I, Me, & Thee: On Japanese Pronouns

I, Me, & Thee: On Japanese Pronouns

Japanese is famous for dropping pronouns. Once the topic or subject of a conversation is established, it is awkward to continually use the pronoun. And yet, ironically, there are tons of pronouns available for use—even more when considering dialects.

As mentioned above, you could, and in some cases should, avoid using pronouns altogether.

When the context is clear, drop the pronoun. When speaking to a superior, it is best to use the person’s name with an honorific such as さま sama or title such as 先生(せんせい) sensei.

But a few well-placed pronouns can enliven a conversation. Want to sound like a sixteenth-century samurai warrior? There are pronouns for that. Want to sound more masculine? No problem. Like a little girl? Sure.

General Notes on Pronouns

  • When one says “I” in English no information is conveyed other than that it is first person singular. In Japanese, however, many pronouns also carry cultural or social status connotations.
  • As long as the meaning is clear, Japanese usually omits the pronoun.
    For example:

    カールさんは店に行きました。
    ka-ru san wa mise ni ikimashita.
    Carl went to the store.
    そこで、パンを買いました。
    sokode, pan o kaimashita.
    There, he purchased bread.

  • Once the subject is clear, Carl, “he” is unnecessary in the second sentence even though it is required in English.
  • Single words or short sentences usually drop the pronoun as it is assumed the speaker is referring to him or herself.
    Example:

    腹減った。
    hara hetta.
    (I’m) hungry.

    眠い。
    nemui.
    (I’m) sleepy.

  • Adding the suffix, たち tachi, to the first person pronoun, makes it plural: 私たち watashi tachi we; us.
  • The suffix ら ra is a more informal version of たち tachi.
  • While you can say 彼女たち kanojo tachi when the room is full of women or girls, the norm is to use 彼ら karera for mixed groups or situations when the gender makeup of the group is unknown.

 

How to NOT Use Pronouns

You can get by your entire life with only using 私 watashi for “I” and あなた anata for “you,” but not only would that be boring, in some situations it might actually be rude. あなた anata, for example, can, in some cases, be rude since it implies you are stating the listener is equal to or inferior to you. Saying 私 watashi too often can make one sound conceited.

Here are a few ways to get around this:

INSTEAD OF watashi

  • Point to yourself when referring to yourself

INSTEAD OF あなた anata

  • Use the person’s name with さん san
  • Use the person’s title: 先生 sensei (for teachers, doctors, pastors, and other teaching professions); 社長 shachō (for bosses or company presidents)
  • そちら sochira literally means “there” and can be used to refer to your listeners

INSTEAD OF PLURAL PRONOUN

  • Refer to everyone as みんな or みなさん
  • In short, if you can avoid using a pronoun whether through context or substitute, do it.

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Now, let’s look at actual pronouns!

+ Everyday Use Pronouns

  • watashi—I; me [formal or informal; gender-neutral]
  • うち uchi—one’s own… [usually used with の to talk about one’s household: うちの犬 uchi no inu—my (our) dog]
  • あなた anata—you [usually said to people on a similar or lower social status; often used by wives to address their husbands like “dear” or “sweetheart”]
  • kimi—you [informal; used among friends; the same kanji is used as the name suffix -kun. Often used with 僕 boku.]
  • 彼女 kanojo—she; her [can also be used to mean “girlfriend.”]
  • kare—he; him [can also be used to mean “boyfriend.” 彼氏 kareshi always means “boyfriend.”]

