕 (boku) recently. No longer just limited to girls who sing 強い女性の power rock songs either; actual real-life usage. I realise it doesn’t work this way in Japanese society, but under my own classic language learner’s logic, I feel almost like I’ve lost a man point or two.

  20. I use 僕. I was up in the air between 僕 and 俺 for awhile until 2 things swayed me. 1, I tend to forget to switch to a more polite form when talking to a coworker of boss. 2, a Japanese girl told me it’s cuter.

    I agree with Tony Gonzalez though. I (and most foreigners) tend to use personal pronouns way too much.

  21. If you feel like you’re too old for 僕 and 俺 but you don’t want to sound like a member of the military by using 自分 why not go with old man わし 🙂 or the inaka version out here in Kochi-ken, あし

  22. Here’s what its like in the office of a Japanese company in Tokyo:

    僕 for the younger, newer members among themselves (these guys don’t have opinions to give to the older, 先輩 so they don’t have to worry about saying “I” too much, just はい、わかりました。). If 僕 “slips” when talking to someone older, it sounds immature and might get a frown.

    俺 for the more experieced and/or a little bit older members (but not elderly) and middle management among themselves or to the younger members

    私 (わたくし) for most males on the phone with customers, and sometimes 私ども (わたくしども). I also often hear 私の方 (わたくしのほう or わたしのほう) among younger guys on the phone, but to me this sounds polite but in a timid way, like vague and unassertive for some reason.

    私 (わたし) for the executives

    – (nothing) for a lot of male speech at many levels. I suppose this is the nature of the Japanese language, but a lot of utterances or speech units(like “lines” in a drama) are grammatically ambiguous. Within the context of a dialogue or conversation, however, there are many “little words” as well as audio and other non-verbal clues which clarify, in this case, WHO is speaking. Here is one example: they don’t teach you this in a formal classroom, but I would say in most cases the “dictionary” form along with an ending like 2わ indicates “I” for males : 電話するわ。 Ok, I will give (him/her) a call (Ok, let me give him/her a call).

    • Oh, and 私 (わたし) for foreign employees in Japan who think worry about showing respect and being formal… 🙂

  23. Think about the following: you’re at MOS burger and you overhear someone asking 「僕のオニポテどこ?」. What kind of person do you expect to find when you turn around? Now repeat the exercise with 「俺」instead. Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in Japan will answer that the first is a ガキ there with his ママ and 妹, while the second is obviously a ニート accusing his ニート friends of stealing his precious, scaldingly-hot オニポテ.

    PS: If a girl tells you that using 僕 sounds “cute” that should be motivation for never saying 僕 again. You don’t want to be かわいい, you want to be かっこいい.

  24. am I the only one who wishes あたし wasn’t a girly word…. it has a bit of a ring to it, and just rolls easily off the tongue… 🙂

    • yeah, I know, あたし is like a bad word for foreign guys. Reminds me of George Carlin’s 7 words.

      But that’s Japan. Perhaps the patient and humble handling of these subtle rules and nuances is one of the things that makes Japanese so difficult for foreigners. But perhaps we should fight harder for a world that concerns itself with conveying meaningful ideas rather complacently accept the ambiguities and nuances of language as they are, as if the Japanese for example were, in all its armored complexity, somehow exempt from the standards and values of clarity and honest straightforwardness.

  25. When in doubt, use 俺さま. Everyone will be impressed with your level of arrogance and narcissism.

  26. Old post but thought I might put my two cents in. My language partner is a scientist, and I’ve asked him precisely this so I could figure out what I should use. I asked him if he ever uses 俺 and he said no, it seems childish to him at this point (he is in his early thirties as I am). He says 僕 is what he uses generally, or 私(わたし/わたくし)in more/very formal situations.

    So, there ya go, another perspective from a very particular sort of Japanese adult male.

  27. Take 「わし」 or 「わい」 out for a spin if you feel like sounding like a proper old man or bumpkin from the west of Japan. My girlfriend’s brothers (in their 20’s) use 「わし」 at home, which is deep in the countryside, but 「俺」 with their city-dwelling friends. As previous posters have said, depends on who you’re speaking to and how you want to be perceived by them.

    To coin a new term, how about 「わがし」? 😉

Comments are closed.