Second-Person Pronouns

As everyone who's taken a Japanese class knows, the only truly polite way to address someone is by their highest title, or, barring that, by their family name and -san or -sama. Anything else is unspeakably rude.

Or, rather, it's unspeakably informal, which in Japan is much the same thing as being rude. In this status-conscious society, to not grant a person their proper status can be as insulting as a slap in the face. The only time you will hear most of these pronouns in real life is among close friends and family. To use them without insulting someone, follow your Japanese friends' example and don't use these pronouns until they do.

If you meet someone in the street and don't know their name or occupation, there are a few workarounds: ojoosan or ojoosama ("young lady") for young women; oneesan or oneesama ("big sister") for young women, perhaps under the age of 25 or so--this is less formal than ojoosan or ojoosama; and oniisan or oniisama ("big brother") for young men--this is more restricted in use than oneesan or oneesama. If the person has their children with them and you're really in a bind, you might be able to call them okaasan/okaasama ("mother") or otousan/otousama ("father"). It used to be acceptable to call older women obasan ("aunt") or obaasan ("grandmother"), but age has lost its cachet as the Japanese become more youth-conscious.

And if the stranger doesn't fall into one of these age groups...? You're stuck. Be creative. Japanese offers all kinds of ways to say a complete sentence without saying "you."

Words for "I" and words for "you" tend to be paired: If someone calls themselves "boku," then they'll probably call you "kimi," and so on. The reciprocal pronouns are in the far right column.

Here they are, from most to least polite:

Anata The least rude of the rude "you"s. Anata is usually fairly general in tone, but when a woman says it to her husband or boyfriend, it means "darling."


AntaWomen's Japanese An informal feminine AtashiWomen's Japanese
KimiMen's Japanese   BokuMen's Japanese
OmaeMen's Japanese   OreMen's Japanese
Kisama This is an insult! The characters mean "noble lord," but it's the commonest of the insulting ways to say "you." Unfortunately, I don't know what the exact connotation is. Fansubbers like to translate it as "you bastard."

Characters: Vegeta from Dragonball Z.

Temee Another insulting "you." Sometimes translated as "you jerk," but to be honest, I don't know what the real connotation is.

Characters: No one uses this as an everyday pronoun; like ore-sama, they throw it into their speech when they're revving for a fight.

Onore Yet another insulting "you," this one uncommon.

Characters: No one uses this as an everyday pronoun; like ore-sama, they throw it into their speech when they're revving for a fight. One of Yomi's men says it repeatedly before Kurama turns him into sashimi in Yuu Yuu Hakusho.


Of the myriad ways to say "you," the seven up top cover most situations. The rest are largely obsolete, or are such exquisitely refined insults that no one ever uses them.

Most of these don't have balls beside them because they show up so rarely that I can't get a handle on them. If you have a better idea about what they mean, please drop me a note and I'll credit you when I fix the page.

Onushi An obsolete humble form.

Characters: Kaede from Inu-Yasha.

Anatagata The plural of anata. Probably more formal than anata-tachi
Kijo An extremely polite way to say "you" to a woman. Kijo literally means "lady."
Omaesan Jeffrey's Japanese-English Dictionary gives omeasan's meanings as "you," "my dear," and "hey."
Otaku A very polite form. Otaku literally means "your honorable house," and may also be used to refer to the addressee's home.
Sonata Archaic.
Sondai An ancient or literary word.
Sonkou A polite form; it can also mean "your father."
Temae The original form of temee, before macho vowel slur got to it. Can mean "we."
Yuu English is hot! English is sexy! Personally, I've never heard this used in anime.