 

+ Formal Pronouns

  • watakushi—I; me [more formal then just watashi; uses the same kanji as watashi; gender-neutral]
  • ware—I; me [literary style]
  • 我ら warera—we [literary style]
  • 我が waga—my (or can be plural: our as in 我が社 wagasha—our company) [gender neutral]
  • 我々 ware ware—we [formal; used when speaking on behalf of a company or group]

 

+ Pronouns for Women

あたし atashi—I [a shortened form of watashi used commonly by women]

+ Pronouns for Men

  • ore—I [gives a sense of masculinity; can be rude in some situations]
  • boku—I [used by males of all ages, but particularly with boys. Can be used when calling a boy whose name you don’t know: “hey, kid” or “hey, squirt.” The kanji 僕 shimobe means “servant”]
  • washi—I [often used by older males]

 

+ Archaic Samurai Edo Period “the Fun” Pronouns

  • あっし asshi—I; me [Edo period slang for 私 watashi]
  • 拙者 sessha—I; me [used by males; samurai pronoun; the kanji means “clumsy person”]
  • 我が輩 wagahai—I; me [used by males; has a nuance of arrogance; Natsume Soseki’s famous book, I am a Cat is called 吾輩は猫である wagahai wa neko de aru.]
  • soregashi—I; me [used by males; used by samurai as a first person pronoun, but literally means some unknown person]
  • yo—I [used by males] Say this after a good meal:  余は満足じゃ。 yo wa manzoku ja. I am satisfied.
  • onore—I; oneself [used by males; humble when used as first person pronoun, but hostile when used as a second person pronoun (see below)]
  • 汝 nanji—you [used by males and females]

 

+ Pronouns for When Upset

  • あんた anta—you [rude; a shortened version of あなた anata; used when angry]
  • おまえ omae—you [can be rude or can show familiarity similar to 俺 ore. Often used by husbands when speaking to their wives]
  • てめえ temee—you [rude; used when angry; used by males; also てまえ temae; kanji: 手前]
  • きさま kisama—you [rude; historically, this was a formal pronoun the kanji, 貴様 meaning an honorable person]
  • こいつ koitsu—him; her [informal; implies contempt; used to refer to someone nearby]
  • あいつ aitsu—him; her [informal; implies contempt; used to refer to someone away from the speaker and listener.]
  • おのれ onore—you [used by males; humble when used as first person pronoun, but hostile when used as a second person pronoun]

 

+ Less Common Pronouns

  • おら ora—I [rural feel; used in anime or manga such as Crayon Shinchan and Dragon Ball characters]
  • 我ら warera—we [informal; like たち tachi, ら ra is a pluralizing suffix that usually shows familiarity]

 

+ Plural Suffixes

  • ~たち ~tachi [informal: 私たち watashi tachi—we; 君たち kimi tachi—you; can also be added to names、groups, or places: 青木さんたち aoki san tachi—the Aoki’s]
  • ~ら ~ra [informal: 彼ら karera—they; あいつら aitsura—they; ]
  • ~とも ~tomo [humble; changes to ~domo; わたくしども watakushi domo]
  • ~かた ~kata [formal; changes to ~gata; あなたがた anata gata—you (plural; more formal than あなたたち anata tachi]

 

+ Other

  • あの人 ano hito—he; she [literally, that person; informal to formal]
  • あの方 ano kata—he; she [literally, that person; formal / polite]
  • あの子 ano ko—she [literally, that child, but usually refers to a girl or young woman]
  • 我が社  waga sha—our company [used when representing one’s own company]

 

Learn Japanese Animal Names

Learn Japanese Animal Names

Animal Names Vocabulary List

For beginners: Let’s learn a few common animal names in Japanese.

First, the word for “animal” is 動物 doubutsu. This literally means moving (動) thing (物).

JAPANESE ANIMAL NAMES

1 minute Japanese: Basic animal names in Japanese

A

 

alligator – ワニwani
|| 
THANKS TO
Tenshi Rafael
ant
 – アリ ari
armadillo – アルマジロarumajiro
|| 
THANKS TO Tenshi
Rafael

N

 

Nautilus – オウムガイ
oumugai
 || THANKS
TO Uichee (Vijay)!
Newt
 – イモリ imori
|| THANKS TO Alan Mogi!
Nightingale – サヨナキドリ or ナイチンゲール sayonakidori
or naichinge-ru
|| THANKS TO Uichee (Vijay)!

