How to Say “You” in Japanese

Knowing how to address someone is one of the most important things when learning a new language. There are multiple ways to address others and various words that all mean “you” in Japanese. Politeness and context is definitely a big part of the culture.

Even if they all translate to the same word in English, it can be viewed as rude or offensive if the wrong word in used in Japanese. Therefore, it is important to learn what context is appropriate to use the words correctly. Want to avoid calling your boss darling? Read on to find out more.

Besides “you”, there are other ways to refer to youself in Japanese, including ore, boku and watashi. It’s complicated, yes, but knowing them is the difference between getting glares and making friends.

Polite Ways to Say “You” in Japanese

貴方 (あなた) Anata

Found in textbooks, 貴方 is the most basic word for ‘you’. It is usually used by strangers who do not know the name or anything else of the person they are addressing. It can also mean “darling” when used by wives to address their husbands. Because of that, it is inappropriate to call someone you know, such as your boss, 貴方. 

諸君 (しょくん) Shokun

諸君 means “you people”. Translating to “ladies and gentlemen”, it is a polite way of addressing a group of people.

Casual Ways Say “You” in Japanese

君 (きみ) Kimi

Occasionally used to address others, 君 can be considered condescending if used in inappropriate situations. 君 is meant to be used by people of a higher status to those below them, such as adults to children and teachers to students. It can also be used to represent intimacy romantically, such as in 君の名は (kimi no Na wa) Your name, a romance anime. Thus, it is also a word used by couples. 

お前 (おまえ) Omae

Commonly used between friends in informal situations, it is rude to address someone outside of your social circle お前. Being a masculine word, it is also a word used romantically by husbands to address their wives. 

あんた Anta

A shortened form of 貴方, it is also considered less formal. Previously used to address people of a higher status, it is considered disrespectful today. Mostly used by women and people in a close social circle in informal conversations.

Rude Ways to Say “You” in Japanese

手前 (てめえ)Temee

It is a very rude word that is hardly used by anyone in real life, though it can be commonly found in Japanese media like manga and anime. Fictional characters use it to address others when they are angry as it is considered less rude compared to real life.  

Onore

Similar to 手前, it is mostly seen only in Japanese media used to curse at others. However, depending on context, onore can also mean ‘oneself’ or ‘myself’. 

貴様 (きさま) Kisama

Even though it used to be a respectful term, it is now considered very rude to address someone as 貴様 and is mostly only used in Japanese media. It is an extremely derogatory word, often used by fictional superior figures such as Kings.

Dialects 

Different regions in Japan have their own dialects and some words can have different meanings depending on where they are spoken. Here are some examples.  

  1. あんた Anta: In Kinki (Western Japan), it is a friendly and endearing word but in Kanto (Eastern Japan), it is considered rude and insulting
  2. わい Wai: Depending on the region, it can mean either ‘I’ or ‘You’ 
  3. 自分 (ジブン) Jibun: Kansai dialect that means ‘You’ depending on the context. Originally means ‘I’. 
  4. きさん Ki san: Kyushu dialect that is a variation of 貴様 (きさま) but is considered less rude and not used against enemies 

Commonly Used “You” in Japan

In Japan, more often than not people address each other through context and omitting pronouns. It might be weird when translated to another language like English, but it is how Japanese naturally works.

In the instances where people do address each other, they do so by using the name, title or position of the other person. It is used by many Japanese in formal and informal conversations, depending on the context. Honorifics are added behind their names as a form of politeness and respect. 

When in Doubt, There’s The Easier Way to Say “You” in Japanese

Luckily, most Japanese people don’t use “you” as it’s often not needed. Some people will actually find it rude if you use them. What do when in doubt? Easy: don’t use them.

Instead, here’s a few easier ways to avoid any unecessary glares and questions marks.

Use their honorifics

さん (San)

さん is a honorific title which translates to “Mr”, “Mrs”, “Miss”, and “Ms” in English. It is a polite way to address someone and is most commonly used as it is neutral and widely applicable. 

ちゃん (Chan)

Used by people who are familiar with one another, there is a sense of cuteness derived from ちゃん. Commonly used to refer to young women, close friends, children, lovers or pets. 

くん (Kun)

A male honorific, it is generally used to refer to men and by superiors addressing those below them. It is not a very polite honorific and is only used between men and women who are close.

Want to learn more about Japanese honorifics? Also check out our more complete guide on Japanese honorific titles!

さま (Sama)

さま is the most formal honorific and is a higher version of さん. It is only used in specific situations such as addressing Japanese deities or customers by those in customer service.

Formal Japanese can be confusing and complex, but it’s important to use Japanese keigo in work place.

Formal Japanese can be confusing and complex, please take a look at our guide on Japanese Keigo ( Formal Japanese) to learn the proper way of speaking in formal Japanese 

First Name or Last Name?

Last name

Using the last name alone is usually done in a casual and friendly context, such as between classmates. It is considered impolite to call someone by their last name alone, thus honorifics are added.

First name

First-name basis is considered a big deal to Japanese people. Rule of the thumb is this: never address them by their first name unless they allow it. People usually use first names when they are families, best friends or romantic partners.

Title

It is also common to address others by their titles.

  1. 先生 (せんせい). Sensei isn’t just for teachers. Rather, view it as a title. Whenever you’re talking or addressing doctors, lawyers, authors, artists or politicians, always add “sensei” after their last name.
  2. 先輩 (せんぱい). Use senpai to talk to your seniors, be it at school or workplace.
  3. 社長 (しゃちょう) Shacho, which translates to president.

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