Japanese Essentials: Family, and the Japanese Words for Mother and Father

When speaking about family in Japanese, you will not use the same words whether your speaking about your loved ones or about another person’s family members.

Posted by on July 21, 2017 – Japanese Study
How to refer to Family in Japanese

What are the Japanese words for “mother” and “father”? When speaking about your family in Japanese, the words used vary based on whether you’re speaking about your loved ones or about another person’s family members.


Talking about YOUR Family Members
Addressing SOMEONE ELSE’S Family
Counters for Number of People

Talking about YOUR Family Members

Let’s first learn the vocabulary you’ll use to talk about your family members:

  • ちち: (your) father
  • はは: (your) mother
  • あに: (your) older brother
  • あね: (your) older sister
  • おとうと: (your) little brother
  • いもうと: (your) little sister
  • おっと: (your) husband)
  • つま: (your) wife
  • むすめ: (your) daughter
  • 息子むすこ: (your) son
  • 子供こども: (your) children
  • 兄弟きょうだい: (your) siblings

The Japanese language has no grammatical gender, so it’s very easy to use key phrases as previously mentioned in the How To Introduce Yourself in Japanese article.

For example:

(わたしの)つまはアメリカ人です。((My) wife is American.)

  • わたしの: ‘I’ is followed by the particle の to mark possession. の can be translated into English “‘s”. This a very simple function with の expressing who the possessor is. Japanese doesn’t have possessive pronoun.
  • は: topic marker

Another example:

(わたしの)はは教師きょうしです。((My) mother is a teacher.)


Addressing SOMEONE ELSE’S Family

When you address someone else’s family, you have to use the polite form.

  • とうさん: father
  • かあさん: mother
  • にいさん: older brother
  • ねえさん: older sister
  • おとうとさん: little brother
  • いもうとさん: little sister
  • 主人しゅじん: husband
  • おくさん: wife
  • むすめさん: daughter
  • 息子むすこさん: son
  • さん: children
  • 兄弟きょうだい: siblings

Sample dialogue:

さんがいますか。((Do you) have children?)

はい、むすめ息子むすこいます。(Yes, (I) have a daughter and a son.)


いいえ、いません。(No, (I) don’t.)

  • います is the polite ending of the verb いる, meaning “to be” or “exist” for living creatures (people, animal). いません is the polite negative.
  • と: particle, translates as “and”.
  • が: particle, subject marker.

兄弟きょうだいがいますか。((Do you) have siblings?)

はい、ふたりがいます。(Yes, two.)


Counters for Number of People

The Japanese language uses different counters depending on what you’re counting and very often some numbers will be irregular.

When counting people, you will use 人 (にん). However, 1 person is ひとり and 2 persons ふたり.

  • 1 person: ひとり(1人)
  • 2 persons: ふたり (2人)
  • 3 persons: さんにん (3人)
  • 4 persons: よにん (4人)
  • number + にん

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