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A Simple Guide to Learning Pronouns In Japanese [with Pronunciation and Examples]

Many beginning Japanese language learners get stuck when it comes to using pronouns. 

The first step is to recognize that, in Japanese, pronouns are inferred from context rather than directly indicated.

If you want to be more fluent in Japanese,  you need to learn how and when to use pronouns.

And to do just that, we have an epic guide for you about Japanese pronouns!


1. I – Watashi

A general rule for saying “I” in Japanese is that if it’s clear that you are talking about yourself, don’t use watashi, or any of the other forms about to be introduced. 

  • (わたし ・ わたくし ・ あたし)— it’s the basic “I” in Japanese and is applicable to everyone no matter what gender or age group you are. 

The character 私 actually has three readings: わたし, the standard “I”; わたくし, the formal “I” and あたし, which is the female “I.”

わたくし, the formal “I,” is used by either sex when addressing a crowd or someone significantly superior to yourself, such as a boss or a customer.

あたし has a tone of femininity, and is generally only used by women, but will sometimes be used by homosexual men as well.

  • (ぼく) — primarily used by young children and mostly used by boys of elementary to junior high school age. 

For example:

伯父さんがおいに対して (おじさんが おいに たいして):僕は元気? (ぼくは げんき?)
(An uncle to his nephew:  How ya doing (sport/champ/tiger)?)

Additionally, 僕 is used by men to express humbleness when addressing a large crowd, or in slightly more formal scenarios.

  • (おれ)— nearly all men will refer to themselves as 俺 in informal situations between people of more or less similar social status

Using one’s own name in place of “I”

(ななも あいす たべたい!)
(I want an ice cream too!) [Spoken by a girl named “nana”]

Yes, this is effectively referring to yourself in the third person. Though this may carry some contextual baggage in English, it’s actually a fairly common way for Japanese women to refer to themselves.

The practice of referring to oneself in the third person in Japanese does carry with it a nuance of juvenility and immaturity, as young Japanese girls almost exclusively refer to themselves this way.

However, some women continue to refer to themselves in the third person well into their 20s or 30s, either out of habit or to emphasize an aura of 可愛さ (かわいさ, cuteness) about them.

2. You – Anata

If it’s clear from the context that you are talking about the person you are talking to, it’s more common to omit the word “you” altogether.

Also, it’s most common to refer to other people by their own name.

For example:

(りゅうちゃんも おおさかに いくの?)
(Are you going to Osaka too?) [“you” being a person named りゅう]

(あら?あの れぽーとは せんしゅう、たかしさんに あげましたよ!)
(What? I gave you that report last week!) [“you” being a person named たかし]

If you want to say in informal situations, you can do it in different ways depending on the situation:

  • あなた used to refer to a stranger 
  • (きみ) for young boys and subordinates. 君 is used for people of lower social status, most generally children.

The use of 君 implies that the person who said it is “above” the person they are referring to. Depending on the context, this could be inferred as arrogance, so don’t start tossing 君s around willy-nilly. At first, only refer to little kids as 君 to be safe, and test out its use as you go.

  • ちゃん —  for young girls and people you are pretty close with, i.e. friends/family members. 
  • お前 (おまえ)— used when the user is of superior status than the person it’s referring to. 

お前 quite literally means “that which is in front of me” and depending on the context it can be very impolite—in fact downright offensive.

It’s typically what coaches will say when talking to their players, or what a 先輩 (せんぱい – “senior students” or “senior workers”) will call their 後輩 (こうはい- “junior students” or “junior workers”).

In these contexts it isn’t meant to be offensive, but rather affirms the superior status of the user.

For example: 

監督: お前、勝ちたいのか?勝ちたければ、練習をしっかりしろ!
(Coach: Do you want to win? If you want to win, you have to practice hard!)

However, お前 is also often used between men of similar age/status to express camaraderie and closeness. In this context, it’s in fact intended to be somewhat friendly.

(らいしゅうまつ、いそがしい?することなければ、おまえの いえに いって まりおをしようよ!)
(You busy next weekend? If not, let’s go to your house and play Mario!)

Still, many men will use お前 when talking to someone they genuinely dislike, and in such contexts it directly conveys their distaste.