B

 

bat – こうもり koumori|| THANKS
TO Tenshi Rafael
bear
 – 熊 kuma
birds – 鳥 tori
birdschicken – ニワトリ niwa
tori

birdscrane – 鶴 tsuru
birdseagle – 鷲 washi
birdshawk
– 鷹 taka
birdsowl – フクロウ fukurou
birdssparrow – スズメ suzume 
birdsstork – コウノトリ kou
no tori

birdsswan – 白鳥 haku chou

O

 

Octopus – 蛸 tako
|| THANKS
TO Alan Mogi!
Orangutan – オランウータン oranu-tan
|| THANKS TO Uichee (Vijay)!

Otter
   -川獺 kawauso ||
THANKS TO Alan Mogi!
Oriole – コウライウグイス kouraiugaisu
|| THANKS TO Uichee (Vijay)!
Ostrich – ダチョウdachou
|| THANKS TO Uichee (Vijay)!
Otter – 川獺 kawauso
|| THANKS TO Uichee (Vijay)!
Owl – フクロウfukurou
|| THANKS TO Uichee (Vijay)!

C

 

cat – 猫
neko
camel – ラクダ rakuda
cow – 牛 ushi
crab – カニ kani
crow – からす karasu ||THANKS
TO Tenshi Rafael

P

 

panda – パンダ panda|| THANKS
TO Tenshi Rafael
penguin
 – ペンギンpengin || THANKS
TO Tenshi Rafael
pig
 – 豚 buta
polar (white) bear – 白熊 shiro kuma

D

 

dinosaurs – 恐竜
kyou ryuu
dog – 犬 inu
dolphin – イルカ iruka
donkey – ロバ roba
dragon – 竜 ryuu
duck – アヒル ahiru ||THANKS
TO Tenshi Rafael

Q

 

quail – 鶉
uzura

E

 

elephant – 象
zou

R

 

rabbit – ウサギ
usagi
rat / mouse 
– ネズミ nezumi
rhino – サイ sai

F

 

fox – 狐 kitsune
|| THANKS TO Fox
D. Nights
frog – カエル kaeru 
firefly – 蛍 hotaru
|| THANKS TO Tenshi Rafael
fish – 魚 sakana
fishcarp – こい koi
fishgoldfish – 金魚 kin gyo
fishshark – サメ same
fishwhale – 鯨 kujira

S

 

scorpion – さそり
sasori || THANKS
TO Tenshi Rafael
sheep
 – 羊 hitsuji
skunk – スカンク sukanku
snake – 蛇 hebi
snail – 蝸牛katatsumuri || THANKS
TO Tenshi Rafael
squid – イカ ika ||THANKS
TO Tenshi Rafael

G

 

giraffe – キリン
kirin
goat – ヤギ yagiGodzilla – ゴジラ gojira
gorilla – ゴリラ gorira

T

 

tiger – トラ
tora
turtle – 亀 kame

H

 

hamster – ハムスター
hamusuta
hippo – カバ kaba
horse – 馬 uma

U

 

unicorn – 一角獣
ikkakujuu

I

 

insects – 虫
mushi
fishbee – 蜂 hachi
fishbeetle – カブトムシ kabutomushi
fishbutterfly – 蝶々 chou chou
fishcricket – コオロギ koorogi
fishmosquito – か ka
fishwasp – スズメバチ suzumebachi
fishworm – ミミズ mimizu

V

 

Vulture – はげたけ
hagetake || THANKS to Ulrike

J

 

jaguar – ジャガー
jaga

W

 

wild boar
– 猪 inoshishi
wolf – 狼 ookami

K

 

kangaroo – カンガルー
kangaru
koala – コアラ koara

X

 

L

 

lamb – 子羊
kohitsuji
lion – ライオン raion
leopard – ヒョウ hyou

Y

 

yak – ヤク
yaku

M

 

mouse / rat – ネズミ
nezumi
monkey – 猿 saru
moth – 蛾 ga || THANKS
TO Tenshi Rafael
mule / donkey – ロバ roba

Z

 

zebra – シマウマ
shima uma
“Here’s Looking at You, Kid” in Japanese 「君の瞳に乾杯」Casablanca

“Here’s Looking at You, Kid” in Japanese 「君の瞳に乾杯」Casablanca

In Casablanca, when Humphrey Bogart speaks Japanese, everyone listens. Okay, this only happens with subtitles, but that’s kind of the same thing, isn’t it?

