The complex first person in Japanese

The complex first person in Japanese

If you talk about yourself in English, you only need to use one letter: “I.”

However, there are various first person pronouns in Japanese. When translating into a foreign language, all have the same translation, but each has its own subtle nuance differences, identity differences, and era differences. Especially in Japanese anime, it is very common  for each character to use their own first person pronouns.

Let me introduce some of the first person pronouns. It may be useful when looking at Japanese anime or manga!?

私 (わたし, “Watashi”)

This is the typical first person pronoun and is used in spoken language. Women often often use it.Men may use it if they are of a higher rank. In the case of written words, it is used for both men and women, but men still tend to use it more in formal situations.

私 (わたくし, “Watakushi”)

This is usually used when talking to a higher-ranked person or in a formal situation. It is used by both men and women. Noble women often use it in anime.

僕 (ぼく, “Boku”)

This pronoun is usually used by males. It gives the image of someone with a warm personality  and is often used by boys. Sometimes it is used by girls (especially in anime) if they have a boyish personality.

俺 (おれ, “Ore”)

Used by men, this first person pronoun  has a feeling of having a high pressure, aggressive, and self-centered image. Therefore, it’s not desirable to use it for people at hand.

俺様 (おれさま, “Oresama”)

This pronoun shows extreme overconfidence and gives the image of a conceited person. I have never met anyone who actually uses this pronoun.

私 (わし, “Washi”)

This is usually used by older men and sometimes used by young men. It is sometimes used by people when they’re speaking with their peers.

私 (わて, “Wate”)

Often used by men in the Keihan region because they thought that the expression “watashi” was ridiculous.

家, 内 (うち “uti”)

Often used by women in the Keihan region.Some areas use it in Kyushu without gender. In Kanto region, some men think this way of expression is “cute”. 

我が輩, 吾輩 (わがはい, “Wagahai”)

Use it with great respect. One of the famous Japanese authors, Soseki Natsume, has a book that uses this pronoun: “吾輩は猫である” (“Wagahai wa Neko de Aru”, “I Am a Cat”). The English translation doesn’t capture this nuance well when expressing the personality of the protagonist’s cat. In anime, this pronoun is often used by characters like genies.

自分 (じぶん, “Jibun”)

This gives this image of a soldier talking to his superiors.  In the Kansai region, this is used as a second person pronoun.

我 (わ, “Wa”)

A long-standing first person pronoun, it is now used in the one part of the Tohoku region as a second person pronoun rather than as a first person pronoun.

拙者 (せっしゃ, “Sessya”)

Mainly used by bushi, samurai, and ninja. It’s not used nowadays except by actors playing a role. 

小生 (しょうせい, “Shōsei”)

Use this pronoun if you want people to see you as a humble person. I think there are few users in real life, but in the anime, it might be used by geeks.

俺 (おい, “Oi”)

Used by men in Kyushu. A devolution of “Ore;” an older man might use “Oidon,” which is another variation.

The first person pronoun in Japanese has about 70 variations, but if you add in other differences such as internet slang and pronunciation differences, it will be even more.

Why are there so many first person pronouns in Japanese?

Because when talking to someone, the Japanese people take into consideration their own status and the status of the person they’re talking to, their relationships, and many other factors. After taking all this into consideration, you have to choose which pronoun you will use depending on the situation. As I said at the beginning, anime characters often use first person pronouns that represent their personalities, place of origin, status, etc.  

When you watch Japanese anime, movies, or other media, you might discover interesting things by listening to which pronouns people use! And maybe there is a Japanese first person pronoun which suits your personality.

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