Nihongo for Beginners: I-dentity crisis


By Nicholas Bradley

One of the telltale signs of a beginner in Japanese is the insistence on using “I” when speaking. To give a more natural sound to your speech, drop “I” and “you” wherever possible. Japanese speakers tend not to use pronouns because it’s considered insulting to the listener to have to spell out whom one is referring to. “あなた” also has the added bonus of making it sound like you are a wife talking to your husband. So be careful. It’s best to get someone’s name early on and use their name +さん when addressing questions to them. Also, if you must use “I”, there are other options than 私(わたし)that are good to know. Be careful when you use them though, as they are situation and gender specific.

私 – わたし/わたくし — Tried and tested male/female polite.

僕 – ぼく — Male, informal, has a nicer feel to it than…

俺 – おれ — Male, has an arrogant feel to it. Use only if fluent!

わし — Hiroshima dialect, but mainly used by old men.

拙者 – せっしゃ — If you want to sound like an Edo-period samurai.

自分 – じぶん — Like saying “Oneself” or “One”, used by the military a lot, I think.

あたし — For girls, a bit prissy and girly compared to…

うち — Countrified female. Quite popular in Hiroshima ken.