Did you know “Here’s looking at you, kid” apparently was not written in the original script, but was an off-the-cuff comment Bogart made to Ingrid Bergman. And the awesome sounding “Play it again, Sam” is really boring old “Play it, Sam.”

But enough cinema trivia. You are here for Japanese!

First, Casablanca in Japanese isn’t 白い家 shiroi ie (white house), but simply the katakana form of the sound: カサブランカ kasaburanka.

One of the best known lines from Casablanca is the aforementioned “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Let’s look at the Japanese:

君の瞳に乾杯

kimi no hitomi ni kanpai

You might recognize 乾杯 kanpai as the Japanese way drinkers say “cheers!”

So, what does the Japanese version of “Here’s looking at you, kid” mean? First, no goats are involved. Sorry. There are pupils, though, and pupils are usually kids–unless they are eyes. Right. Eyes. Maybe something like, “A toast to your eyes.” “Here’s cheers to your eyes!”

VOCABULARY:

kimi–you
君の kimi no–your [the の makes it possessive] 瞳 hitomi–eye; pupil
君の瞳 kimi no hitomi–your eyes [note: this could be plural eyes or singular eye] に ni–to [particle that shows direction or purpose]

君の瞳に kimi no hitomi ni–to your eyes
乾杯 kanpai–cheers!


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Oh, My Ears are Burning! Japanese Idioms 耳が痛い

Oh, My Ears are Burning! Japanese Idioms 耳が痛い

耳が痛い
mimi ga itai
(of a reprimand) to make one’s ears burn; hit where it hurts

 

 

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When someone says something that hits on a touchy subject or reminds you of a weakness you have, then your “ears hurt.”

Literally, “ears hurt.” The “hurt” in your ears comes from hearing something you don’t want to hear.

彼の忠告を聞くのは、耳が痛い。

kare no chuukoku o kiku no wa, mimi ga itai.
Hearing his advice really hit a nerve.

kare—he
忠告  chuukoku—advice; warning
聞く kiku—to hear; to listen

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大きな顔をする To Look as if One is Important; Puffed Up

大きな顔をする To Look as if One is Important; Puffed Up

大きな顔をする To look as if one is important; puffed up

 

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Said when someone is overly proud (and the speaker thinks that he should be more humble).
Literally, “to make one’s face large.” Having a large face means people are more likely to take notice of you.

彼はまだ新入社員なのに、もう大きな顔をしている。

kare wa mada shin nyuu sha in na noni, mou ookina kao wo shiteiru.
Although he’s still a new employee, he sure acts like a big shot.

kare—he
まだ mada—still (only a new employee)
新入社員 shin nyuu sha in—new employee
[lit: 新 shin (new); 入 nyuu (enter); 社 sha (company); 員 in (member)] なのに nanoni—although; in spite of the fact…
もう mou—already


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My Mouth is Heavy! Not Saying Much with Japanese Idiom 口が重い

My Mouth is Heavy! Not Saying Much with Japanese Idiom 口が重い

Japanese Idiom Lesson:

口が重い
kuchi ga omoi
This is used when someone speaks only a little or is very quiet.


The antonym of this expression is 口が軽い。 kuchi ga karui. One’s mouth is light.


This idiom literally means, “mouth is heavy.” A heavy mouth doesn’t say much.


佐藤さんは、口が重いので、
デート中なにも話しませんでした。  

Because Sato is naturally quiet, she didn’t say anything during her date.

佐藤 satou—Sato (a Japanese last name)
wa—[topic particle] (written with hiragana “ha” but pronounced “wa” when used as particle.
ので node—therefore; because
デート中 de-to chuu—during a date
なにも nanimo—nothing; not at all
話しませんでした hanashimasen deshita—didn’t speak