Unlike English, Japanese isn’t a language that puts emphasis on using pronouns. For example, an English-speaker would find it imperative to denote whose sweater they were using or that they themselves like cheese but a Japanese speaker would simply say: “using sweater” or “like cheese” because the “who” in both cases is, somehow, implied. Nonetheless, despite this tendency to ignore prounouns, there are still multiple ways to say both “I/me” and “you” in Japanese. And please feel free to alert me to any other terms I might have missed, as I’m sure there are some.
It’s considered slightly rude to say “you” to someone, somewhat in the same way it’s considered mildly rude to point in American culture. If someone can’t avoid using this pronoun, though, there are different levels of “you” to use.
- 貴女(f.)/貴男 (m.) (anata): Used for people of equal or higher status. The “safe” form.
- 君 (kimi): Used with familiars, or between lovers.
- お前 (omae): お前 used to be used as an honorific. Today, it’s used for familiar equals or inferiors and can be quite rude, especially depending on which syllable the emphasis is placed. Used properly, it can be as good as a schoolyard taunt. Take my students’ words for it.
- お前ら (omaera): Think the Kansai equivalent of “y’all” – except earthier. Sorry, couldn’t resist: love Kansaiben.
Me, Myself, and I
- 私: The standard, more polite form of “I.” Depending on who’s speaking, it can be pronounced several ways:
- Watashi: Unisex
- Watakushi: Unisex, but in polite company, i.e., applying for a job or speaking with someone above you in rank
- Atashi: Used by cute little girls or grown up girls who want to be cute
- 僕 (boku): Unisex but usually used by men. Or is it? I’ve heard different things from different folks.
- オレ (ore): Used by bold, brash men. As such, it is, naturally, used heavily in the anime world. This is why little boys will often refer to themselves this way once they stop referring to themselves in the third person, which Japanese toddlers often do for some reason. Take my precious 3 year old student, Masa, who came to class the other day and asked me, in these exact words: “Do you like オレ????”
What to reply? “Hai, like kimi?” “Hai, like anata?” Fortunately, I’m his English teacher and in English, we have no problem saying, “Why, yes, I do like you!”