(おまえみたいな やつなんて、かねをはらっても いっしょにのみに いかない!)
(A guy like you, I wouldn’t go out for a drink with you even if you paid me!)

If you want to see how native speakers use Japanese pronouns in real-life scenarios, you can try a program like FluentU. It takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

FluentU comes with tools to make learning Japanese much easier. The program has a unique video player on both the website and the app (for Android or iOS) that allows you to quickly see the definition of any unknown words, so you won’t get lost with tricky pronunciations or meanings.

3. He/She – Kare/Kanojo

Similarly with the third person pronouns, if it’s clear who you are talking about, there is no need to constantly say “he/she” in Japanese.

Person’s name

Like “you,” it is most common to refer to someone in the third person by their name.

It may feel weird to constantly say a person’s name over and over, but it really is the most natural way.

  • /彼女 (かれ/かのじょ) — if you’re not using the person’s name to refer to them, you can instead use 彼 or 彼女, which mean “he” and “she,” respectively.
  • こいつ そいつ あいつ — these three words all can mean “he” or “she,” depending on if you are talking about a man or a woman, but carry a twinge of disrespect with them.

There are combinations of これ ・ それ ・ あれ (this/that/that thing over there) with the word for “guy” or “dude,” which is 奴 (やつ).

Thus, こいつ ・ そいつ ・ あいつ respectively mean “this guy,” “that guy” and “that guy over there.” Similar to お前, こいつ can be playful and friendly if said jokingly, or in-your-face threatening if said in seriousness.

For example:

(はじめ:やった!たからくじが あたった!)
(Hajime: OMG! I won the lottery!)

(しょうじ:なに、こいつ!すごい らっきー じゃん!)
(Shouji: What is it with this guy (him)! How lucky!)

Another example:

(きみこ:あした、りなも くるんだって。)
(Kimiko: Apparently Rina is coming tomorrow too.)

(Kanako: Aahhh, she (that chick) is so annoying. I don’t want to see her.)

4. We – Toru, Wareware

“We” is pretty simple. Though there are more forms than the two listed here, these two represent the vast majority of “we”s.

  • 〜達 (たち) — add 達 to any of the first person pronouns, and boom, you’ve got yourself a “we.”

The characteristics of the first person pronoun still hold, but instead, refer to the speaker and the group with which he or she is identifying.

For example:

(わたしたちは はちみつがない せかいに いきたくない!)
(We don’t want to live in a world without honey!)

(おれたちは はちみつさんぎょうをきょうあつてきに しはいするんだぜ!)
(We will dominate the honey industry with an iron fist!) [“we” with a tough, “manly” nuance]

  • 我々 (われわれ) — it also means “we,” but is used in a more formal context, possibly when giving a speech to a crowd, writing a business document or something of this sort.

For example:

(われわれ にほんじんは ちからをあわせ、はちみつぎょうかいを しはいしているひとびとの よくあつと たたかわなければなりません!)
(We Japanese must combine our strength to fight the oppression of those who control the honey industry!)

5. They – Toru, Karera

“They” is also pretty straightforward, and its formation is similar to that of “we.”

  • 〜達 (たち) ・ ら — add 達 or ら to any third person pronoun, and “they” is born.

Similar to when adding 達 to a first person pronoun to create “we,” any nuance carried by the third person singular pronoun will be carried into the newly formed “they.”

There is a slight difference in the nuance between adding 達 or ら, but it’s not one you need to pay much attention to; 99% of the time they are interchangeable.

For example:

(まいけるたちは きゅうりの あれるぎーが あるでしょう?)
(They [meaning “Michael + his unnamed associate”] are allergic to cucumbers, no?)

あいつらは、そういうことに細かすぎると思う。 ちょっとだけだったら、キュウリを食べられるんだろう。
(あいつらは、そういうことに こまかすぎると おもう。ちょっとだけだったら、きゅうりをたべられるんだろう。)
(They’re so particular about things like that. I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to eat just a bit of cucumber.)

  • 彼ら (かれら) — like the singular 彼, it is a general “they,” and carries no nuance behind it.


That was a lot of pronouns! If you remember these and their usages, you’ll always have the right word when referring to other people. Be sure to keep your ears open, too!

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